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GDC Europe Speaker Spotlight: CCP's David Press On Automated MMO Testing

In the latest in a series of interviews with speakers from this August's GDC Europe, David Press, technical director at EVE Online
developer CCP Games, discusses the importance of automated testing in
MMOs, and why implementing such a system became a "now-or-never
decision" for the company.

Before joining CCP, Press worked at EA Chicago as a graphics programmer on Def Jam: ICON
and an unreleased fighting title. In 2007, he left for Atlanta, Georgia
to work at CCP as a graphics programmer, and then moved on to become a
systems programmer, and later a technical director.

In anticipation of his GDC Europe talk, "Orchestrator: A Postmortem on an Automated MMO Testing Framework,"
Press explains the various game elements an automated testing system
should or should not test, and how CCP implemented such a system for its
World of Darkness MMO.

What are some of the advantages of automated MMO testing?

Most MMOs are very large projects with numerous interacting game
systems, and it is simply infeasible to have manual testers constantly
testing every nook and cranny of the game. Automated tests allow
developers to get wide test coverage before they even check in their
changes and they can be run on a changelist-by-changelist basis so that
narrowing down bugs is trivial.

At what point did CCP realize that automated testing was necessary? What were the driving actors behind the decision?

For the World of Darkness project, we started unit testing
within the first year of active development, and system testing came in
during the next year. We knew that it is nigh impossible to bolt
automated testing onto code that wasn't written with it in mind, so it
was a now-or-never decision.

Letter From The Chairman: Welcome Back For IGF 2012

the announcement of the 2012 Independent Games Festival competition,
IGF Chairman Brandon Boyer goes in-depth on the changes made for this year's Festival, examining the ethos for the competition and the shifts in policy and rules for this year's 14th annual IGF experience.]

Well, we made it unscathed through that lucky-13th, and here we are
again, back where we started, with the opening of the 14th year of the
Independent Games Festival. Last year's festival was a landmark one on a
number of levels.

It was the first that folded the IGF Mobile into the main
competition, the first where one of the entrants (and the eventual Grand
Prize winner) surprised everyone (the developers included!) by selling
several hundred thousand copies of their game before judging had even
begun, our first with a new two-tier judge and jury system, and,
obviously, my first year as chairman.

I learned a lot about the festival and how it operates and how it
could better be improved over the past year. So I'm here now to outline
some of the changes we'll be implementing this year, as the IGF, its
role in the community, and the community itself grows and evolves. But
we'll start with one aspect of the festival that we won't be changing:

The IGF will continue to utilize its two-tier judge and jury system.

the conversations I've had over the past several months, nearly
everyone involved -- from the judges and jurors themselves to the
individual entrants to those of us organizing the festival -- felt like
the change to this system was an incredibly important and positive

The two-tier system - with our 150-200 judges recommending games in
certain categories, and discipline-specific juries of 8-10 subject
matter experts assigned to each award, ensured that all games in the
festival got an equal chance at making it into the finalist round.

With more eyes than ever on each entry, and each jurist chosen for their specific professional merits for each category (our list of 2011 jurors is available here), experts were able to make a strong case for any game, whether it gathered an initial popular vote or not.

It also meant that our finalist and winner selection was less of a
binary process, and more of a conversation about the deeper merits of
the games and their place and legacy in the independent game community.
Those intimate conversations were a passionate, productive, valuable
look at the pulse of professional indie developers, as you can read in
our Nuovo jury comments and Main Competition jury statements, and we're looking forward to those conversations again this year.

2012 Independent Games Festival Opens Submissions

Organizers have officially opened submissions for the 2012 Independent Games Festival, being held at the Game Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco next March 5-9.

The Independent Games Festival is
the longest-running and highest-profile independent video game festival,
summit, and showcase, and is now accepting entries to its 14th annual
edition, with deadlines in the Main and Student Showcase categories by
October 17 and October 31 respectively, and finalists to be announced in
January 2012.

All games selected as finalists will be available in playable form at
the IGF Pavilion on the GDC show floor from March 7-9, 2012, and will
compete for nearly $60,000 in prizes, a significant increase from last

This includes the high-profile $5,000 Nuovo Award, honoring abstract,
short-form, and unconventional video game development, and previously
won by designers including Jason Rohrer (Between) and Messhof (Nidhogg).

