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Friday
Mar092007

GDC 2007, Day 2

CliffyB lamented that Gears of War is really the same game as Bionic Commando. Instead of jumping from platform to platform, the game is turned on its side so that you run from the cover of one "platform" to the cover of the next. Instead of a grappling hook, you have that strange running feature that basically functions like a grappling hook to the next platform. Interesting, ha.

I don't know what words can even do Miyamoto justice. He is a king among men. He told us how important it is to take risks, as is a corporate philosophy of Nintendo. He also told us that tenacity is important, because there are some ideas that it has taken him like a decade to really get. He showed us his original try at "build a face" software from some really old platform that I forget what it even was. Then he showed all the tries he's had over the years from gameboy, to N64, to GameCube about various "making faces" software that never went anywhere. Most of Nintendo thought it was all horrible, but he kept trying it. Finally, with Miis on the Wii, he got it right. I just said "Miis on the Wii."

One random interesting line from Miyamoto was that he proposed that game reviews include an extra score for how much that game appeals to non-gamers. That really put some things in perspective, as Brain Age and Nintendogs would get a 10 in that category, while Gears of War (good game as it is) would get somewhere around a 0.

Introversion software is notable for their win of last year's Independent Game Festival award, where they said at their acceptance speech that they funded it all themselves because "we didn't want any publishers fuckin up our gaime!" (Trying to capture his accent there.) At this years awards (last night) they were presenters, and reminded us that publishers will still fuck up your gaime. In their 1-hour session, which was great, they talked about how publishers will fuck up your gaime. They say that many of the things publishers used to do are now obsolete. Interoversion is doing just fine selling Darwinia on Steam, and you don't need a publisher to get on xbox live or sell directly on the web, either. In many cases, they claim that publishers are adding zero value, and taking 70%, while Xbox Live takes only 30%. Yeah, yeah, publishers can foot the bill for huge games and pay for QA and marketing that you can't pay for, but his point is well taken for small games made by indie studios. I guess you really don't need a publisher if you can someone manage to fund the first game yourself. Publishers would just fuck up your gaime anyway, right?

Keiji Inafune is head of Capcom R&D, making him the highest ranking creative person in Capcom, and he's been there for over 20 years. Rockman (Megaman) is his character. I've heard Inafune is a little crazy, but I was totally unprepared for how shocking his lecture was. It was a question/answer session with questions written by--I forget who--but they were damn good questions. Almost all the questions were highly critical of him and Capcom, even to a surprising degree.

The negativity of the questions didn't even phase Inafune. I think he's far beyond even caring what anyone thinks about anything, so he just says whatever crazy thing comes to his mind, with even less self-ceonsorship than I have. Within the first one minute of him talking, he told us how Japanese developers are "cowards." They are cowardly and don't have bravery. Also they are cowards. He was very clear that they are cowards.

At one point, an answer to who-knows-what question had him rambling about how we fight zombies and monsters in games, but he fights zombies and monsters and other evil creatures in Capcom management. We all have our zombies to fight, and must keep fighting, he said. He mentioned how Capcom was against doing Resident Evil and even wanted to cancel it when it was almost finished, but Inafune pushed them to release it. The moderator then asked "What did the...uh...zombies and monsters in Capcom's management say after Resident Evil was released?" Inafune said that it did really well so of course they suddenly liked it, but that they don't know anything in the first place. I swear I am not making this up.

Another question: "The xbox did very poorly in Japan, coming in at last place and getting nearly zero traction. The xbox 360, in Japan, is doing even worse. Capcom decided to release two expensive, high-profile games, each with new IP on Xbox 360: Dead Rising and Lost Planet. Why did you do this? Was it a tough sell at Capcom?"

I couldn't follow Inafune's answer about why this was a good idea, but the part about it being a tough sell blew my mind. He said he told them it would cost X amount, and "They said no. They said no very quickly." So then he told him some lower number, but they said no again. So then he had the two teams start working on the game, even though he had no authority to do so. He had them keep at it "for six months...maybe longer." He then showed Capcom management and said "Look, aren't these games fun?" Capcom management still said they could not sell these games. He  kept fighting them and somehow eventually convinced them. Again, I'm not making this up.

A prominent game designer later told me that Inafune told Capcom management he was working on a driving game during this time, to hide Dead Rising and Lost Planet, but Inafune didn't a mention that in the talk.

Another question: "The save system in Dead Rising met with much disapproval and bad reviews. If you could go back in time and change it, would you?" Inafune said that people cannot go back in time, so it doesn't really matter. If he could though, he would not change it because he has no regrets and the player should just accept it. He then told a story about how in that game, you must save the game by going to a bathroom (inside the game). He originally told the team that he wanted the game to be more realistic by requiring the player to sleep and use the bathroom. He thought you should have to do that. The team hated this idea, refused to implement it, and ignored him. Later when they made the save system, they put it in the bathrooms as a way to give an inch on the whole bathroom idea.

I knew Clint Hocking (Splinter Cell) would give a good lecture, but I didn't expect it to be possibly the best one of the Conference. He talked about how some games explore a physical space (we have lots of those!) while others allow us to explore a system. He even quoted my book with the line "Playing to win is exploring." It's exploring the system of a game to find effective strategies. Anyway, he went on to say that one system we never really seem to explore is a system of morality. 22 years ago Ultimta 4 kind of tried to do this by measuring your valor, humility, etc. It also tried to do some fake 3D. It sort of sucked at both, but it tried. 22 years later, we have iterated the hell out of 3D to the point where it's awesome. We're nowhere on exploring moral/ethical spaces in games. KOTOR doesn't count.

He even went as far as to say that the game Spiderman 2 (a game he really likes) did a big disservice to the license. Spiderman's premise is that "Great power brings great responsiblity," but that the game only offers great power with zero sense of responsibility. That isn't even Spiderman, Hocking says.

Games are accused of teaching things like murder, mugging, rape and so forth. Hocking says games aren't teaching those things because they aren't teaching much of anything, on the whole. They aren't SAYING anything. He proposes that games actually start to clean up their act, and he didn't mean by not having GTA anymore. He meant by starting to explore what a game about exploring morality would really be like. This is exactly the topic I am interested in, so this really, really caught my eye. I had the fortune of having dinner with Clint and discussing this further.

It's late and there's more tomorrow, so I'll sign off.

--Sirlin

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