08 October 2014

Ken Lobb FDG 2014 keynote

Ken Lobb designed Golden Eye and Killer Instinct in the 90s. Here are notes from a keynote he gave at the FDG 2014 conference.

Having an extensive knowledge of games is mandatory for game designers, because they provide a common vocabulary to talk about games.

In the late 80s, teams rolled their own tools. Nowadays, AAA teams still have the not created here problem and waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel. That's why indies using Unity or Unreal can save on costs and take a bite at AAA.

The most important tool in game development is the game build, because it is how the game improves, little by little. Next comes the schedule, ie what to do next. Finally comes the spec and docs, because they change all the time. Microsoft has the process mastered. In fact, Microsoft is too good at planning: they always ship what they speced, and not exactly what they should create. The industry in general, and Microsoft in particular, sign games that cost way too much money.

Difficulty: games have shifted from lose vs win, to win vs big win vs epic win. now in call of duty, high kd ratio is winning. dying is not too bad. before in golden eye, die means restart whole 10min level. now, focus on positive reinforcement rather than punishment.

Major game design issues:

  • Tutorials are hard to build right. Should players be reminded of mechanics they may already know, or should they instead be taught from scratch? The Zelda series have great tutorial design: they simply give the player the tool, and teach by giving more and more difficult challenges that require using that tool. Achievements can also encourage a particular behavior.
  • Cheating is OK. 90% of Xbox players are also on a second device when they play. Players use Youtube, watch Twitch, and look for cheats and FAQs all the time. Procedurally-generated or randomized content can curb this practice down, but a real solution may involve the game itself showing tips or videos from the players who passed an obstacle to those who are stuck.
  • Making a game noticed on app stores/platforms is difficult. Advertising and charts do not target particular players. Word of mouth is more effective, but how does it start? Maybe app stores could recommend games to hardcore players, which would trickle them down to their friends? [This may have an answer: according to Wooga, it takes $250k to reach the first spot on the App Store]

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