Being a volunteer, I often found my shifts clashing with interesting sessions, but on a whole I was really lucky, and I got to see most of the ones I was anticipating.
First up, David Cage, who amusingly named his session "How Far Are You Prepared To Go To Develop An Original Project". Cage has always inspired me more with his words than with his games, and his post-mortem of Heavy Rain proved very insightful. As usual he started off proclaiming that the games of today are aimed almost exclusively at children and teenagers, doomed to repeat the same game rules that drove them 30 years ago, and topped it off with his classic (if a bit dated) comparison between game stories and porn stories, and how the audience just wants to skip to "the action".
Heavy Rain, of course, was an attempt to change this. Not only was it to be a game about parenthood and other more mature relationships, Quantic Dream were throwing challenges out the window. Being an oldschool achievement-oriented gamer, I never saw what I now consider to be one of Heavy Rain's greatest strengths until Cage pointed it out - it's okay to lose. They'd had playtesters who failed pretty much every QTE in the first hours of the game and still thought they had played the game perfectly, because the story always went on in a logical fashion!
Unfortunately, Mr Cage could share no insight regarding the secrets of his writing. Heavy Rain took a year to write, but Cage can't seem to remember or be able to convey how it had happened. So all we got in regard to that was the perfectly reasonable principle of introducing characters as archetypes to allow instant recognition without those long first acts that don't fit in a player's attention span - and then gradually add layers of complexity.
In order to avoid having to make Heavy Rain 2, Quantic Dream's management (coincidentally headed by David Cage), decided to market a second brand alongside the game - the brand of David Cage. It had been a tiring process which Cage assured us he had not particularly enjoyed, keeping these two hype machines going at the same time - but it is difficult to deny that it works. An interesting strategy.
Cage ended his session with a series of tounge-in-cheek ESRB ratings for public statues in Florence, declaring that reality was clearly ADULTS ONLY.
In contrast to Cage, who attested to doing everything in his power to avoid game repetition by means of contextual controls, questioning the versatility of a story where the main character could only perform 8-12 actions, Warren Spector went on-stage with a breakdown of the assets which made the game medium unique - and among them was repetition. Apparently we work in the only medium which is immune to the Robert McKee's law of diminishing returns, which can keep the same challenge coming over and over again and changing it just enough to keep it fresh and novel.
Like Cage, Spector kept his talk focused on the differences between the game medium and its predecessors/competitors (one of my favorite subjects, I might add). His tagline was "What Videogames Can Learn From Other Media... What We Can't... And What We Shouldn't".
Spector has spent a lot of time working alongside bigshot movie directors and writers, trying to get them to understand the fundamental differences between our mediums, but it is perhaps impossible for an artist too well trained to understand the basics of something so different, yet so alike. Warren Spector, not giving up that easily, gave us a delightful definition of creativity: creativity is mastering two fields of knowledge and then applying one to the other.
And so we launched into the realm of ancient media. Hitchcock's The Rope showed us the madness of filming a motion picture in one take - a technique that lies at the very nature of games. Whereas movies make us think like in a dream, skipping back and forth through time and space - videogames can and should show us the whole deal. It grants us a closeness to the character of which artists of other media can only dream.
Similarly, Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake showed how the then-disastrous idea of shooting an entire movie from first-person perspective would dominate completely the videogames of the 00's. Because in this medium character identification is not always necessary - not if we already are the character.
Making brief dropdowns into comics, pen and paper role-playing games and radio, Spector finally arrived at his current favorite medium other than games - oral storytelling. Like a story told around the campfire, a game story shapes itself around the listener, and allows her to change the story depending on her reactions. Warren Spector thinks that every storyteller in the games industry should read up on this most ancient of arts, as it is in many regards the exact same thing.
Wrapping up the theme of games and movies, Remedy art director Saku Lehtinen delivered a full-fledged post-mortem of the script-driven production that was Alan Wake. Not possessing the natural charisma of the prior speakers, he more than made up for it with quiet enthusiasm. Describing every detail of Remedy's peculiar modus operandi would make this a very long post, but I walked away knowing that there is at least one studio in the Nordic which takes its storytelling extremely seriously, and where every person on the team is commited to the themes and metaphors of the tale. I have yet to play Alan Wake, but i am looking forward to seeing how their method lets the story seep into areas of game design where we are not used to seeing it.
Also, Lehtinen confessed that Remedy, being Finnish, obviously have a sauna.
This post is already too long, so the talks from Another World designer Eric Chahi and Guerilla CEO Hermen Hulst will have to wait for another time... Hope you get something out of it!