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GDC China Speaker Spotlight: Double Fine And The Kinect 'Melting Pot Of Ideas'

Following Double Fine's recent announcement of the Kinect-exclusive Happy Action Theater, lead technical artist and upcoming GDC China speaker Drew Skillman discussed the studio's experience working with Microsoft's depth-sensing hardware, noting that it required the studio to re-think its approach to game design.

In particular, Skillman notes that it takes a lot of experimentation with Kinect to get things working as intended, and Double Fine had to take some unusual measures to reliably test its latest title.

At next month's GDC China, Skillman will delve further into the implications of working with Kinect in a session titled, "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," which will focus on the studio's process for creating its motion-controlled games.

In anticipation of the talk, Skillman discusses the challenges of working with the Kinect's depth-sensing technology, offering tips on how to best make use of the hardware's strengths, and to design games around its weaknesses.

Considering Double Fine's history of making games with traditional gamepad controls, what has it been like for the studio to work with the Kinect hardware? Are there any particular challenges you or the team have encountered?

The biggest challenge has been adapting to the different types of input you get from the Kinect. A gamepad controller is quite literally a handful of very precise inputs, but the Kinect is a continuous stream of video and depth data. Even after processing that data into player joints and segmentation IDs, you will still never be able to pinpoint the exact frame when a character is supposed to jump, for example.

That difference has informed our designs at the deepest levels. We want to leverage this new technology for the amazing new interactions it allows, and not just try and use it as a calorie burning substitute for a gamepad.

What tips would you offer developers looking to start working with Kinect or other motion control hardware?

One great way to start is to check out all the phenomenal Kinect hacks that are flooding the web right now. If you do a Google search for "Kinect Hack," you will see a massive number of inspirational and creative applications, many of which are already in game form, or translate to games naturally. One reason for this rampant experimentation is that programming languages like Processing and Open Frameworks make the hardware accessible to everyone with a computer. This open source approach gives it traction in disciplines like science, education, interactive design, student games, etc. Kinect is definitely a melting pot of ideas right now.

Also, consider investing in life size, cardboard cutouts of your favorite characters. A member of our team made a genius purchase early in the project, and as a result cardboard cutouts of Dumbledore, Darth Vader, and Elvis have been invaluable testers throughout development. The Kinect detects them as very patient players. Another late arrival to our "test team" was actually a Yoga ball, which the Kinect recognizes as well.

GDC China Debuts Trio Of Social Talks From Zynga, DeNA, AdParlor

This week, GDC China has debuted a trio of lectures in the show's Social Games track, featuring talks from Zynga China on localization, DeNA on top monetization strategies, and AdParlor on the current state of social game ads.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games, and two Summits on Indie Games and Mobile Games, respectively.

Here are the latest talks to be revealed for the show's Social Games track:

- Zynga China general manager Andy Tian will break down the essentials of social game localization in "Developing a Localized Social Game Experience for China." Here, Tian will cover the dos and don'ts of effectively bringing a Western-developed social game to the Chinese market. In addition, he will go over several common mistakes designers make post-launch, and will offer tips on how to avoid them.

- Elsewhere, DeNA director Kenji Kobayashi will host "Monetizing Social Games: DeNA's Secrets for Success," outlining the company's core strategy for making money off of its social games. In this behind-the-scenes session, Kobayashi will provide an inside look at how the company develops and operates its titles to maximize sales, and maintain them as long-term services.

- Finally, "Everything You Need to Know about Facebook Ads: How Much do I Need to Pay to Get 1 Million Players to My Game?" will feature AdParlor CEO Hussein Fazal on the current state of the Facebook ad market. As one of the major players in the Facebook advertising industry, Hussein will help developers understand the key metrics they should keep an eye on to help them attract more players with their advertising dollars.

GDC China 2011 Reveals Paul Barnett Keynote, Reminds On Early Reg

Today, GDC China
organizers announced that outspoken industry veteran and BioWare Mythic
senior creative director Paul Barnett will host a keynote for the
show's Online Game Development and Business track.

Barnett's keynote, dubbed "Global Reach and Local Limits - Paul's
Personal Truths about Online Game Development," will examine now online
play has affected game design, focusing particularly on geographic
proximity, how culture matters, and "lessons from the old British

Barnett's experience working with online games extends back to the 1990s, when he helped create the AOL-based MUD Legends of Terris. He later moved to Mythic Entertainment (which eventually became BioWare Mythic) to help design EA's hardcore MMO Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

In addition to Barnett's keynote, GDC China would like to point out
that the Early Registration deadline for the show is roughly 24 hours
away. Register for the show by October 19, 2011 to receive special
discounts on the various GDC China pass options.

