Recap of the GGC 2013

My visit to Gotland has come to an end. Back to the drudge of daily work, I guess. Well, maybe not so much, but the time in Visby was great fun, and I hope I’ll be invited over again next year.

Ulf Benjaminsson, the mastermind behind the conference, emailed all the speakers and jurors after the event was over, asking them to write something on their experiences and take-aways from this year’s edition. So here I’d like to outline my answers to his questions, preceded by some more general thoughts on the conference and some of the games I played.

The overall theme for the lectures this year was ‘Minorities in games’, both in game development environments as well as in games’ target audiences. I attended a couple of interesting lectures, with topics ranging from ‘Organising gamejams for girls in Palestine‘ by Andrea Hasselager to ‘A breakdown of the role masculinity plays in games‘ by Derek Burrill. I think a number of thought-provoking things were said during most of those lectures, which mostly set me thinking in the direction of ‘How can I include more target audiences in my game from the get go?’.

The student games are the main reason I attended the conference. The first years students (whom I was assigned to judge) were to work with a constraint that forced them to include a non-standard input mechanism in their game. I’ve seen my share of Kinects, dance mats and even mind-control devices for another year! Three games that deserve special mention are ‘Cobots‘, which is just downright cool, artistically well-done and innovative, ‘Tribal Marathon’, with no link that I could find (if someone knows a website for this game, let me know), which is a multiplayer competitive temple-run-a-like game, and ‘Torn’, also with no link that I could find, where you build wizards’ towers using just your mind. And it even works (well, not on me, I guess my brainwaves were on the down low during my visit).

So, Ulf’s list of questions on my takeaways from the conference:

  • The new things you’ve taken away from the conference

    Not really new, but once again good to see that the first years students designed a number of very interesting, playable and very fun games using specific restrictions (non-conventional hardware). This included getting to know how to program new input devices like Kinect sensors and dance mats, something I can imagine is pretty scary in your first year of university.

  • What you’ll re-evaluate having been here

    This has more to do with the thoughts I got after attending some of the lectures. How can you broaden your game’s target audience from the very beginning of development? Also, I’ll re-evaluate what kind of communication regarding game-related events (such as gamejams) needs to be specifically catered towards girls, in order to get a larger amount of them to be comfortable to attend.

  • What, if anything, you’ll do differently

    Not something I’d do differently, but I’ve seen being re-affirmed that input-restrictions can bring about very cool game experiences (Shark Punch, Torn, Fly or Die).

  • Three things you’d like to tell our students

    – When in your first year, don’t shy away from the control restriction (I saw a number of games did that and just used an arcade stick and buttons for controls). Now you still have the chance to experiment!
    – If I could do university all over again, I probably wouldn’t sleep for the four years in school; I’d just experiment and try to build as many different games as I can. And then, I’d keel over. Make the most of your time, you won’t have this amount of freedom when you get into the industry.
    – Finish your games! Better to skip some features and polish a little longer, but make sure the user experience is complete, well-rounded, immersive and stable.

Gotland Game Conference 2013

This Sunday I will depart for Schiphol International Airport to catch a flight, via Stockholm, to pretty Visby Sweden on the island of Gotland. Each year, Gotland University’s game design department ‘GAME’ hosts the Gotland Game Conference, a multi-day event featuring various speakers but that’s really centered around the department’s students showing off their projects of the past year. Steadily growing in size every year, the conference plays host to a number of national and international journalists, educators and game development professionals who review and discuss projects with students and offer feedback, and function as a jury for the best-of-show competition on the final day.

Every time I attend I’m amazed by the high overall quality of the games the students manage to create. Here the difference between full-time game design faculties and more broad ‘multi-media’ educations (where, besides game design, disciplines like audio and video production and web development are offered) is really apparent. Big winner last year was a CCG-meets-towerdefense game Little Warlock, and I reckon I spent quite some time playtesting Secrets of Grindea as well, a JRPG with a big wink to the grinding mechanic in many MMO games nowadays.

Lots of support for this event comes form both Swedish companies and those abroad. This year’s conference features as many as 13 speakers, and a bunch of industry representatives, among whom the faculty’s resident game design lecturer Ernest Adams, of Twinky fame. I’ll be looking forward to joining them for some local beers, the presentations, lectures and award ceremony and the final goodbye-dinner, a grand medieval feast set in the ruins of an ancient tower.

All things considered, GGC holds its own perfectly well when compared to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. It might not be as big but the quality and enjoyment are certainly up there.

We’ve been invited to Gotland University before to give a guest lecture about our Wii Laparoscopy training game. There’s an article on our visit on the website of GAME. If you’d like to be informed about the Gotland Game Conference you can visit the website here, or follow GGC on Twitter at @GotlandGAME.