In addition, awards for Excellence in Visual Art, Audio, and Design,
Technical Excellence, Best Mobile Game, the Best Student Game, and the
Audience Award each now receive a $3,000 prize, and the signature Seumas
McNally Grand Prize for the independent game of the year (won by
Mojang's Minecraft in 2011) has been increased by 50 percent to a record $30,000.

Winners will be announced on stage at the high-profile Independent
Games Festival Awards on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at the Moscone Center
in San Francisco. The Independent Games Festival Awards are held
immediately before the wider Game Developers Choice Awards.

GDC Europe 2011 Unveils Obsidian, GameStop, PlayStation Vita Talks

GDC Europe 2011 continues to debut talks for the August event opposite gamescom in Cologne, including Obsidian's J.E. Sawyer on RPG mechanics, GameStop on expanding into the digital market, and Sony on the PlayStation Vita.

Taking place Monday through Wednesday, August 15-17, 2011 at the Cologne Congress-Centrum Ost, alongside the major gamescom trade show, GDC Europe will again provide the essential pan-European perspective of game development and business trends.

Some of the new highlights from the Main Conference, which features tracks on Business & Marketing, Game Design, Production, Programming and Visual Arts, include the following:

- In the Business & Marketing track, Steve Nix, divisional vice president and general manager of digital distribution for video game retail giant GameStop, will host a talk dubbed, "GameStop's Digital Strategy: Bringing Immersive Gaming to a Digital Audience."

As the traditionally retail-heavy GameStop reaches into the digital space by acquiring Stardock's Impulse download service along with streaming technology company Spawn Labs, Nix will examine the growth and evolution of the digital space and how his company plans to work with publishers and developers to shift beyond the traditional console market.

GDC Vault Adds Free Valve Biofeedback, Counter-Strike, Half-Life 2 Talks

This week, the GDC Vault has debuted a special selection of free lectures from Portal and Half-Life creator Valve Software, with topics including the studio's use of biofeedback, a look at Left 4 Dead's development, and the design philosophy behind Half-Life 2.

These talks join the recently released free videos on the GDC Vault, which include the GDC 2011's classic postmortem series, as well as lectures and panels from speakers such as Playdom's Raph Koster, GDC founder Chris Crawford, and more.

The following free lectures include video, audio and slide-based highlights from Valve Software's sessions at a handful of different Game Developers Conferences, with talks dating from 2011 back to 2004.

The first lecture offered for free in video form is a GDC 2011 session from Valve veteran and experimental psychologist Mike Ambinder, titled, "Biofeedback in Gameplay: How Valve Measures Physiology to Enhance Gaming Experience." This session examines how information regarding a player's physiological states can help developers "explore new avenues of gameplay and to improve in-house playtesting processes."

Using Valve's own Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and Alien Swarm as examples, Ambinder explains how the studio measured players' skin conductance response, heart rate, and eye movements to design titles that effectively toy with player's psychological limits.

Next, a newly free GDC 2009 talk video, "From Counter-Strike to Left 4 Dead: Creating Replayable Cooperative Experiences" features Turtle Rock founder and Valve designer Michael Booth on the high-level design of the studio's cooperative zombie shooter.

Booth provides some background on the game, and explains "how it evolved from Counter-Strike, and the importance of procedural systems such as the AI Director in creating replayable and compelling cooperative experiences."

GDC Online 2011 Debuts Cityville, Nexon, Old Republic Talks

GDC Online has debuted a new batch of lectures for the October show, featuring talks from Zynga on its megahit CityVille, Nexon on handling online game disasters, and BioWare on iterating Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Taking place Monday through Thursday, October 10-13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online
continues as the leading worldwide event to solely discuss the
development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including
casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As the event's Schedule Builder reveals the first set of lectures, the following are some fresh highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- BioWare Austin principal designer Georg Zoeller will host "Rapid MMO Content Iteration and Validation with Spatial Analysis in Star Wars: The Old Republic,"
a talk that will look at "how spatial analysis can be used to support a
rapid content iteration process during the late stages of MMO

The session will also demonstrate how the studio's own
"HoloProjector" spatial visualization toolkit helps contextualize user
behavior and metrics for the developers of the long awaited Star Wars-themed MMO from BioWare and EA.

