Sunday, March 14, 2010

SXSW Interactive Day 3

Day Three! I presented Robot Revolution for the 2010 SXSW ScreenBurn AAA Game Design Competition today! I competed with some awesome guys, Fredric King & Ryan Doyle with Tall Bike Joust, and Patrick Cunningham, who had Grimore and Shadow Wars.

King and Doyle presented first, followed by Patrick, then me, then Patrick again.

King and Doyle had implemented the first of the planned stages for their game, an iPhone game about bike jousting, which looks pretty intense. I think it's awesome that they were able to actually implement their game, that gave them some serious points with the judges. The iPhone game wasn't the AAA part of their plan, they're also going to make a browser game and a console version, with more than just the bike jousting. There were some technical difficulties, the sound wasn't working for the laptop set up for us, but they improvised and gave their own voiceover.

Patrick Cunningham had two game ideas and presented twice, which definitely worked out for him. Grimore was an open world fantasy RPG, with a complex sounding magic system, and Shadows Wars was a cyberpunk MMO. A unique idea from Shadow Wars was doing mini-games or puzzles before a mission to give you an advantage, like more info about the level. I thought that was pretty cool. His wife did all the drawings for his slides, which were also awesome. His slides were pretty densely packed with text, but the illustrations helped, and he seems like a great guy.

After the presentations, we were lined up at the front of the room and asked to give our elevator pitch, then the audience applauded for each contestant. The judges (Adam Martin, Chris Charla, Jesse Redniss, and Lori Durham, with Kain Shin moderating) then publicly decided among themselves which game was going to win it. Robot Revolution wasn't a favorite of any of the judges, so I think it was ruled out pretty quickly. Shadows Wars won it, with the judges saying it seemed to have the most commercial appeal, being the most likely to be picked up by a studio and made. Tall Bike Joust got a mention for also being marketable since there was already an audience for tall bike jousting. The judges seemed to have a little difficulty choosing, and there wasn't a clear cut criteria or rubric. Having an even number of judges also seems like an odd choice, since there was almost a tie.

I wish I had gotten more feedback on what wasn't as great about my idea. It lost, so there has to be something wrong with it, and more feedback would have been nice. But I got a sweet trophy for being a finalist and got to meet some cool people, so it's all good.

If anyone would like to take a look, I've uploaded my presentation here. Make sure you check out the speaker notes (click the little face with a plus sign), they explain a lot. Any feedback is welcome, either on the blog or at

The other finalists were great, and congratulations to Patrick for his win!

P.S. - I also saw the Casual game design contest, with Escape From Planet Zero by Lance Meyers taking home the prize. I might write up a bit more about it later!

Friday, March 12, 2010

SXSW Interactive, Day 1

So I had my first day at SXSW. I came by Thursday and got my pass early, and I'm glad I did - the line today was huge. I got a chance to see three panels and have a quick look at the ScreenBurn Arcade.

The first was "Take Over the World With XNA Indie Games", with Chris Williams presenting. Pretty small crowd, but I think people were still registering and getting their bearings at 2 PM. He did a very general overview of XNA, nothing new if you've checked it out before. But I hadn't heard of the Windows 7 phone though, that apparently has multi-touch and will support XNA, which might be an interesting combination. Learning about the peer approval process for Community Games was also new to me. Still, I was expecting more of a look at up-and-coming games, sales figures, that sort of thing. Still, it would probably be a good intro for someone that had never heard of it.

Next was "Drawing Board: Innovation Lessons from Cartooning", with Tom Fishburne. This wasn't one of the ScreenBurn panels, but I'm glad I sat in on it. The basic lessons I drew from it:
  1. You can't expect creativity to just come to you, you have to exercise your creative muscles and constantly be on the lookout for new ideas, you can't really force creativity.
  2. If your work is polarizing, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you don't get any sort of response, or only neutral comments, you're probably doing something people have seen before, nothing innovative.
  3. Even niche subjects can have a broad appeal if you're doing a good enough job. Blogs can help to give context to inside jokes.
He also mentioned Russell Davies' blog post "How to be Interesting", which seems to boil down to the idea that people will find you interesting if you're interested in them, so have diverse interests and pay closer attention to the world around you, and be able to get people to talk about themselves. He suggesting regularly taking pictures, making blog posts, reading about subjects you haven't heard of, and just generally paying more attention. Makes sense to me.

The last panel was pretty interesting - "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility - The Future of Video Games". I wish this one could have been longer, it lost some time due to a false alarm evacuation of the room fifteen minutes in. Jesse Schell's "Design Outside the Box" presentation at DICE was brought up, and the general opinion of the panel members was that the use of achievement systems to foster good behavior was a good thing, if a little creepy if taken to extremes.

I wish this had been discussed more, it seems like such an interesting concept. They suggested that as long as individuals can control and mix and match the achievement systems they want to use, modifying them to fit their own ends, that achievement driven structures could be used for good, and I think I agree. I wonder if artificial achievements are all that appealing to people that aren't gamers or people with addictive personalities.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's round of panels, hopefully I'll have a chance to get a better look at the ScreenBurn Arcade. In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to presenting my entry for the ScreenBurn Game Design Contest at 3:30PM on Sunday. A little nervous, but still excited.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Brief Detour

More news!

So that level I was working on? I finished it!

It's titled "A Brief Detour", and that says it all. It's a single player map for Half-Life 2: Episode 2, where you're separated from your squad, and have to venture through a Combine controlled apartment complex to meet back up with them.

Someone from the forums was kind enough to post a video playthrough - it's a little out of date compared to the most recent version, but it gives a pretty good overview:

You can download it at PlanetPhillip or Snark Pit. It's a featured level on SnarkPit right now, which I'm proud of. The reviews say it's really solid, "a nice little map", but short. I just wanted to make sure I could make a singleplayer level that was solid and polished, and I think I accomplished that. It took a few weeks of work, with lots of playtesting and tweaking. I learned a lot, and hopefully I can top it with my next project!

In other news, I'm still pumped about presenting Robot Revolution at the SXSW ScreenBurn game design contest on March 14th, I'll need to do a few more dry runs of the presentation in the next few weeks.