A week (or two) with Sid Meier

This May, Microsoft and the University of Michigan are sponsoring a two-week long game design boot camp hosted by Sid Meier, most famous for his work on the Civilization series (and my personal favorite, ‘Pirates!’).

Unfortunately it’s only for people with software development backgrounds, but the bootcamp isn’t about programming the games, it’s about designing them. From their site:

Sid Meier’s Game Design Boot Camp is a two-week intensive residential camp where a limited number of students will receive instruction on game design, develop their own games, and get hands-on advice from game design experts. 

Students will individually go through all of the phases of game design and development resulting in a running game at the end of the two weeks.

There will be 1-2 hours of lecture per day followed by design activities, with extensive time for game development and implementation including critiques and advice from game experts.

Students should expect to work >10 hours/day on projects and activities.

If that sounds up your alley, find more information here. (And just ignore that garish banner.)

Better interfaces for game design

I recently found a fantastic video making the rounds on some programming boards I follow.

The video is by a user interface developer named Bret Victor who apparently is really into improving interfaces for software and game developers. If you want to skip some of the boilerplate stuff, fast forward to 2 minutes.

This sort of tool would no doubt have come in handy for the people who made platformers for the game design portion of this class. Just goes to show that there’s still tons of headway to be made in the game development world.

Sequelitis: Can new IPs succeed?

This post was originally going to be titled, “what happened to theme music?” It was to be a quick post about how games of late lack any truly memorable music. Amidst doing some research, however, I noticed something far more dastardly.

Let us take a look at the top ten games of the past year, according to Amazon’s boxed game sales. I have bolded everything that is a sequel.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
2. Fifa 12
3. Battlefield 3
4. Zumba Fitness
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
6. Just Dance 3
7. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
8. LA Noire
9. Saints Row: The Third
10. Batman: Arkham City

Really? One new intellectual property (IP) and, strangely enough, a fitness game. What happened to new ideas? I remembered all sorts of weird, crazy new games coming out all the time when I was a kid. For comparison, let’s look at 2001’s best selling video games, according to Wikipedia.

1. Grand Theft Auto III
2. Madden NFL 2002
3. Pokémon Crystal
4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
5. Super Mario Advance
6. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec
7. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
9. Pokémon Silver
10. Driver 2

I expected to go back and find a cornucopia of weird games. What I got was anything but that. Blinded by nostalgia, I guess. It’s hard to shoehorn new ways of learning into a pre-existing brand or IP, so this raises the question: can new games with better learning methods succeed in the market?

It takes a while, but the answer is yes. Often the first iteration of an IP will see limited success, but their sequels will show up on best-seller lists. If we look again at this year’s list of best-sellers, we can note that there are only three franchises predating 2001: Fifa, Elder Scrolls, and Batman. Everything else is from the past ten years. So don’t worry; there is hope yet.