- Elsewhere, in "Engineering CityVille," Zynga's Robert Zubek will outline the server-side engineering techniques that allowed the company's hit Facebook title CityVille
to expand quickly after its successful launch, as well the gameplay
engineering strategies that enabled rapid content generation.

GDC Europe Speaker Spotlight: Ernest Adams On Storylike MMOs

In the latest of a series of interviews with speakers from this August's GDC Europe, game designer Ernest Adams discusses why "in most persistent worlds, the player cannot change the world permanently" -- and why that needs to change.

Adams has worked in the game industry since 1989, and has worked as a
game developer, professor, and more. He previously served as an audio
and video producer on the Madden NFL franchise for Electronic Arts, and later worked at Bullfrog Productions as a lead producer on the Dungeon Keeper series.

In addition, Adams has written several books on game development, and is the founder of the International Game Developers' Association.

With his GDC Europe talk, "Making MMOGs More Storylike"
drawing ever closer, Adams discussed the flaws of modern online games,
and explained how they should change to make the game world more
dramatic and believable.

With MMOs and similar online games, players share a single,
persistent world. How does this sort of design hinder a developer's
ability to tell a story?

All stories are about change. Either the protagonist changes the
world, or the world changes the protagonist, or both. But in most
persistent worlds, the player cannot change the world permanently. Any
creature you kill respawns in a few minutes, leaving you wondering why
you bothered. This impairs the dramatic impact of events in the world,
because nothing really changes.

How do you suggest online games change to better accommodate an in-game story?

To feel as if they are really part of a story, players need to be
able to make permanent, meaningful changes to the world they inhabit. I
also feel that they need to drop the "Hero's Journey" story form. It
works well for adventure games and single-player RPGs, but it's a bit
ridiculous when hundreds of thousands of people are all trying to have
the same heroic experience.

Game Developers Choice Online Awards Remind On Call For Nominations

Organizers of this year's GDC Online would like to remind that nominations for the show's Game Developers Choice Online Awards will remain open only until Thursday, June 30th.

The second annual awards ceremony, held during GDC Online, will honor the achievements of the creators and operators of online video games that launched within the last 12 months in North America, covering large-scale MMOs, free-to-play titles, growing social network games and more.

The awards recognize achievement in online games across 12 categories, including excellence in visual arts, online game design, live games, technology, audio and community.

The inaugural Awards, held in Austin at GDC Online 2010, honored Riot's standout online combat title League of Legends with five awards, including Best New Online Game.

Other recipients included CCP's EVE Online for Best Live Game, MUD co-creator Richard Bartle for the Online Game Legend award, and Origin and Electronic Arts' classic MMO title Ultima Online as the first Hall of Fame inductee. Full video of the ceremony is now available via GDC Vault.

Nominations for the Choice Online Awards are now open, and all game professionals with a free Gamasutra user account are welcome to submit their picks for the awards. Additional information, as well as the nomination submission page, is available at the official Choice Online Awards website.

GDC Vault Reveals Most-Watched GDC 2011 Talks As Views Top 250,000

As views of GDC Vault's video, audio and slides from GDC 2011 top 250,000, the site has detailed the most-viewed sessions from the March show, spanning Doom postmortems through Halo: Reach and beyond.

The specially constructed website archives multimedia from the numerous lectures, panels, and keynotes at the multiple Game Developers Conference shows yearly, and a number of each show's most popular talks are now available for free.

The sessions available on the GDC Vault spanning the last 15+ years have attracted 155,000 unique viewers in the last year, and the content from Game Developers Conference 2011 alone has attracted more than 262,000 views since mid-March.

GDC 2011's Classic Game Postmortem series has proven the most popular by far, with video of these seminal talks making up six of the show's top 10 most-viewed sessions.

These lectures featured various industry legends reflecting on their most seminal classics, including John Romero and Tom Hall on Doom, Eric Chahi on Out of This World/Another World, Ron Gilbert on Maniac Mansion, and more.

Other popular talks included "I Shot You First: Networking the Gameplay of Halo: Reach," featuring Bungie's David Aldridge on the studio's approach to online infrastructure, and "Life and Death and Middle Pair: Go, Poker and the Sublime," a talk featuring Area/Code's Frank Lantz on some of the oldest and most influential games in history.

