At the end of April I went to Foundations of Digital Games. A lot of the sessions were on AI and procedural programming for computer and video games, which isn’t entirely related to what I study, so I went swimming, hot-tubbing, sailing, etc. instead. But the sessions on game studies (Jose Zagal, Mia Consalvo, Jesper Juul, moderated by TL Taylor) was good.
Jose (who I’ve cited for his, Rick, and Hsi’s look at cooperation in the Lord of the Rings boardgame, and who worked with a couple of other students including Amanda Ladd [careful, my virus protection program claims there’s a trojan associated with her site… no idea if that is true] who was also at the conference (as an undergrad!)) did a paper on the current qualities of game reviews, breaking out the moves and arguments they make into 9 or so different categories. The problem is that they only chose IGN and Gamespot to look at, which means they were missing out on a whole slew of alternative review sites such as Adventure Gamers as well as missing print publications. Maybe there’s no difference in terms of what reviews do, but maybe there is.
Mia presented a study on the online community around the hidden object games Mystery Case Files, specifically Return to Ravenhearst, describing how the kinds of talk on their forums is just as rich and varied as the kinds of talk on MMOG forums.
Jesper (along with Marleigh Norton at MIT) took a deeper look at difficulty in games, showing how difficulty can come from both the game and with the game interface and that these are actually very blurred. There’s a difference between bad interface design and an interface that is meant to be difficult to master. In fact, such games as Wario Ware are actually all about figuring out the interface. So, the assumption that good UI is always an intuitive or invisible UI isn’t always a good assumption to make.
There were other sessions on creating a game development department or bridging industry with academia, and those were pretty good. The take away message I got, though it wasn’t necessarily explicit, was from Magy Seif El-Nasr and Kurt Squire who said they’ve been going to GDC for several years, first as a grad student. GDC is expensive, but the point I got was that you have to be visible, that building a relationship with industry folks takes time. That’s pretty much the reason why I’ve been trying to go to as many varied conferences as possible, though I’ve been limiting mine to ones that don’t cost a fortune. I wonder if I should start going to GDC, though…
Constance Steinkuehler and Yasmin Kafai were both at the conference, too, so there definitely was some representation from the Learning Sciences. One grad student I met, Al Yang pointed out, however, that it seemed like the different disciplines and/or schools, despite being stuck on a boat together, were relatively cliquish.
Other notables I met were Chris Lewis (who sneered at my Strongbow), Jack Stockholm and Veronica Zammito, both from Vancouver and guildies from Terror Nova! What sucks is that I didn’t meet them all until the last day, so we hardly talked at all. 🙁 Being stuck on a boat isn’t really as limiting as one would think…
I also met a bunch of people (Bob and his family, Mark, Gene) from Utah who work with Roger Altizer, my cabinmate, who I met at the Internet Researchers conference in Vancouver a couple of years back.
Cy from Microsoft, Brian from EA, Noah from UCSC (who edited First Person and is part of Grand Text Auto)… many more.
All in all, really fun conference. Bolt is a good movie.