GDC China will take place in just a few weeks, from November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, so make sure to register soon!

Over the last few weeks, GDC China has unveiled other exciting talks
from some of the industry's top professionals, including talks from Canabalt's Adam Saltsman and mobile developer Booyah, sessions from Square Enix and Kabam, in-depth looks at Fruit Ninja and Doodle Jump, and much more.

For more details on the current lineup for the show, please check out GDC China's official website.

The 25 Most Memorable Quotes From GDC Online 2011

[Here, Gamasutra news editor Frank Cifaldi looks back on last week's GDC Online and presents some of the most notable quotes from the Austin-based show.]

Last week's record-breaking GDC Online conference in Austin, Texas saw so much insight, knowledge, advice, and discussion that even the most ardent attendee missed a wealth of valuable information.

While we couldn't have possibly given proper attention to all 145 lectures, Gamasutra's extensive coverage is a valuable resource for those who couldn't make it out to the show last week.

We've rounded up a few of our favorite quotes from the show -- part of the UBM TechWeb Game Network. Our 25 favorites are presented below, in no particular order.

"A few Kotaku articles and IGN front pages do not make a hit game."

-BioWare San Francisco's Ethan Levy, from an insightful and open talk about how the studio's social game Dragon Age Legends attracted a lot of temporary Facebook likes, yet wasn't a big hit.

"That's bullshit. Are we going to start hiring 10 year old kids to make games for 10 year old kids?"

-Veteran MMO developer and former Free Realms creative lead Laralyn McWilliams (who recently joined iWin) discusses the flaw in thinking the only path to attracting more female gamers is to hire more female developers. Instead, she says, stop making games for yourself and learn to give your audience what it needs.

"What they're doing looks a lot more like e-commerce than game design."

-EA Playfish's Tom Mapham on how analysts and product managers are running usability tests and market research on over a terabyte of daily data generated by players of The Sims Social.

"We like living here because we're wizards!"

-Veteran MMO developer and current Playdom VP of creative design Raph Koster describing game development is like a fairytale. His Thursday talk encouraged the game dev wizards in attendance to embrace their powers and take back control instead of constantly trying to keep up with the real world.

"A community is not a customer."

Reminder: 24 Hours To 2012 IGF Main Competition Deadline

Organizers are reminding that there are 24 hours until the Main Competition deadline 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 the deadline for the IGF 2012 Main Competition is Monday, October 17th at 11.59pm PT.

Finalists will be announced in January 2012, and will be available in playable form at the IGF Pavilion on the GDC show floor from March 7-9, 2012. The titles will compete for nearly $60,000 in prizes, a significant increase from last year.

This includes the high-profile $5,000 Nuovo Award, honoring abstract, short-form, and unconventional video game development, as well as a $30,000 Grand Prize and a host of other notable awards.

Submissions to the competition are still open to all independent game developers, with almost 260 games entered already, and many entrants waiting until the last minute to polish versions of their game for more than 150 IGF judges. A full list of entrants will be released on the IGF website in the days following the submission deadline.

Important dates for IGF 2012 are as follows:

- June 30, 2011 - Submissions are Open

- October 17, 2011 - Submission Deadline, Main Competition

- October 31, 2011 - Submission Deadline, Student Competition

- January 5, 2012 - Finalists Announced, Main Competition

- January 12, 2012 - Finalists Announced, Student Competition

- March 5 - March 9, 2012 - Game Developers Conference 2012

- March 5 - March 6, 2012 - Indie Games Summit @ GDC 2012

- March 7 - March 9, 2012 - IGF Pavilion @ GDC 2012

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 Online 2011 Confirms Record Attendance, Return In 2012

Organizers of the 2011 Game Developers Conference Online, which concluded on Thursday, October 13 in Austin, Texas, have announced confirmed attendance numbers of 3,350, growth of 12 percent over last year's event and an all-time high.

This year's GDC Online, organized by the UBM TechWeb Game Network (which also owns sister site Gamasutra) featured more than 145 lectures, panels, keynotes and roundtable discussions presented by over 225 speakers, and a bustling expo floor with over 100 exhibitors and sponsors.

Gamasutra has been covering the event in full this week, including a keynote from PopCap co-founder John Vechey, as well as signature Main Conference talks from design veteran Raph Koster and from Laralyn McWilliams.