GDC Europe Reveals Talks For Community Management Summit

GDC Europe organizers have unveiled the full lineup for the show's Community Management Summit, featuring a keynote from industry veteran Gordon Walton on creating an online "code of conduct," SOE on controlling player backlash, and EVE Online developer CCP on learning from Jurassic Park.

Taking place Monday through Wednesday, August 15-17, 2011 at the Cologne Congress-Centrum Ost, alongside the major gamescom trade show, GDC Europe 2011 will again provide the essential pan-European perspective of game development and business trends.

This year the show will debut its Community Management Summit, which will feature noted industry professionals on attracting attention, fostering fandom, and managing social media for the benefit of a game or studio.

The sessions and lectures featured in the Community Management Summit include the following:

- In the Summit keynote "Community Management's Time is NOW!," industry veteran (Air Warrior, Ultima Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic) and Playdom exec Gordon Walton will point out the growing importance of online communities, and will "raise the call-to-arms for a professional society of community management," encouraging developers to establish a "code of conduct" that encourages community growth and development.

- Teut Weidemann of Ubisoft's BlueByte Germany will host a talk titled, "Community Management in 'The Settlers Online,'" in which he will outline how the studio communicated with fans and nurtured a healthy online community. Drawing examples from the game's development, Weidemann will also reveal how the team saw "some surprising results even when we had bad news to tell."

- Elsewhere, Valerie Massey, senior director of PR and communication from EVE Online developer CCP, will take a humorous approach to discussing community management in, "Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Online Communities I Learned from Jurassic Park," a talk that will illustrate the ins and outs of the job using examples from the classic Stephen Spielberg film and its sequels.

GDC Online 2011 Reveals First Talks, Including League Of Legends, Playdom

Organizers of Game Developers Conference Online 2011 have debuted the first sessions from the October show in Austin, TX, including League Of Legends's design director and major talks from Loot Drop and Playdom on social gaming's evolution.

Taking place Monday through Thursday, October 10-13, 2011 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, GDC Online continues as the leading worldwide event to solely discuss the development and business trends surrounding connected games -- including casual titles, MMOs, virtual worlds, and social networking games.

This year's Main Conference will include tracks on Business & Marketing, Customer Experience, Design, Production, and Programming, as well as a sponsored track on Monetization.

As the event's Schedule Builder reveals the first set of lectures, the following are some highlights from this year's Main Conference:

- In "Designers are Human Too - Causes of Poor Design Decisions," Riot Games' Tom Cadwell, design director of major hit League of Legends, will discuss poor decision-making in game design, outlining why talented teams don't always act in their own best interest.

Cadwell, a former Blizzard designer and architect of the multiplayer online game smash, will examine the root causes of a number of common design mistakes, and will offer advice on how to avoid them.

- In another signature lecture, Playdom's Steve Meretzky and Dave Rohrl will look back at the recent developments in the growing social space in "The Year in Social Games 2010-2011." In this talk, the veteran pair will examine the emerging trends, standout games, and business innovations that have emerged in the social game market over the last 12 months, and will point out the developments to look for in the coming year.

GDC Europe 2011 Adds Playdom Talk, Unity Day

GDC Europe organizers have revealed new Main Conference talks in the show's Game Design, Visual Arts, and Programming tracks, featuring Playdom on the aesthetics of social games, and a full day of Unity lectures and tutorials.

Taking place Monday through Wednesday, August 15-17, 2011 at the Cologne Congress-Centrum Ost, alongside the major gamescom trade show, GDC Europe will again provide the essential pan-European perspective of game development and business trends.

Some of the new highlights from the Main Conference sessions, which encompass tracks on Business & Marketing, Game Design, Production, Programming and Visual Arts, include the following:

- In "Gardens of Time: Art and Iteration," Playdom's Eric Todd will examine the company's hit hidden object Facebook game Gardens of Time, detailing the challenges of balancing aesthetic design, game design and technical constraints when creating a free-to-play social title.

- Notable game engine creator Unity Technologies will present its very own sponsored "Unity Track Day" during the show, which will feature a series of lectures and tutorials focusing on the technical and business aspects of using the Unity toolkit. The company promises to help attendees understand the basics of developing with Unity, as well as how to make their game stand out in today's increasingly digital market. Dates and times for these sponsored Unity-focused sessions will be announced soon.

