GDC was this week, and I think I’ve finally recovered enough to start posting some notes. I want to avoid falling into a narrative fallacy by trying to assign some overarching theme to the conference, but it was nice to see that hand-wringing over the economy wasn’t as big a topic as it might have been. While layoffs and studio closures have hit us as hard as anyone else, most developers are aware that they’re partly due to forces beyond just the general economic crappiness — shifting markets, out-of-control development costs, and mid-console-cycle plateaus are things that we’ve known about for a while, so the upheaval has been painful but expected. The silver lining is that while the dinosaurs collapse, there are more small furry mammals than ever out there springing up and finding fun new directions to evolve in.

If I was going to try to overlay a theme onto the things I saw at the conference, it might be that games are becoming playful again in a number of ways, after years of trending towards more and more focused, tracked experiences. Whether it’s more systems-driven play, art games that explore broader emotional spaces, examining the psychology and sociology of play, or even playing with the structure of panels themselves, designers seem to want to put the emphasis back on fun, positive experience.

I wanted to post more during the week about all the great stuff I saw and people I heard from, but I’m not as young as I used to be, so it’s getting harder for me to spend all day attending panels, spend all night attending parties, and still find the energy to post blog entries as I go. I’ll be playing catch-up over the next few days, trying to read my scribbled notes and write some quick recaps of the sessions I attended before they fade completely from memory:

While I work on writing up the rest of the sessions on that list, I’ll take a tip from Nicole Lazzaro and put up my top ten Twitter postings from the conference (in chronological order):

  • Checking out the Minna Mingle. Perhaps I will finally learn what the Minna means.
  • Hocking: improvisation is “multiple small incremental failures” that force the player to quickly, frequently replan.
  • Hecker refers to Hocking’s talk from *this morning*, calls Spore creature creation improvisational. Ideas percolate fast at GDC.
  • “Microtalks:” 10 5-minute talks in a row, no fluff (or pure fluff, which is just as good). Quite a way to start the day.
  • Tosca/Klastrup study on the role of fashion and appearance in WoW is the most popular at the Game Studies Download.
  • Shadow Physics is like Crayon Physics or Portal: totally obvious & natural, once your mind is done being twisted into knots.
  • Learning about player relationship models beyond “social capital” from @NicoleLazzaro.
  • Trying to figure out where the astrogaming party is, or if it really exists.
  • Daglow on staying excited about making games: remember who you’re making them for and how much you can do for them.
  • Taking off the name tag, sitting in the sunshine by the fountain outside Samovar.