Vault Recommendations from GDC 2017

It’s been really quiet at Sibyl Moon lately, but less so behind the computer. I’ve been hammering on a different sphere of knowledge: formal computer science, with particular attention to data structures and algorithm design. This meshes fine with my primary interactive fiction project (which is a tools project splaying across C#, Lua, and Javascript) but lends itself less well to writing about interactive fiction and game design, and it’s occupying all my spare brain space just now. If you ever wanted to see heap sort implemented in I7, I can cover that (and Towers of Hanoi, too!), but that’s even more niche than the usual fare here.

But I did go to GDC! And it was spectacular. In the time since then, many of the talks I attended have gone up in the vault archive, and while they aren’t all directly applicable to conventional interactive fiction, they’re all chock full of information.

In addition to the list below, I saw a number of talks that don’t have videos or slides available, but since the vault pass is quite pricy, I stuck to recommending public talks. Should you have a GDC vault pass, Emily Short compiled some IF-related and tangential talks in her pre-GDC list. I didn’t make it to most of these and they’re absolutely on my vault catchup list.)

Public Videos

PCG Shotgun: 6 Techniques for Leveraging AI in Content Generation

PCG stands for “procedural content generation”. As you may recall, I’ve always been fascinated by the potential juxtaposition of PCG and interactive fiction, and this talk provided some additional food for thought.

Markov by Candlelight

Okay, this one isn’t a vault video. Jason Grinblat gave a GDC poster talk about designing and distributing procedurally-generated lore in Caves of Qud, but I got stuck at lunch and missed his session entirely. When I admitted it (while gazing sadly at his poster), Jason directed me to this video, which covers everything he said at GDC and more.

Public Slides

Snap to Character: Building Strong Player Attachment Through Narrative

Former Telltale designer Harrison Pink discussed how to convince players to connect emotionally with video game characters. Key takeaway: Players need time to bond with characters, and there’s no way to shortcut around that. If you want people to care, they need to know who they’re caring about, and that can’t be done in fast-forward.

Rewards in Video Games

This talk was given by Blizzard senior designer Travis Day, and the slides are clear and easy to follow (more so if you’re familiar with Diablo III and World of Warcraft). You’ll miss the accompanying anecdotes, but trust me that Blizzard has made an extensive study of How To Reward Players Effectively, which often involved screwing up and learning from it.

On a side note, this talk informed me that Blizzard increased the drop rate in Diablo III about 15 times over since I last played reliably. So I logged back in and artifacts showered from the sky. That was cool.

Fade to Black? Writing and Designing Sex Scenes in Games

Regrettably, Michelle Clough’s slides lose a great deal without the brilliant talk that accompanies them (which is also available, but in the members-only section.) This was a particularly interesting talk in light of how prominent Christine Love’s game Ladykiller in a Bind was this year (in fact, Ladykiller won Excellence in Narrative while we were there.) One of Clough’s most important points was that sex scenes can be used narratively like any other scenes to inspire a mood or emotion, establish character, deepen a relationship, or further the plot.

Crash Course in Online Features

We’re getting even further away from traditional IF here (unless we’re back to the 90s and MUDs) but this Claire Blackshaw talk was the most information-dense talk I attended. As is my wont, I took notes by hand, and I just about had hand cramps afterward. Sans video, this is an organized list of terms that are worth considering/researching if you’re creating a project with online features.

Jon Ingold and Narrative Sorcery (Paywall)

I want to mention Jon Ingold’s talk on Narrative Sorcery: Coherent Storytelling in an Open World, even though it has neither slides nor a video for free. Jon discussed organizing plot point logic through state machines, which provides greater flexibility and hence verisimilitude than the traditional A -> B -> C -> D shape of an RPG side plot. This gave me the epiphany I needed to restructure the logic behind a stalled project, which brought me great joy. (The project is still on pause, but now it’s deliberately backburnered instead of just being stuck.)

The good news is that inkle representatives have been speaking at GDC for years now, and searching the vault for inkle will bring up free talks by Joseph Humfrey, Jon Ingold, and Meg Jayanth. I haven’t watched the other inkle talks yet, but I certainly plan to.

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