In addition, the show's Summits included a well-attended Virtual Items Summit, a Smartphone & Tablet Gaming Summit, and the much appreciated Game Narrative Summit, which featured a keynote Q&A with notable game-influenced author Neal Stephenson.

Pictures of the event are available at the official Game Developers Conference Flickr page, with lecture slides and video from GDC Online set to debut on the GDC Vault website in the weeks following the show, in both free and member-based tiers.

GDC China Debuts Saltsman, Booyah Talks, Full-Day Design Tutorial

This week, GDC China debuted a trio of new sessions, featuring Canabalt developer Adam Saltsman on opportunities for small developers, mobile studio Booyah on location-based games, and a full-day design tutorial from thatgamecompany's Robin Hunicke.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games, and two Summits on Indie Games and Mobile Games, respectively.

Here are the latest talks to be revealed for the upcoming show:

- In the Independent Games Summit, Canabalt creator and independent game maker Adam 'Atomic' Saltsman will host a lecture titled, "Commercial and Creative Opportunities for Small Companies, Small Teams and Solo Developers." Here, Saltsman will examine the commercial realities of today's most popular platforms, and will point out several overlooked areas that would be a good fit for small developers.

- Over in the Mobile Games Summit, Keith Lee, co-founder and CEO of Booyah (MyTown) will offer an in-depth look at creating location-based games. His talk, dubbed, "5MM Users in MyTown: Key Learnings from the #1 Geo-Location Game," will go over Booyah's challenges and lessons learned, and will present hard data to illustrate how the studio found a healthy audience for its own location-based game.

- Finally, Robin Hunicke of Journey developer thatgamecompany will host a first-ever, day long Chinese debut for the popular MDA Game Design Workshop. Previously held at the primary GDC in San Francisco, this interactive tutorial will teach attendees to analyze, design, and improve the games they work on by applying the MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics) approach to game design. Participants will take part in several hands-on exercises and learn a new vocabulary for describing games with co-workers and collaborators, leaving them with a better understanding of games and how to talk about them with peers.

GDC Online, Web Wise Kids Team For Game Promoting Online Child Safety

As the Game Developers Conference Online
event kicks off in Austin, TX this week, the event's parent
organization, the UBM TechWeb Game Network
debuts a browser-based game commissioned for Web Wise Kids (WWK), a non-profit company for the benefit of child safety.

The free title is called Passing The Ball and is created by notable indie game creator Gregory Weir (The Majesty Of Colors). It's an action game that follows a parent and their child as they learn an important lesson about working together.

Using generative music and randomized opponents, the game is currently available on the official GDC Online website, and will be available on multiple worldwide online game sites in the near future.

The message conveyed by Passing The Ball is pertinent to many of
the online game creators attending this week's leading online game show
in Texas. These developers consider the best ways to encourage child
safety for younger players of their immensely popular games.

The title is also designed to be played by parents and children who may
be mindful of their role in protection from injurious online content,
and how Web Wise Kids might help them with this.

Passing The Ball includes a donation link
to Web Wise Kids, and marks the first advocacy game commissioned by the
UBM TechWeb Game Network, as it recognizes the importance of video
games in promulgating social messages.

GDC Online Speaker Spotlight: BioWare's Levy Talks Dragon Age: Legends

BioWare San Francisco producer Ethan Levy recently looked back on the Google+ and Facebook-based Dragon Age Legends, noting that brand recognition, core-focused gameplay, and some key marketing tactics helped the game find a dedicated audience on social platforms.

The game launched this March alongside Dragon Age II, and serves as a turn-based spinoff of the mainline Dragon Age series. As of this writing, Dragon Age Legends sees more than 220,000 monthly active users, according to AppData.

Levy played a key role in the game's creation from day one, and in fact was the first employee to join the BioWare San Francisco studio (formerly known as EA2D). Previously, he served as lead producer on the game's predecessor, Flash game Dragon Age Journeys, and has experience working at casual game poublishers like PlayFirst and iWin.

At next week's GDC Online in Austin, Texas, Levy will host a metrics-heavy talk titled, "Dragon Age Legends' Road to 100k Likes," which will go over the successes and lessons learned for the game's pre and post launch marketing strategy.

In this interview, Levy speaks out on some of the other key factors that contributed to Dragon Age Legends' success, and discusses the ways in which social games can reach out to core players.

What factors do you think most contributed to Dragon Age Legends' success?

