Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Game Designer at the Game Jam

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the role of the game designer at game jams and describes her first experience at Global Game Jam.

Happy Holidays!  As 2016 winds down, let's look forward to renewing our commitment to becoming better game designers in the New Year.  Specifically, I encourage everyone to attend Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world's largest game jam event.  It's happening January 20-22, 2017 and is the perfect opportunity to meet people in the industry and to challenge yourself.  If you're in New York City, then PlayCrafting NYC and Microsoft are again teaming up to serve as an official site. Be sure to take a look at this advice on how to be successful at game jams.

Although Global Game Jam has been around since 2009, I admit last January was my first time there. I guess I had always been intimidated.  I had heard stories that teams were pre-formed or that if you were a game designer or writer, you might have some difficulty latching on to a team.  Definitely, if you are a designer who knows your way around Unity or other applications, you'll have an easier time of it.  As it happened, I saw a friend at the game jam and while there was some "Oh I already promised I'd be in this group" going on, my friend and I still were able to form a team.  We didn't have a phalanx of programmers and artists, so I just had to design based on what were our capabilities.

In actuality, I think everyone on the team contributed to the design and the polish.  On the first day, after the introductions and discussion, I knew we had to lock down the basic idea and go with it.  I did research on the idea and wrote an initial game design document.  The plan was to make a functional demo in less than 2 days (because we would not be staying overnight and working non-stop.)

Although some game design questions did crop up in the remaining time, I did see that my role made a transition to producer, as I became more involved in making cuts to the design and reminding teammates to keep focused.  I was very careful to keep the vision intact.  I wanted very much to get the game on a tablet but in the end, we made do with a laptop that had touch functionality. 

After the demo night, I was asked to put together a little segment on the inspiration behind our GGJ 2016 demo for Major Nelson's Recap of the NYC Global Game Jam Microsoft site.  Here is our offering, Dance of Love, based on the word "RITUAL."


Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Choice For Female Characters Part II

In this article, game writer Sande Chen looks at new data from a study on gender representation in media and again calls on content creators in the game industry to make a choice to include more female characters in their games.

It's been a while since I wrote this post about gender diversity in games. I remember a certain pushback from members of the game development community who felt somehow that a call for gender diversity, or any kind of diversity, was impinging on their personal expression.  They felt like they shouldn't have to sacrifice their creative vision for the sake of diverse representation.

However, I didn't quite see how deciding that a bit-part NPC Doctor #2 would be a female doctor or composing a crowd scene to have more female faces would make much difference to their original vision.  It's simply about reflecting the real world and in the real world, there are female doctors and there are females in crowds.  Yet, in the strange skewed zone of pretend worlds, as the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has shown, females are underrepresented.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it makes an impact on the psyches of young girls, who subconsciously get the message that females are invisible.

On the flip side, when there are empowering female heroines in media, young girls respond with emulation.  Because of the popularity of The Hunger Games series, Brave, and Game of Thrones, the sport of archery has seen a boost among teenage girls. Archery memberships purchased by women shot up by 105% in 2014.  As the Geena Davis Institute says, "If she can see it, she can be it."

Photo by Hayden Beaumont
Photo by Hayden Beaumont
At the 4th Global Symposium on Gender in Media on September 22, 2016, held at Google in New York City, a new software tool developed by researchers at USC Viterbi School of Engineering using Google's machine learning technology was unveiled.  This automated system, known as the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient (GD-IQ), tracks speaking times and screen time using face-tracking algorithms and audio analysis.  It allowed researchers to quickly and efficiently analyze the top grossing (non-animated) films of 2014 and 2015.

Their research showed that in 2015, male characters generally spoke twice as much as female characters and received twice as much screen time.  Specifically, in box office hits with male leads, male characters spoke and appeared three times more often, and even in films with female leads, male characters spoke and received as much screen time as female characters.  In films with both female and male leads, male characters still received significantly more screen time.

But was this because male characters bring in more box office revenue?  Not exactly.  On average, 2015 films with female leads earned 15.8% more than films with male leads.  Films with both female and male leads earned 23.5%
more than films with male or female leads alone.

I'd like to emphasize that no one thinks that creators are purposefully creating male-dominated crowd scenes or actively trying to exclude female characters.  Rather, it's a subconscious societal bias that we as a community can start to notice and rectify.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reading About Quantum Creativity

In this article, game designer Sande Chen looks at the science of creativity, as inspired by quantum physics.

A few days ago, I started reading the book, Quantum Creativity, by Amit Goswami.  A retired professor in theoretical physics, Goswami views creativity through the lens of quantum physics.  And just like quantum physics was a leap away from Newtonian physics, so too is what Goswami calls "quantum creativity."  While Goswami did intend this book for people not familiar with quantum physics, it's not actually that easy to follow. 

What I have gleaned is that creativity can be understood as belonging into two categories: inner and outer creativity. You can have one without the other, but merging both together is immensely better.

Outer creativity is the manifestation of expression in the arts and the sciences that we would have no problem calling creative.  We see the works of art.  We see the scientific discoveries.  Inner creativity, however, is about spiritual transformation and growth.  It's about meaningful context.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow distinguished this type of creativity as self-actualizing creativity and for outer creativity, he used the term, talent-driven creativity.

Learning about the science behind human creativity made me see that my search for meaningfulness in stories and games is likely because I don't want an inner and an outer creativity in a dichotomy, broken down into Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey, but as an entwined creative experience that can be led by emotions and admired or felt on a spiritual level.

I realize I may be headed into the New Age-y zone with this book, but I did find it interesting to see a perspective so different from my own experience.  Never would I have thought that quantum physics would contain such insights into the workings of creativity.  I think it's important to read these different perspectives and I expect I will definitely be reading this book over to try to understand it better.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Upcoming Workshop: Game Writing Portfolio Workout

Hope everyone is ready for the holiday party season!  PlayCrafting NYC will be presenting The '16 Bit Awards, a celebration of game developers on December 15.  Be sure to attend and enjoy this night of music, awards, and games.

On Wednesday, December 7, I will be holding the last Game Writing Portfolio workshop of the year   It's a great space for beginning and established writers to share and learn about game writing.

Here's what a former student has said about Game Writing Portfolio Workout:
"This is so far best one of the Playcrafting workshops. The teacher was funny, incredibly knowledgeable and shared the best insider's secrets!"
Come and write!
Date:  Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM 

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, has Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price.

About Me

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing.  I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT and then I specialized in Screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts.  My first published game as a writer was on the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival.  Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher, for which I was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. I currently head the WGAE Videogame Writers Caucus and am SIG leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG.