28 Mar

Day 1 at GDC 2016| All about Game Design workshop, Pen & Paper prototype & XCOM


As you may be aware of, It has been one week since Game Developer Conference 2016 and we thought why not share about our experience at San Francisco attending GDC.

Full disclaimer!  I got the All access pass for the event via the game designer network headed by Blake Merriam who was awesome enough to allot me with one of the slots. The All access pass costs approximately 1,500 $ which was taken care by the scholarship program but we had to pay for the travel and accommodation. I was unaware of the scholarship until Manav Arya, one of the colleagues in the game industry introduced me to the program which resulted in us attending GDC 2016 so a huge shout out for helping us out. Now since you know how we actually got the GDC pass , stay a while and listen about our time at GDC 2016!

As soon as I landed at SFO, the first thing in my list was to head straight to the Hostel. I had made the arrangements well in advance and since I had already been to Frisco before, it was easy enough to find my abode. I couldn’t check in my room before 3.00 PM and since my flight had landed at around 9.00 AM, there was a lot of spare time in my hands. I headed up to the lobby and low and behold, a whole bunch of people readying up their build for GDC 2016!


The lobby was filled with game devs fixing and polishing their games which they were going to showcase at GDC Connection. I din’t waste anytime and unpacked my laptop to show our game. I met the guys from Moped Games, Peter and Morten, who were developing a puzzler game about an Astronaut Dog who was stranded in a desolate planet and had to find the resources for his rocket to get back home ( the resources being  fishes because why not?!). It featured tile based movements inspired by Rogue and I found their level design tech very impressive. They would lay down the tiles of their levels in a plane as usual and they had made this tool which would programmatically curve the plane like a sphere making it look like a curved planet in the game! I know i am confusing you but check out the video below and you will understand once you look at the levels or the game-play!

Blake had asked all of us, the people from the scholarship program to come at Rackspace where I got to meet for the first time all of the others who had participated in the scholarship. We had lunch, discussed some more games and headed to grab our pass for GDC. Since I had a 24 hour flight which was super exhuasting, I ran back to my abode to recharge for the next day.

GDC Day 1!

The event started with talk sessions and full day workshops. You could play games at the Indie mega-booth and  a space was set-up where the Train Jam games where being showcased . I was definitely confused as to which session to attend and how to plan my day even though i had made an agenda through the GDC app. The sheer amount of awesomeness around had overwhelmed me greatly and I had to come up with a plan set the priorities right.

The Game Design Workshop- 

Since I have always been more of a design and art guy, I decided to  attend the design workshop which was 2 full day session hosted by Andrew Leker, Marc leblanc, George Skleres and other faculty members. I had also stumbled upon Pratik Muraka from Idea labs who had past experience in GDC and suggested that I at least experience the workshop once.

The module that I attended had us form into groups depending on the games we liked. For example, there was a group who liked Super Smash Bros, another one with some Super Mario Bros passion, and I joined the XCOM group because it is one of the best video game in the world, period. :D


We were a 5 member team who were passionate about the XCOM games and were tasked to come up with 3 words which represented the feel of XCOM. Every team had to do this for their respective games by writing it down on a paper. Then we had to select one of the word which we thought was the most relevant and drop it in the center. Our group had one word in common, Tension, so we chose that as our theme for the game!


The reason for doing the above task was to make sure that every member in the group was on the same page. We all had to have a common goal especially since the time was short.

After the theme for the games were set and we were asked to make a very basic  pen and paper version of the game in half an hour with the emotion we chose and keep  that as the game-play theme. We tried to come up with a game-play mechanic with cards and Dice. Andrew Leker was going through each table checking out games being made and discussed with the respective teams giving constructive feedback’s and suggestions all the while. As soon as we had laid down a rough playable version of our pen and paper game, the teams scrambled for a quick lunch break.

Post lunch, Andrew gave a talk on MDA frame work which stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics written by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc and Robert Zubek.
It is an amazing approach which can help people in improving their design skills also in figuring out the various problems in their games. If you want to know more about the MDA frame work please visit do visit the following link: http://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf


Once the talk was over, we demoed our initial version of the game and then fleshed out  the game mechanics further for another hour or so. Each of the teams in the room were asked to select one member from their team and move to the other teams table. The transferred member would play the  other teams game and then share about his experience to the whole crowd. This was kind of scary but an interesting idea and Every team elected one member who would move to  other teams table. The person who came to our spot had never played XCOM so for him the concept was very fresh which made us understand more about the problems in our game and also the parts which were working fine. At the end, he had fun with our game which was a huge relief.