I would cite two key factors in contributing to Dragon Age Legends' success. The first is being tied to a big brand in Dragon Age, and having strong support from the core franchise owners in BioWare's Edmonton studio. Being closely tied to the HD game's release and having custom items players could earn in Dragon Age II by playing Dragon Age Legends was a key part of our early momentum, and being part of the Dragon Age brand meant we received a lot more notice from fans and press then if we were just some startup releasing "Dragon Puncher" on Facebook.

The second factor I would cite is the game's core gameplay loop. At the time we released Legends, and still to this date, few social network games feature what a core gamer would recognize as gameplay. Many social network games more closely resemble activities or addiction machines in the eyes of gamers. By having a strong gameplay loop with fun and meaningful combat, we were able to create a game that was accepted by BioWare and Dragon Age fans as authentic.

What were some of the marketing tactics you employed for Dragon Age Legends? Which ones did you find most useful?

Pre-launch, we employed some tried and true tactics from the console marketing world. This included press releases, a cinematic trailer, a closed beta program with beta key programs on major enthusiast outlets, email marketing and cross promotion with other EA games and communication channels.

Of these, we were especially happy with the results of the closed beta program, which helped drive a lot of excitement and awareness of Legends. The cross-promotional and email marketing efforts driven by EA's Play4Free publishing group have also been a bright spot for Legends, as they have allowed us to derive a lot of value from EA's existing player base.

Reminder: GDC Online Offers Free Expo Passes To Students, Professionals

With the Austin-based GDC Online just days away, event organizers have issued a reminder that the show is offering free Expo Passes to students as well as professionals and job seekers in the games and tech industries.

This offer comes as part of GDC Online's new outreach programs to the local Austin and Texas community, whether it be to larger tech companies in Austin and elsewhere, or local students interested in getting into the video game industry.

These programs are open to students and game & tech professionals/jobseekers, respectively, and interested parties can apply online via the Student Outreach and Games & Tech pages on the official GDC website.

For those interested in applying for a free GDC Online Expo Pass, here are some of the notable events you will be able check out at the show:

- Perhaps most significantly, Expo Pass holders gain access to GDC Online's Expo Floor on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 11th and 12th, which will host a number of the most influential companies from all realms of the industry.

The Expo Floor is a great place to make new connections and learn more about the latest tools and techniques used in game development. For a full list of Expo Floor exhibitors, check out the official GDC Online website.

- Expo Pass holders can also visit the Expo Networking Lounge -- located on the show floor itself -- or attend the GDC Online Opening Party and the GDC Online Happy Hour, all of which are great opportunities to rub elbows with indies, social game devs, and traditional game developers.

GDC Online Reveals Sims Social, Ankama Talks, Reminds On Deadline

With less than a week to go before GDC Online, show organizers added a talk for the breakout Sims Social from EA, also highlighting Dofus creator Ankama and one day to go until the pre-show registration deadline.

GDC Online will take place next week, from Monday, October 10 through Thursday, October 13 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas, and these talks come from throughout the show's various tracks and Summits, with nearly 150 sessions and 230 speakers on tap.

Show organizers would also like to point out that attendees can save up to 25 percent on a show pass by pre-registering before midnight EDT on October 7. In addition, students and industry professionals can receive free Expo Passes to the show through GDC Online's Student Outreach and Games & Tech programs.

Here are the newest sessions to be revealed for the show:

- As part of the GDC Virtual Items Summit, EA Playfish executive producer Tom Mapham will host, "The Sims Social: Deepening Interaction with the World's Most Unpredictable Social Game." Here, he will discuss the game's highly-engaged user base, and will outline the monetization techniques and design decisions that helped encourage early adoption.

- In the Main Conference's Customer Experience track, David Calvo of Ankama will discuss key transmedia strategies in, "Chaos in Motion: Transmedia as a Living Community Experience." Using examples from Ankama's own transmedia properties like Wakfu and Dofus, Calvo will point to the company's successes and lessons learned, noting the importance of entertainment that extends beyond video games.

- Finally, new details on the sponsored "Building Iconic Online Games Tutorial Day" from GameSpy have been revealed. The event will open with a preview of Warm Gun from Emotional Robots and Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave from Trendy Entertainment, both of which use GameSpy Technologies for their online features on smartphones.

Following the event's opening session is a talk with author Ernest Cline on his new novel, Ready Player One, which is set within the an MMO and provides a unique perspective on the structure and implications of online entertainment.

GDC China 2011 Debuts Square Enix, Kabam, HTML5 Sessions

This week, GDC China has debuted new batch of lectures for the show's Main Conference, featuring Square Enix CTO Julien Merceron on tech development for major publishers, Kabam on blending MMOs and social games, and a notable panel on the future of HTML5.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games.

Here are the latest talks to be revealed for the upcoming show:

- In the Global Development track session, "Designing a Technology Strategy for a Large Publisher," Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Deus Ex) worldwide technology director Julien Merceron will examine the ins and outs of technology development at a large publisher.

Drawing from his experience working at companies such as Ubisoft and Eidos, Merceron will look at the ways in which technology impacts major publishing strategies, and will call attention to the web and mobile trends developers should keep an eye on.

- Elsewhere, in the Social Games track, Kabam's Andrew Sheppard (Dragons Of Atlantis) will host a talk dubbed "Creating MMOs for Social Platforms." Here, he will explain how Kabam strives to combine MMO gameplay with the interaction models found in social games, offering insight into the company's overall strategy for the social market.

GDC 2012 Bosslady Blog: The State Of (Lecture) Submissions

[In her Bosslady Blog update for the 2012 cycle, Game Developers Conference events GM Meggan Scavio details the extent of the Advisory Board's work honing next March's Main Conference lectures.]

Although you may think there's a few months to go before GDC 2012, we're already well underway in working to hone lectures for the show. Here's what happened so far...

Three weeks ago, the Game Developers Conference 2012 Main Conference call for submissions came to a close. By midnight, September 6, a grand total of 722 session proposals were in the system.

During the following two weeks, multiple members of the main GDC advisory board, including almost 20 notables like Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2), Soren Johnson (Civilization IV), Mark Cerny (Marble Madness), and a host of other discipline-specific experts reviewed, commented on and rated each of these submissions.

Along the way, the board members read the abstract, and looked at the attendee evaluation history of each speaker (The GDC keeps all speaker ratings and attendee comments dating back to GDC 2000, and uses them to vet speakers). They also reviewed the supporting material that was uploaded with the submission (slides, videos, PDFs, audio files, all stored thanks to the new GDC submission and rating tool we've created this year). And they followed the URLs provided and used their extensive industry knowledge and online information to evaluate each submission.

Then last week, the 20+ board members all flew into the San Francisco Bay Area and gathered at a hotel for three days to select the submissions that would move forward. During two full day meetings, each track (Audio; Business, Marketing & Management; Game Design; Production; Programming; Visual Arts) met independently to discuss the submissions within their track.

The submissions were sorted by average board member rating in descending order, and discussed one by one starting from top rated. It's here that the track members determined which submissions would move on to what we call 'Phase Two'.

GDC Online Debuts Bissell, Broken Sword, Co-Op Talks In Game Narrative Summit

With GDC Online just a week away, show organizers have debuted several new lectures in the show's Game Narrative Summit, featuring talks on the 10 commandments of game writing, top industry reporters on innovation in interactive storytelling, tips on writing co-op campaigns, and much more.

Now in its sixth year, the Game Narrative Summit will return to the Austin-based conference with a broad range of sessions on the art of game writing, with lectures from experienced writers, panels with industry professionals, and in-depth interactive workshops for developers of all skill levels.

The Game Narrative Summit will run alongside GDC Online's Main Conference for the first two days of the four-day conference, from Monday, October 11 through Tuesday, October 12 at the Austin Convention Center.

Here are the latest sessions to be announced for the Game Narrative Summit:

- In "The Ten Commandments of Good Video-game Storytelling," Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, and Immaterial co-founder and consultant Rob Auten will go over the key principals for effective game writing, all modeled on the biblical ten commandments.

- Elsewhere, Carbine Studios senior writer Cory Herndon will host "TweetQuest: Telling Stories in 140-Character Chunks," which will outline how Carbine's upcoming MMO WildStar uses art, design, audio, and a 140 character text limit to convey key story details to the player.

- In "Microtalks: 6 Critics' Views on Great Gamewriting," six top games reporters will talk about what they look for in game narratives, and where they anticipate innovation in the future. Speakers include Hit Detection's N'Gai Croal, CBS Interactive's John Davison, Gamasutra's own Leigh Alexander, among others.

- Broken Sword creator and Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil will host a session dubbed "Blurring Fact and Fiction: Adventures in Writing Games that Draw on Historical Themes," in which he will examine how writers can draw from historical events to create interesting stories and gameplay opportunities.

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