GDC 2010: Game Design Challenge - Real Life Perma-death

GDC 2010: Game Design Challenge - Real Life Perma-death

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Game designers pitch their design documents to the audience and they pick the best iteration on the theme, which this year was "real life perma-death."

Every year at GDC, independent game guru, Eric Zimmerman, runs a panel called the Game Design Challenge. The setup is simple: three designers or teams are given a theme ahead of time and they set about creating the design document for a game based on that theme. At the panel, they pitch the game to the audience, who then chooses the winner and Zimmerman bestows a gag-gift upon them and there is much rejoicing. It's a raucous event, and all in good fun. Last year, the theme was "My First Time" having sex and the team of Heather Kelley (Kokoromi) and Erin Robinson (Wadjet Eye Games) won, even though they had only few days to prepare. This year, Zimmerman chose a somewhat more somber theme: each of the games needed to involve a death that occurs in the real world.

First up was Robinson and Kelley, back to defend their crown. Their game was called, Last Game and Testament and it's basically a piece of software that allows you to create your will in a fun way. They were inspired by their own family history and The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, but their game seemed a little silly. A simple interface would let a person leave specific objects to people in their will. You could then print out a barcode and attach that to the object. After you die, your family would then have a sort of scavenger hunt looking barcodes and scan them with their iPhones. This would bring up GUI that prompts your family members to guess which one of them would get the object. The member would quickly find out whether they are correct, and a short video will play, recorded before your death ostensibly, telling them why. After all of the objects were scanned, you'd see a leaderboard the person who had guessed correctly the most times would win a bonus item. Like a grandfather clock. From your dead grandfather...

Next up was Jenova Chen from That Game Company. His game was the silliest of the bunch, HeavenVille. At first it was called DeathVille, but he took a cue from Zynga panel earlier at GDC and decided to make it more pink. Basically, it's a FaceBook game which gives you alerts when people actually die. More than that, people are given a value based on their Google page number and multiplied by the number years they are dead. So George Washington has 71 million results but he's been dead for 211 years so he ranks higher than Micheal Jackson right now. You can "buy" people and HeavenVille then becomes a kind of stock market where you want to buy low and sell high. Chen's presentation was definitely the most entertaining, with lots of comedy timed well with the PowerPoint slides, but I thought his game lacked any real thought behind it. What would you use the "currency" you earned for? Was it just points? Is Michael Jackson really dead?

Last year, Kim Swift was asked to drop out at the last minute by Valve, allegedly for the challenge's sexual content. Zimmerman joked when introducing her that that was exactly why she left Valve, so that she could come back and compete in the Game Design Challenge. To her credit, before Swift pitched her game, she made it clear to apologize for backing out so late. Then she ahead and delivered Karma. This game would be diagnosed for someone who is terminally ill so that they could come to terms with their own morality. You have an energy bar and a series of locations you'd go to as your energy bar slowly decreases: office, neighborhood, apartment, hospital. Along the way, you can choose to help people, which boosts your karma. There are minigames for each activity, such as a timing game to help push a child on a swing. As your energy decreases though, you have less and less at your disposal so that eventually, the only thing you are able to do is smile. That's the last minigame in Karma and when Swift described it in her talk, I couldn't believe that I was actually crying. Games may not make me cry, but game pitches about death apparently hit my sentimental funny bone.

Unfortunately, the audience didn't agree with me and Jenova Chen took home the prize: a flask of whiskey. Robinson and Kelley did not repeat and were awarded second place, and a skull from Zimmerman. Poor Kim Swift was robbed, and only got a comic book about death for placing third.

So much for gamers wanting to feel real emotion in a game. Really guys? You want another crappy Facebook game? Really?

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I'm all for Kims death game. Would you lose Karma for taking the opportunity of telling you boss exactly what you think of them?

Kim Swift's game definitely sounds like it should have won. Perhaps it was just too "real life" for the judges and made them feel uncomfortable?

Seriously, they have only themselves to blame. It seems like they set the theme and then decided it's not what they meant after all, they wanted a light and fluffy game about real life death.

"As your energy decreases though, you have less and less at your disposal so that eventually, the only thing you are able to do is smile."

That says it all, right there. Bittersweet and heart-wrenching.

Is there anyway to contact Kim Swift? Or possibly send her money so that that game could get developed? It might have been designed for a strictly bragging rights contest, but so little time is spent making death, and late life before it, less scary that something needs to be done. Swift's game sounds like a beginning of an era of bringing those near the end a little bit of solace, by catching them in their younger years with such a game to make the whole prospect a little less frightening.

If only we had something similar for promoting healthy sexuality as well.....

Come on, game developers! You are the voice of the new age, the way that music was in the 60s! Do something with that power!

Heavenville sounds like you play the role of an Angel of Death, and you plant cropswatch souls and harvest them after a certain time period when they're ready. To make it more of a group activity, you ask your fellow farmersAngels to help you build barnschurches for no particular reason. Clearly, this game is going to win more awards.

Also, it will have avatars of Twilight characters that you give to your friends as free gifts. Because it is totally related to Heaven.

bjj hero:
I'm all for Kims death game. Would you lose Karma for taking the opportunity of telling you boss exactly what you think of them?

you shouldnt. I like the idea of all of them but in my minid the heavenville is disqualified for being a facebook app. I liked the other 2

I like the idea of the buying and selling dead people game. And Karma seemed a bit like Heavy Rain's sections where you played as Ethan. Not the good ones, where he gets fucked up, but the boring ones, where you take care of the brat.

Bummer, Facebook wins >.<

Chen's game sounds the best. By far.

Make Karma, now, it sounds epic, do it and prove that the ds's touch screen CAN be used to have fun.

Death and gaming? Reminds of that one Korean kid who died while playing W.O.W. at an internet cafe for like a week straight. Know thy limits people. beside why shouldn't the last moments of you life be a pleasant one expressed with our most beloved media.

LordTarran:
Is there anyway to contact Kim Swift? Or possibly send her money so that that game could get developed?

Seconded so hard.

Steve the Pocket:

LordTarran:
Is there anyway to contact Kim Swift? Or possibly send her money so that that game could get developed?

Seconded so hard.

Third! Motion carries!

I love the Game Design Challenge, because it consistently comes up with such bizarre ideas.

 

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