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In all the post-mortems and production methodologies for game development, none really address the difficult problems of building a simulation-heavy game in a non-insane way.

With my experience working on Scarface, LMNO, game AI in general, and a side project I’m starting that delves heavily into crowd simulation, I wanted to formalize my thoughts on production processes for simulation driven games.

I mean to answer the question of how best to tackle creative and production challenges, in a way that will most quickly get you to a point where the game is compelling to play (and therefore also viable to pitch and market before being complete).

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I was up at UCSC last week, giving a talk as part of the Games & Playable Media program’s regular speaker series. Having been preceded by Richard Lemarchand and Clint Hocking, I knew I had to bring it – plus the program itself is really exciting, lots of cool stuff coming out of there.

So I tried to cover something I thought would be helpful to the students very specifically, given the program’s focus on AI and deeper interactive systems. Over the years I’ve focused a lot on accessibility in various forms in what I was working on, and none are more tricky than trying to design accessible, unique AI gameplay. There’s lots of lessons from other areas to apply there, especially the part where I talk about dramatic systems design (mainly on Skulls of the Shogun), which I hope to talk about more in the future.

Turn on the notes view while looking at the slides to see  pretty much most of the talk content.

You can also check out the video.

Free to play, free to play, free to play. Is that really the future of games? Blizzard’s jumping on the bandwagon, and they’ve always been on the cutting edge of game design (er maybe not). EA’s gone from 20 releases in a year to 6. Zynga’s gonna get a bajillion dollars in their IPO.

What does all this mean for the game industry overall, not to mention indie developers? Basically every single news piece on these trends is the most hyperbolic thing ever, that each single trend is going to change the entire industry in its favor. The exception is the occasional article with similar bombast, but ending with a single question whether all it is bullshit. Well it is, but it’s difficult to see past all the hot air and try to figure out where trends are actually going.

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Most people go on hiatus from blogging during the holidays, but that’s about the only time I have for it these days. The holidays are usually a time to avoid discussion of sensitive, agree-to-disagree topics, like politics and cat vs. dog preference. For me conceptual frameworks fall somewhere in the middle of that list, but I wanted to finally put down some of the problems I have with the Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics model of game design.

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I had been working on this post for months, actually, swamped by the general insanity of game development as trapeze work, without wires or nets.

Each time (GDC, Boston Gameloop) I’d attend a panel/roundtable on diversity in games, I’d feel like shooting myself. A bunch of otherwise intelligent people sitting around yet running in circles. Do we need to outreach to more diverse groups for them to understand games and go into game development, or do we need to make games that appeal to more diverse audiences first?  We can’t possibly make those games without more diverse developers? How could we attract them first?

Chicken, or egg?

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