GDC Vault Debuts Free Playdom, AI Rant, Humble Bundle Sessions

The GDC Vault service
has debuted several free videos from the Game Developers Conference
2011, featuring Playdom's Raph Koster on whether social games are truly
social, a rant on game AI, and a retrospective look at the forces behind
the successful Humble Indie Bundle.

These talks join recently-debuted free videos from GDC founder Chris Crawford, Bungie's David Aldridge, and Maxis veteran Stone Librande, as well as the much-watched classic postmortem series as part of GDC 2011's 'free recordings' section on GDC Vault.

The following free lectures include highlights from the conference's
notable Summits, which covered topics such as social and online games,
AI, independent games, and more.

The first talk offered for free is a lecture from Playdom's Raph Koster dubbed, "Social Mechanics for Social Games." In this session, Koster picks apart the interpersonal interactions that take place within online social titles.

As he notes in his talk, "Many have accused social games of not
really being social. But they are underpinned by many classic social
mechanics that drive interaction and community-building. Some of these
have been proven to work in other genres such as MMOs and are beginning
to filter into the social games market; others are easily visible and
quite familiar in real life, but have yet to be seen in the design of
social games."

Ultima Creator Garriott To Keynote GDC Europe 2011

GDC Europe organizers have announced that Ultima
creator, space explorer, and social game developer Richard Garriott
will give a keynote at the conference examining the future of social
games and their impact on the industry.

Garriott will join Wooga founder Jens Begemann as the second keynote speaker to be announced for the 2011 Game Developers Conference Europe, which will take place August 15-17, and is located in Cologne, Germany alongside Gamescom, the leading European trade and consumer show.

Garriott's talk, dubbed, "The Three Eras of Gaming and Why This One
is a Game Changer," will provide "special insight into the current era
of social and casual games, and will discuss whether or not traditional
development can and should make that transition to this new mode of
interactive entertainment."

While perhaps best known for his legacy as the creator of the Ultima series and as one of the pioneers for the MMO genre with Ultima Online, Garriott recently delved into the realm of social and casual games and founded Portalarium, a social game company that this month secured $3.6 million in funding for its forthcoming projects.

Over the course of his career, Garriott has won numerous awards for his
contributions to the game development community, including a Lifetime
Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2006. He also
made national headlines in 2008 and realized his lifelong dream of
space travel, when he launched aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-13
spacecraft to the International Space Station.

GDC Europe Details Indie Games Summit Talks, Pass

GDC Europe organizers have detailed the 2011 show's Independent Games Summit, which includes lectures from Amnesia's Thomas Grip, B.U.T.T.O.N. developer Douglas Wilson, and many more.

Taking place Monday through Wednesday, August 15-17, 2011 at the Cologne Congress-Centrum Ost, GDC Europe
-- alongside the major gamescom trade show -- will again provide the
essential pan-European perspective of game development and business

New to the conference this year is the Independent Games Summit,
which will feature lectures and panels from the most influential
figures from the indie games space on topics covering game design,
business strategies, marketing, and more.

The notable sessions, panels, and lectures featured in the Independent Games Summit include the following:

- In "Beyond Fun: Perspectives on Video Games as Expressive Experiences," a panel of indie developers will argue that video games, just like
literature or film, can provide audiences with complex and satisfying
emotions in addition to the shallow "fun" offered by competitive games.

Speakers at the panel will include Tale of Tales' Michael Samyn (The Path), Stout Games' Jeroen D. Stout (Dinner Date), Moboid's Heather Kelley (GAMMA), thechineseroom's Dan Pinchbeck (Dear Esther), and Frictional Games' Thomas Grip (Amnesia: The Dark Descent).

- In addition to speaking in the previous panel, Thomas Grip will also give a lecture dubbed "Evoking Emotions and Achieving Success by Breaking All the Rules,"
in which he will outline the unconventional design decisions his team
made when creating the company's popular indie horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

The game abandons fail states and other horror game staples, and Grip will explain why these omissions made Amnesia
more enjoyable to play. Moving beyond the context of his own game,
Grip will also discuss how these sorts of unusual design choices can
benefit games of other genres.

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