After the transferred member checked out our game, it was time to showcase the game to the other teams and faculty . Everyone had to gather around a teams table and the transferred representative would share the game-play and his experience.

All the games in the workshop had very unique and amazing choice of games on display. I have tried my best to share below  the games made by various teams however i am not to able to recollect the emotional theme that each game was based up so please bear with me and enjoy!

Team Super Smash Bros

I cant even begin to imagine how can someone come up with a pen and paper style Super Smash Bros but when a force of creative minds come together, anything is possible i guess. The board was laid basically like a single huge horizontal strip and both players had a deck of combat cards with them. Each player had to play a card and roll the dice to check the success rate after which depending on the result each player would either knock the other one out a couple of tiles. If any player goes out of the board he looses. It had some amazing core mechanics with some recovering and rubber band design elements which is what Super Smash Bros is all about. It never felt like any one was being overpowered and recovery was eminent which made the battles feel very dynamic and usually kept the players on their toes.

Team Counter strike

Yup, stuff of awesomeness and a very brave choice of game especially for pen and paper medium. So how they came up with their game is that they had a deck of card which had A and B denoting bomb site A and B in the Counter Strike video game. They had 6 people divided into 2 teams. Every one would draw the cards, and check their result. If for example, a person in team 1 would draw a card with bomb site A and the person in team 2 would draw a card with bombsite A, they would both battle each other out. How the battles work? Simple, you play rock, paper and scissors with both hands. So If you win the round, you get one point and everyone else resolves their battle in the same method and calculate the points, The team with the last man standing wins the round. It was very good adaptation of the Counter- strike and nailed the design almost 100% with the time they had. It was fast, action packed and kind of chaotic which is what Counter-strike is!


 Team Super Mario Brothers -

Can you believe this, a board game for Super Mario Brothers. Mario has always been known for its level design so their team exactly focused on that. They had designed a 2 player game with player one having a deck of cards at his disposal. The cards would represent a tile of a level in the game, so for example let say the tile has a number 3 in it, Then player B in order to cross the platform would have to roll a D6,  If you rolled above 3 you would pass the obstacle. The cool part of their game-play was that the player A has to use his hand properly because there are certain cards which can even help his opponent.  Player A had to make sure player B would not be able to cross 6 of  his Tile cards and player B had to make sure he did not run out of lives while crossing the tiles. It was again a great adaptation of Mario brothers with some luck elements and it was super fun!!

Team XCOM -

Finally, Time to blabber about our game! So as I mentioned we had chosen ‘Tension’ as our theme for the game and wanted to focus on that emotion. We designed a single player game were you played as a four member squad. A gunner, a sniper, a support and a Medic. They were represented by Squad Cards . Then we designed the aliens based on XCOM, for example Sectoids, Thin man, Mutton etc. You had 3 lanes in your table which were represented 3 horizontal pens, This was your zone of fire. You could place you squad  in whichever zone. The idea behind the zone was that your squadie could only fire the enemies in the same zone. This introduced some flanking and maneuver mechanics in the game which I will explain later. The aliens were placed in the other side of the board, facing down. You had to choose a squad and flip an enemy card to reveal the alien after which you would shoot continue with the shoot phase. The shoot phase consisted of rolling a 2 D6 dices and comparing it with an accuracy stat. If higher, you successfully deal the damage which again is mentioned in your card. Once your shoot phase is complete, it is enemies turn to retaliate. We had critical strike, special abilities, over-watch based on each character and it was super fun to build each element in the game with such short notice and with a great team. We all had played board and card games ex. Yu-gi-oh, duel master,  DND, Talisman etc, and XCOM is one of our favorite computer game hence it was not that difficult to come with the pen and paper design!


Day 1 ended with me dropping  at GDC Brewcade where people drank beers and checked out games, it was way to loud and too busy at least for me to check out any games and since i don’t drink, went back to my place and crashed which marked the end of Day 1 at GDC 2016.

I will try to share about our experience in parts due to crunch on Asura. GDC 2016 is a five day, all day event and it is super hard to cram it all in one post, so next time will share about the happenings in day 2 and maybe 3 since day 2 was not that busy. The post should be by sometime next week.

Thank you so much for dropping by and hope you enjoyed the read.

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