The Games Developer Conference – GDC for short – is about to kick off starting next week.  Many developers from the gaming industry are attending, even speaking at the event.  EA/Maxis has their hands full, with speakers from both The Sims and Spore showing up.

Speakers from The Sims

Richard Evans, Senior AI Engineer of The Sims 3 has two sessions:

As game characters engage in deeper interactions with the player, subtlety of behavior becomes more important. However, in worlds that feature hundreds of characters, the homogeneous ‘cookie-cutter’ approach of modeling those characters becomes evident, leaving the world feeling repetitive and shallow. Everyone acts the same. Using examples from games such as The Sims 3, we will show how characters can be algorithmically endowed with distinct personality differences so that every one acts as an individual. We will also explore how personality, mood, emotion and other environmental factors enable individual characters to select from a wide array of context-appropriate choices and actions. We conclude with how these behaviors can be expressed through animation selection so as to be more engaging and immersive for the player.

AI characters can be beautifully modeled and animated, but their behavior rarely matches their life-like appearance. How can we advance the current state of the art, to make our characters seem more believable? What kinds of human behaviors are still missing in our AI, how can we implement them, and what challenges stand in the way? This session will discuss practical approaches to pushing the boundaries of character AI, past successes and ideas for the future, with an experienced panel representing a wide range of perspectives and games.

Speakers from Spore

Chris Hecker from Spore has a session:

These days, telling somebody you’re working on a game supporting UGC is a bit like saying you were working on an FPS in 1997 or an MMO in 2000. Still, buried beneath the hype surrounding UGC is something real and powerful and subtle. While I’m still unsure of exactly what this real and powerful and subtle thing is, I think it touches on the questions some developers are asking about how meaning is expressed through gameplay.We’ll explore that and other arty philosophical topics, and discuss some nonintuitive psychology research that’s relevant to the usage of UGC in games. Also, I’ll show a lot of funny SPORE creatures.

Margaret Robertson, former editor of Edge magazine has a session:

No matter your position in the games space there was little disagreement over the last few years that Will Wright’s Spore would have a major impact. From within the context of serious games there were many unique issues that were predicted to arise, and a lot of potential was identified. SPORE, like many of Wright’s other works, seemed poised to span a variety of usage contexts beyond entertainment. In doing so, it was potentially another step toward a world where a game’s non-entertainment impact and its entertainment impact were both of equal interest to their respective constituencies. Now SPORE has shipped, and in the months that have passed since there’s been a chance to comprehensively chart that impact. With the power of hindsight rather than conjecture we can now take a deeper look at the results of SPORE and what it can tell us about the future of games that speak (whether they intend to or not) to a possibility set larger then entertainment alone. In this interesting session Margaret Robertson (former editor of Edge magazine) who has spent many hours with SPORE and written prominently about the game will lead the audience through an investigation and analysis of what has happened since its launch of. Did it become a tool in the debate over intelligent design vs. evolution? Has SPORE created a new classroom tool for creativity? Or for teaching astronomy or other equally interesting avenues? This deeper look at the near-term legacy of this game offers us a unique chance to look critically not just at products like SPORE but at the field of serious games in general and more specifically at the notion of how certain titles spawned in the name of entertainment succeed and/or fail at being more then just entertaining media.

Stone Librande, Game Designer from Spore has a session:

During the development of SPORE several paper prototypes were made to rapidly test core design ideas. Prototypes from the cell, creature, and civilization phases will be shown and analyzed. Some are quick pencil sketches on index cards that were useful for one specific discussion, while others went through several iterations and became full-fledged stand-alone games. General guidelines for creating your own paper prototypes will be discussed, along with a list of Dos and Don’ts.

Caryl Shaw, Spore producer from Spore has a session:

The online Share features for SPORE were as much a part of the game as the Play and Create parts were. By building so many of the social networking and content delivery systems into the game client, SPORE had some unique challenges both during development as well as post-ship.This session will be a report card on how the customer-facing and back-end systems held up under the crush of millions of pieces of player-created content and about what we’ve learned and what we’ll do differently in Spore expansions and other future Maxis titles.

Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director of Electronic Arts Montreal has a session:

There is more to modern game design than combat focused or competitive mechanics designing systems that allow players to express themselves by creating friendships with other characters or players can broaden the audience and create new and exciting toys for both players and designers to play with. As the market grows and broadens, so must the types of games we create.This talk will survey social mechanics between player avatars and simulated characters in several recent titles, several of which I worked on personally: the relationship simulators in the Sims 2; the relationship management game in GRAND THEFT AUTO 4; the several social mini-games in SPORE; the controversial positive and negative emote system in ARMY OF TWO.

It will also expand to look at social mechanics between players themselves, examining the sharing systems in SPORE and the sharing tools in LITTLEBIGPLANET, and eventually proposing some key elements of social mechanics design to try to kick start a deeper discussion on this issue. It’s an aspect of gaming that will only continue to grow as the market broadens, and designers can either get board and help direct it, or miss out on an exciting new design tool.

Mike Pagano, Associate Producer for EA Mobile has a session:

What makes a great iPhone game? What are the best ways to use the multi-touch screen? Why is it going to take an almost endless amount of iterations to get the accelerometer to feel right? Mike Pagano, Producer of EA’s Spore Origins and SimCity, will give an informative and humorous presentation about designing and producing premium games for the Apple iPhone Platform.

Eric Grundstrom, Senior Software Engineer for EA has a session:

Join us as programmers from SPORE, GEARS OF WAR 2, and BIOSHOCK share their experiences working on these successful titles. What was it like working on these games, what innovations were unique to each title, how were risks managed, what went right, and what went wrong?