Workshop and Consulting at Crytek
Sten Hübler is one of the key designers at Crytek, which is acclaimed for its graphically spectacular first-person shooters. Several months ago he attended a game design workshop I gave with Martine Parry in London. He decided that it would be worthwhile for several of Crytek's designers to have the same experience, so he invited me to come to Frankfurt for a day. We did some back and forth to find a mutually convenient time, and I finally made it on Monday. I gave my Fundamental Principles of Game Design lecture to anybody in the company who wanted to come -- there was an audience of about 50. After that, 18 of their creative personnel did the three-hour version of the Fundamentals workshop. I deliberately chose some of the harder games to design, knowing that this was a group of experienced professionals -- and as I expected, they knocked some of them out of the park. Several teams took approaches that I had never seen before, and interestingly (for a company that designs monster 3D shooters) often chose to imagine their designs as small, web-based casual games rather than large AAA titles.
From there we went on to interactive storytelling. I gave them an introductory lecture just to establish a common vocabulary, and we spent the rest of the day discussing different design issues, seminar-style. The folks at Crytek are hoping to improve the stories in their shooter games, to make them richer and more emotionally meaningful. That's not always easy when your primary way of interacting with the world is at gunpoint. We spent a lot of time talking about the merits of predefined characters (e.g. Lara Croft), versus player-defined ones (e.g. MMOG avatars), versus completely neutral ones (e.g. Gordon Freeman), and which ones best manage to combine player freedom with emotional engagement. Someone made the interesting observation that the real hero of Half-Life 2 isn't Gordon Freeman, but Alex, the player's supposed sidekick. Because Gordon himself has no personality, the player identifies more with Alex and her goals than his own.
After the work day was over, we went out for a splendid dinner and a lot more shop talk. I had a great time and got a good insight into the way they work. I hope I get a chance to go back one of these days.