The third part in this series on the best GDC talks is all about the art and science of level design. Originally I’d intended these talks to be included in the previous entry on game design, but as I was putting that list together I realised over half of talks I’d chosen were actually about level design, so the subject really deserved it’s own post.
Level design and game design are very much two sides of the same coin, with levels a way of creating meaningful structures from the rules and systems defined by the design. While it’s certainly possible for games to exist without distinct levels (say Chess or Football), most modern digital games are clearly designed to be explored through a range of designer-made scenarios, whether it’s the complex arangement of ledges, hazards and pickups in a platformer, the sweeping corners of an arcade racer, or the subtle environmental puzzles of a stealth adventure, levels provide a way for players to explore a game’s design.
In the second part of this series on the best talks from the GDC Vault, I’m going to focus on game design. While there’s no way that such a short list can cover everything in the realm of game design, I’ve tried to select a mixture of talks that reflects the variety of the subject, by approaching it from many different angles. There’s a theoretical overview of open ended experiential games, a cautionary tale of hidden design complexity and a range of design retrospectives on everything from indie cult classics to mainstream mobile hits. Each of these talks offer valuable insight into the creative process of game design, documenting many individual approaches to the topic and showcasing the methods they use to realise design ideas throughout the development process.
As varied as they are, all of these talks share a few common themes. They show how the most creative and successful ideas are those that challenge conventional wisdom and seek to innovate by adopting a fresh perspective. They also underline just how important a good development process can be for a game’s success. A well managed process can support countless rounds of iteration, exploration and refinement, providing game designers with the space to explore their ideas and the tools to think critically about their work.
Recently I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about game design theory and technical best practices. While there are lots of great books and articles to read, what I found most interesting were the talks and presentations taken from the yearly Game Developers Conference. I’ve never been to GDC myself, but the wealth of content available in their archives is pretty amazing, covering all aspects of game development, from programming to art, design, business and historical retrospectives. This short series of posts aims to highlight some of my favourite talks from the GDC Vault, focussing on the areas of game technology, design and history.
For the first part of this series I decided to focus on games technology, but I quickly realised that it’s actually quite difficult to find great technical presentations that that really stand the test of time. While focussing on the details of a cutting edge technical implementation or technique can be useful at the time, within a few years, that same content can date considerably. That being the case, my choices for the best technical talks includes sessions that are about more general concerns: unique approaches to problem solving, best practices and tools development.
Each of these talks has something valuable to say about the technical process of game development, and each provides a great deal of inspiration to explore more creative uses of games technology.