Practice in NYC, day 3

The second FULL day of Practice was easily just as amazing as the first. I never really finished extolling the virtues of the first day, and I’m highly unlikely to go back and flush out my previous post with more details, so here’s a disclaimer that this post will be similarly unable to adequately describe how compelling and wonderful I found the conference experience. If you want to get a sense of it, probably easiest would be to scroll back through the NYC Game Center’s tumbler, where a lot of quotes and some screenshots were posted. I understand that eventually the talks themselves will be posted.

Michael Brough started the morning by talking about roguelikes. It was interesting, (if a bit un-focused), but I would much rather have heard him talk about his process. He only casually mentioned tools he’d created for art (and music?), and I absolutely wanted him to go into detail about those. The “slides” of his talk were mostly just screenshots from various roguelikes, none of which even remotely approach the beauty and glitch-glory of his own creations (even the screenshot of his game(s) didn’t adequately show off the graphics, I didn’t think, and video would have done a much better job). I am a huge admirer of his work, so if you are reading this and aren’t familiar, at least download Glitch Tank or the more recent 868-HACK from the app store. If you have a PC, a lot of his older games are also available for download from his website.

If the first day was influenced by Warren Specter’s talk “about” emergent gameplay versus scripted gameplay, the second day seemed (to me) “about” the second talk, which was about Nordic LARP, by Cecilia Dolk and Martin Ericsson, two of the organizers for a LARP based on Battlestar Galactica called Monitor Celestra. Their talk was highly entertaining and really compelling. (I saw a lot of tweets along the lines of “I’ve never wanted to larp before, but this makes me want to.”) They said a lot about crafting experience, and it was clear to me that the quality of their LARP was what made it extremely compelling. Similar to the generative gameplay concept, they argued that you cannot script a LARP, you merely script the rules and framework, and hope for the best. It sounds like Celestra was a huge success, and they are going to help bring the experience to the US in the next year or so. (And look for copy-cat LARPs that use similar concepts to allow us to “experience” many other fictional worlds in the future. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a disney Star Wars LARP, which there is some evidence to suggest might be in the works.)

The final talk of the day called back to LARPing with references to a dinner theater in which you play the prisoner’s dilemma in order to “move up” to the spots where you get better quality food.

One of the best aspects of the conference (that I have yet to really even mention) was hanging out with all the other incredible game designers in the generously allotted time between talks (left open intentionally for this purpose). My lunchtime discussion was decidedly influenced by the Celestra LARP talk, and we spent probably an hour discussing LARP, role playing, and the various other ways that games and life overlap.

After lunch there was a three-part discussion of user-testing, which diversely included someone working on League of Legends, someone who works on the Assassin’s Creed series at Ubisoft, and Naomi Clark, who interviewed dozens of indie developers for her portion. I won’t say much about this, except that it was great, and to link to Naomi Cleark’s slide deck, which is absolutely chalk-full of good advice for indies.

Finally, my talk of the day award, (IMO) and possibly the talk of the conference, goes to Robert Yang, who essentially did a cultural reading of the Half-Life source code. I couldn’t possibly do it justice, but among the many surprising and beautiful insights he shared were the fact that the door of the train in the opening sequence of the game is actually another train, as well as the observation that “smell” in Half-Life is actually a “sound”. (You’ll probably need to watch the talk to understand either of these statements.) Let it suffice to say that his talk was full of cultural and political references, and also imaginative insights like “Half-Life is the Myst of video games”. He called for more closer examinations of source code in the future, recommending the book 10 PRINT, and the works of Fabien Sanglard, who has done some writeups of the source of a lot of the id software releases. Yang is clearly a lover of originality and beauty in video games, and his passion for both was quite compellingly at the foreground of his talk.

In conclusion, I cannot overstate how compelling and positive I found the experience of going to Practice 2013. I will almost certainly try and go again next year, and I hope that many of the people I made contact with will become long-term relationships. The game development industry is quite fragmented and sometimes feels so huge that it’s a bit like sailing in the ocean. It takes a long time to get anywhere, and in the mean time you probably won’t see anyone on your journey. It’s nice to find a place like Practice, some kind of pirate’s cove or something, where a bunch of similar ships are gathered, at least for a little while.