Saturday, November 12, 2005

MGIS: 'Sex in Games' Game Design Challenge

[A week ago I attended the Montreal Game Summit. I'm only getting around now to posting some notes from the sessions, and will do the posts, one-per]

Taking the GDChallenge format from GDC, this closing session pitted four designers (Eric Zimmerman, Ubisoft’s Heather Kelley, AreaCode’s Frank Lantz, and a fourth competitor who’s name escapes me and who’s design wasn’t that great anyway) against each other, challenging them to design a game involving sex as a core gameplay element.

o Zimmerman’s design was a cop-out, in that it wasn’t a game design at all. However, he gets points for the Carrottop-like prop-comic show that he put on. His opening statement (and thus the copout) was something akin to “what if rather than a game with sex in it… what if games themselves had sex?”. He then picked volunteers out of the audience, had them wear nametags like Donkey Kong and Asteroids, gave them each a “DNA strand” which was a clothes-hanger-scool-project type of thing with all the core game elements of these game titles on cue cards. He then had them hold a mock-fornication behind a shower curtain, while an assistant randomly mixed the DNA elements. Madlib-style game designs were born. His idea was to auto-generate and release these designs out on the internet and do a selective breeding thing to keep only those that were deemed fun. It was a great, humourous presentation, but a copout nonetheless.

o Heather Kelley’s design was for a game for the DS called “Lapis”, aimed at teenage girls. The goal of the game was to ‘stimulate’ a cartoon bunny in a rhythmic fashion generating (on the second screen) ever more elaborate fantasy imagery (supposedly things that might go through one’s head during, ahem, stimulation: Ice cream. Shoes. Etc. etc. Culminating in fireworks if successful. The idea was that the game would teach young girls a thing or two about sex *without their even realizing it* (reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, I might add). I give her points for that part, and picking the DS as a platform because “a game about sex should be personal and private”). However, I wasn’t a fan of the design because (a) she reduced it all physical stimulation of certain locale (when viewed from above, the bunny looked like something else entirely, and (b) it really didn’t look that fun after all. Heather won, but I think this was partly due to home turf advantage (large Ubisoft contingent in the crowd) and partly due to, quite frankly, a largely male game developer audience being quite excited about a female designer talking about how to properly stimulate the female, ahem, anatomy.

o Frank Lantz’s design was also well received, and I think it should have won. Frank designed a mod for Spore, called ‘Sporgy’. The premise was that the procedurally-generated creatures in Spore meet in a secret underground club to participate in wonton sex escapades as an escape from the mundane lives they lead. The multiple limbs and joints generated in the rest of the game would suddenly turn out to serve as different erogenous zones. Two player’s creatures would couple and it would become a kind of beat-matching game, with both players needing to exercise a kind of rhythmic thrusting with the mouse, and do so with matching rhythms. Doing so would unlock more ‘zones’ and score points. I thought it was a brilliant design, and the most in keeping with the theme of the challenge.

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