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Notes from GDC 2016

Posted by Gina

The Game Developers Conference took place last week in San Francisco. The weather was lovely, the conference was overwhelming and there were so many people from Montreal, you couldn’t avoid them even if you tried.

I saw several amazing talks, managed to check out many side events and displays, and what stood out for me the most was the microtalks. Maybe because of my generational short span of attention, but listening to a bunch of amazing speakers is a great thing under any circumstances.

Richard Lemarchand, Uncharted game designer, who has been organizing these microtalks for years at GDC, opened the event with introducing the theme: Everybody Loves to Play, then quickly gave the stage to Bennett Foddy. A designer and lecturer at NYU, Bennett Foddy shared his research on optical illusions in games. He talked about the untapped possibilities new visuals and game mechanics hold, especially in VR.

Aleissia Laidacker followed Foddy. Aleissia might be familiar to those who attended GAMERella last year. Beside being a phenomenal programmer at Ubisoft, she advocates for diversity and was one of our keynotes at GAMERella Jam.

In her talk Aleissia addressed many things from AI in games, player diversity issues, deep learning, complex systems and more. Most importantly she asked the questions many in the room had on their mind regarding the theme: Really? Does EVERYbody like to play? What does it mean when the industry is looking for new audiences and who are these new players?

Riot Games lead designer Christina Norman  expressed that she often feels game designers don’t play enough. For a game dev playing is learning, she said, it’s crucial to find new things and play constantly. “The gaming landscape is changing faster than ever before.” She explained that her inspirations are mostly South-Korean and Chinese games. Following her example, one can start by exploring, a website dedicated reviewing Asian games in English.

Henrike Lode picked up where Aleissia left off. The Copenhagen-based game designer pressed that we need to “make games for everyone, because every single one of us deserves to play!” She shared a list of games nobody seem to want to make with her when she goes to jams. Among those a GTA spin-off where you play as a sex-worker, to feel the fear and vulnerability of that side of the game; and  a Sims mod where your Sim can menstruate and has to clean up after herself, possibly being embarrassed by mysterious stains on her white pants.

Robert Yang independent game developer gave an entertaining and through-provoking talk about the double standard of sexy. While games like The Witcher 3, featuring naked sex scenes on horses (!) are available everywhere, Yang’s artistic shower game, or dick pic generator are both banned on multiple platforms with little or no reasons provided. “My sex games are often about how sex is not sexy, he said, if I was being cynical I might say that these companies won’t ban games from major publishers.” Yang’s talk was appropriately titled: ‘The game industry needs to get laid and just chill already.’

To finish off this post I must say how many awesome things I had to leave out. Like how well our Critical Hit talk went or how amazing the panel Stephanie Fisher organized about the Ripple Effect of women-in-games initiatives was. You can read about all of these and more if you scroll through our Twitter feed from last week. Many talks, including Squinky’s Designing Discomfort were live tweeted in great detail. For further details and enjoyment please check Jessica Marcotte’s notes on GDC and this little video my phone auto-edited. Technology!