- Phil Harrison (Was head of PlayStation Worldwide Development)
- Raph Koster (Veteran Game Designer & Author)
- Neil Young (ngmoco)
- Peter Molyneux (Veteran Game Designer – Populus)
- Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games)
- David Perry (Acclaim)
Gary Whitta (Moderator)
This event was held during the Game Developers Conference at the W Hotel in San Francisco in 2008.
Some Press Comments:
- The Meaning of Next-Gen
- The Importance of Wii
- The Internet
- Casual Games
- Control Devices and Mobile Games
- Flash Games
- The Server World
That Luminaries Transcript
by Samantha Mason Print
Whitta: It’s a real privilege for me to play host to what is an absolutely amazing group of gaming visionaries, and Chris.
Taylor: That’s good for a laugh. I’m here all week.
ImageWhitta: This is the brainchild of David here who was hoping that what we could accomplish here is something a little bit more informal than the other sessions where you’ve got panelists glumly hunched over their microphones all in a straight line looking at a sea of faces, so this is a more engaged, fun, lively discussion. Don’t wait for me to point at you and say, what do you think? Jump in and try to ignore the press. I know that will be difficult for you, Peter, but do your best.
Whitta: Before we get going, I just want to make sure all the panelists here have a proper introduction. Peter Molyneux, needs no introduction, obviously the legendary man behind Bullfrog and later Lionhead. The first time I ever met Peter was before he had had all this spectacular success and he was working out of a one room office above a wi-fi store. I came over to look at a game they were working on and he had Legos all over the floor, Lego mats and Lego bricks, just everything. I’m like, what is all this? And Peter’s going, oh it’s going to be great. I’m working on this game where you’re going to play a god-like figure and you’re going to raise and level the land, it’s going to be fantastic. And I’m like, yeah come on. And two-hundred million dollars later here we all are. This was twenty years ago.
ImageMolyneux: Gary was this sylph-like fifteen year old, like some rabbit on acid running around saying, what are you doing? What are you doing? What are you typing? What is that, is that code? What are you doing? And whatever you say he would religiously write down and it would come out verbatim in the next month’s magazine.
Whitta: Moving on. Chris Taylor of course, from Gas Powered Games, the creator of games like Total Annihilation, Dungeon Siege, Supreme Commander, all great hits. And of course the only man here with the distinction of having one of his games made into a movie by Uwe Boll. How’d that turn out, by the way?
ImageTaylor: Um, yeah.
Whitta: Moving swiftly onward, David Perry, Phil Harrison, two giants in the gaming industry [groans – they are both very tall].
David Perry, of course, who we have to thank for being here today, also for Earthworm Jim and a bunch of other cool stuff. Doctor David Perry, in fact, soon to be. About to receive a doctorate.
Crowd: WHAT?! How’d you get that?
Whitta: It’s amazing what you can get over the internet now! He’s to be given an honorary doctorate by Queens University in Belfast, which he’s never even been to. The best part about this is that also being honored on the same day are Tony Blair and Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous
Neil Young of course from Electronic Arts. Neil has headed some of EA’s most interesting and innovative efforts over the years including things like Majestic which was completely different from anything that had ever been done before, and now responsible for something called EA Blueprint. I’ve had a couple people try to explain to me what this is over the last twenty-four hours and I’ve lost it. Can you take a crack at it? What is EA Blueprint?
Young: It’s a secret.
Whitta: Alright. What a shock coming from EA.
Young: That’s it, we’re not really talking about it that much right now, but essentially it’s my studio group and in our studio group we have Maxis, Spore, Will Wright’s group, we have the partnership with Steven Spielberg and a bunch of new things that we’re sort of trying to develop in a different way …
Koster: Like an incubator kind of thing?
Young: Yeah like that, like that kind of.
Whitta: And last but not least Raph Koster, the only person of this group here that I never met until today so you don’t get riffed on because I’ve got nothing on you. Raph is the creative director on Star Wars Galaxies and also the lead designer of Ultima Online so some pretty serious MMO credentials there.
He has a new company which is doing something very cool which I was not able to ingest in the very short time I had to prepare for this. Do you want to take a very quick stab at describing what you’re up to?
Koster: Sure, allow absolutely anybody to put their own MMO on any webpage on the internet.
NEXT: THE MEANING OF NEXT-GEN
Whitta: So, here we go. This first question is not directed at anyone in particular but just to the table. On a podcast recently we interviewed David Braben who argued that the term next-generation has become a little bit devalued in recent years and his point basically being that while gaming technology advances, the concepts behind the games haven’t generationally evolved at the same rate, and he says he’s still waiting for what he says he considers to be the first real next-generation game of this generation. So I wanted to use that as a spring board for the question, basically what does next-generation actually mean to you?
ImageYoung: He’s sort of right. Everything’s incremental to some degree. One of the interesting things that happened at the transition from the last generation to this generation was how the same games, with up-rezed visuals, outperformed new games with new engines trying to do new things. I think that speaks a little bit to the customer too. I’m not sure that the customer is necessarily accepting of things that are completely one hundred percent totally different and new.
ImageKoster: It’s not the graphics. There are a lot of clear next-gen games in my mind. One of them is the game that all Xbox 360 achievements.That’s the game you play on the 360; that’s a next-gen game. You’re getting your achievements, you’re getting your points, you’ve got presence.
The Miis that you are assembling. That’s a meta-game, and stuff coming on PSN like Home. That’s where we start getting next-gen because it isn’t the graphics, it isn’t the processor, right? That’s just like going from the one liter bottle to the two liter bottle. It’s not really changing the drink inside. It’s really the connectivity and the meta-game things that cut across the entertainment spectrum, and cut across way more kinds of platforms.
ImageHarrison: Did everybody get a chance to check that [futurist] keynote out? His topic is a well trodden path but he delivers it in such a brilliant way that it’s incredible compelling, I think. And he talked about these paradigm shifts in silicon process or not necessarily silicon process, but going from mechanical to valve to transistors to integrated circuits and you can plot those kinds of big paradigm shifts in the game industry going from 8bit, 2D, cartridge, to 32bit, 3D, CD. That I think was a big paradigm shift. It changed the business model, and it changed the production model and it changed the consumption models so that was a big shift in all aspects of the business.
But the 8bit to sixteen bit transition was not a paradigm shift. It was the same things just done bigger, but the market grew and it was the same with PlayStation and Saturn and N64 moving to PlayStation 2 and Xbox, etcetera. The market grew but the paradigm shift didn’t change.
It’s agreeing basically with David Braben’s question. Next-generation won’t be characterized by graphics and processing power and storage media in this generation. It will be characterized by servers, communities, user created content, and all the things that the game developer doesn’t do. So that’s quite an interesting thing for our industry that all of the things that are going to be cool about our future products are stuff that we won’t actually be making. It will be the space between that will actually create the value and the emergent things that will happen are unplanned.
Koster: I’d still be at Sony if people there were talking that way.
[laughter] [Note irony of Harrison’s announced departure a few days later]
Whitta: I mean platform allegiances aside, Phil, are there any games yet so far this generation that you think are even touching on where we’re describing we think it’s going? Specific titles?
Harrison: Wii Sports. I mean, you have to give that credit…
Whitta: And yet that’s the least connected to kind of the online interesting stuff that we’ve just been talking about.
Harrison: It’s a very interesting and frustrating thing for me to experience because I have been banging the drum about social gaming for a long time with SingStar and EyeToy and Buzz. Our Japanese colleagues said there is no such thing as social gaming in Japan. People do not play games on the same sofa together in each others homes. It will never happen. Ping! Out comes Wii and what’s interesting about the Nintendo adverts which are the same the world over, they always show the view from the television back to the sofa, which I think is very clever. And what do you see? A family or four friends all on the sofa. So how pissed off was I?
NOTE: This transcript has been removed from the web, can you help find the rest of it?
Raph Koster’s Blog:
“Today I took part in a great off-site luncheon at GDC, organized by David Perry. Besides Dave, there was Chris Taylor, Neil Young, Phil Harrison, and Peter Molyneux there, as well as a whole bunch of journalists. And the topic — well, it was free conversation pretty much, with minimal prompting from the moderator, Gary Whitta. And wow, a great conversation. :)”
Dave “Shiny” Perry decided to arrange lunch at a posh San Francisco hotel for some industry luminaries, and let us sit in on it. The session, which was hosted by ex-PC Gamer editor Gary Whitta, was attended by Sony’s Phil Harrison, EA’s Neil Young, Peter Molyneux, Gas Powered Games’ Chris Taylor, Mr Perry himself, and MMO visionary Raph Koster.
The lunch began on the topic of what “next generation” actually meant, taking its cue from recent discussions of the term by David Braben, who had argued it had been devalued by the latest hardware failing to deliver actual next generation gaming experiences. The diners decided that what was truly next-generation was, as Phil Harrison put it, what was “in the spaces between what we do,” with the community, with networking, and with user-generated content.
Koster summed it up most succinctly, saying “It’s not the graphics, right? Xbox Live is the next-gen game you play on 360. It’s the connectivity and the meta-games. Next-next-gen will cut across more platforms.”
Koster said that things like achievements across a number of games, and connectivity between them represented genuine innovation for the gaming platforms.
Harrison also highlighted the ideas of what Wii had been capable of in shifting the emphasis of how games are played to social, family gaming, the kind of stuff he’s long been talking about with the SingStar and dance games. Harrison noted that there was something informative in the fact that “the Wii adverts were all from the perspective of the TV, looking at the players”, rather than being focused on impressive game footage.
Molyneux, meanwhile, wanted to maintain respect for other advances, such as those in graphical fidelity. He argued that while the industry heads might call meta-gaming and Wii control systems “next-gen” a consumer was just as likely to tag Call Of Duty 4’s incremental improvement to the FPS as next-gen. “Call Of Duty 4 is about how much you experience, and I think that is next-gen,” said the veteran Brit.
Perry chimed in agreement, saying “the games I want to play aren’t on the Wii.” Molyneux did concede that the Wii was too valuable to ignore, saying “the numbers for Wii are massive, we have to bring games out for it.”
The discussion moved on, with Neil Young (the EA one, not the singer) saying that because of the cost of Wii game development was slightly less the big companies could “afford to be a little more experimental.” He argued that the development community needed to learn to utilise the specific features of what made the Wii appealing such as “family play”, rather than simply porting PlayStation 2 games over. Young highlighted action-quizzer SmartyPants as an example of how this could be done effectively.
This led Phil Harrison to point out that games are taking too long to make. “The speed of iteration has to change,” said the Sony giant. Koster argued that games were shamed by the web, whose speed of iteration of web-sites was lightening fast. “Flickr patches ever half hour!” he exclaimed.
All this talk of the status of traditional game development segued neatly into the second topic, which was the status of simplicity in gaming. Gas Powered’s Chris Taylor argued that “people want simple and deep”. He cited WoW, saying “When WoW starts out the screen is clear, when it’s level 70 it looks like a helicopter. That’s exactly right, and we know its right because of the numbers WoW has done.”
The discussion then moved rapidly into discussion of casual games, piracy, and all the other bugbears that terrify the classic large-scale development companies. Koster, ever the fact-machine, noted that PopCap’s casual gaming surveys had suggested that there were around 20 million people playing casual games like Peggle. Molyneux was aghast and didn’t seem to believe the figure: “200 million? It’s inconceivable!”
“There are 500 million phones going to be sold with games on in the next year,” offered Harrison. Again Molyneux was incredulous, only this time at the idea that people would really use those phones for gaming.
Returning, via love for the iPhone, to the notion of simplicity as a driving principle for game design, Neil Young argued that older generations, who had played the early arcade games and then been out off by difficulty and complexity, were now returning to gaming in droves. “The Wii is bringing people back to gaming,” he said. Harrison took it further: “It’s not just the Wii, it’s the web, and everything else.”
Perry agreed, telling a tale so many gamers have told about non-gaming friends picking up the plastic guitar and then wanting to go right out and buy a PlayStation. “The cost of making a peripheral is not too much,” said Perry, who argued that hardware costs should be accepted when developers can come up with such impressive design as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Hardware interfaces, he said, should not be a problem.
Molyneux agreed, saying that he wanted the new Fable game to be picked up by newbies: “We’re just using one button for Fable 2. For us there are too many buttons on the controller.” Koster had another fact, saying that there were “eighteen dimensions” of control across the 360 controller. “I counted,” he affirmed.
Harrison too wondered if the controller was the biggest stumbling block for accessible game design. He said that handing a non-gamer a gamepad was like “handing them a loaded gun, or a grenade with the pin pulled out.” He waved his hands about the emphasize the point in comedic fashion.
This brought the discussion full circle, with the lunch gang seeming to agree that next-generation interfaces would have to be simpler. Koster delivered a provocative tangent to this idea, saying that “Flash is the next gen console.” He illustrated this by citing the fact that he could play a Flash game at home on his PC, or with a stylus on his pocket PC, or even on his phone. “There are more Flash installs that there are consoles in the last two generations,” Raph pointed out. And it’s a technology that is evolving exponentially, as GDC keynote speaker Ray Kurzweil (who was referenced several times in the discussion) had highlighted. Koster also said that Flash will have 3D polygon transforms in Flash10, and OpenGL in the canvas tag was something that was being worked on for Firefox.
“Good luck making money on a Flash game,” said Neil Young. He saw the current trends as simply dispersing how and where games were played. Flash games might be ubiquitous, but they were not the future for the man from EA, who argued that the proliferation of platforms and interfaces simply served different needs for different games. He did have some suggestions about what that might mean for hardware, however. “Maybe there doesn’t need to be a device in the home,” he suggested. “Can it be rendered on a server and delivered via the network?”
Harrison said that the speed of light might have something to say about such undertakings, but journalist turned developer Gary Penn, sat in the background, said that it was already happening.
Chris Taylor seemed to think that something like that was close to the nature of where he wanted to go with gaming. “Secure PC gaming is the future,” he said. “All server based.”
At this point Whitta chimed in, paraphrasing something Harrison had said in a previous session. “Is this the last generation where physical media has any relevance?”
The group seemed unsure, but Harrison was admitted that “it’s moving away from the disc as a business model.” Was Whitta’s Blu-Ray collecting the behaviour of a dinosaur? Yes, they joked, but the reality seemed to be that no one saw physical media has having much traction in the coming years. Koster underlined he point by recalling a student recently asking, “What’s a CD player?”
Finally Molyneux made us all turn off our dictaphones so he could talk off the record about Fable 2. And… we can’t talk about that just yet, but obviously that was next-generation too.