"Few speeches which have produced an electrical effect on an audience can bear the colourless photography of a
I lecture regularly at the Game Developers' Conference, and at numerous other events as well. I have discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I am quite a good public speaker, and I routinely get high ratings at the GDC.
If you're interested in having me give a lecture to a class or conference, look over those listed here to see
if one might meet your needs, then visit the Articles and Lectures page under Consulting. To find out more about my speaking style, check out the About My Lectures page. If you're wondering about the hat I usually wear at GDC, see About That Hat.
This page is
subdivided by subject matter. Within most sections the lectures are in reverse chronological order.
Basics of Design and Development
Fundamental Principles of Game Design
Delivered at many different events.
Abstract: A lot of people start doing game design without knowing the fundamental principles, and as a result, they make fundamental mistakes. This is a from-the-ground-up, first-principles lecture about designing games – mostly computer and video games, although I make reference to other kinds of games as well. In it I discuss such things as the player's
role, gameplay, core mechanics, balancing, the function of positive feedback, the dimensions of a game world, and many more key concepts. None of it will be new to experienced professionals, but it does set out the basics in a clear, direct style. Note: This lecture is is available by itself or as part of my Fundamental Principles game design workshop; but since this is how I make my living, I don't distribute the slides.
Principles of Character Design
Delivered at many different events.
Abstract: This is the introductory lecture to my Character Design Workshop, though it can be delivered alone. It introduces and explains the essentials of designing characters for video games, including such issues as appearance, voice, movement (animation), attributes,
symbolic and functional accessories (think Indiana Jones' bullwhip), inventory, and emotional depth. I also take a look at character growth, both in the literary sense (emotional growth) and in the gameplay sense (new moves, skills, and strengths). Note: I do not distribute the slides of this lecture in electronic form.
Introduction to Interactive Storytelling
Delivered at many different events.
Abstract: This lecture introduces my workshops on interactive storytelling, both the short and the long versions. In it I discuss the key considerations for making stories interactive, and look at the traditional ways the game industry approaches the problem, including linear, branching, and foldback structures. I also address the different ways that the plot of a story
may advance -- through time alone or various kinds of player actions -- and the emotional consequences of allowing the player to influence the plot through challenges and choices. Finally I look at the question of multiple endings: whether to include them or not, and why. Note: I do not distribute the slides of this lecture in electronic form.
Basics of Game User Interface Design
University of Skövde, Sweden (February 2006)
Abstract: This lecture introduces my user interface design workshop, but can also serve as
a standalone introduction to the subject. It starts by discussing the function of a user interface in a game and then addresses the basic things that players need to know: Where am I? What am I doing? How well am I doing? What should I do next? and so on. It covers a number of classic elements such as buttons, menus, screen overlays, mini-maps, and camera models, as well as ways of managing the avatar's focus of attention. The second
part of the lecture addresses inputs, giving orders, and steering mechanisms. Note: I do not distribute the slides of this lecture in electronic form.
Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! [2.6 MB Zipped PowerPoint file]
Delivered at many different events.
Abstract: Based on my popular "Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!" columns, this is a
lighthearted look at some common design errors in both current and older games. I divide them into bad conceptual design, bad game mechanics, bad user interface design, bad programming, bad level design, and bad content – and I include examples of games that contain these problems.
The Construction of Ludic Spaces [3.1MB PowerPoint file]
Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria (September 2002)
Level Up Conference, Utrecht, the Netherlands (November 2003)
European Developers' Forum, London, England (September, 2004).
Abstract: This short lecture is about the use of architecture in game design – not software architecture, but real architecture: buildings and outdoor spaces. My central thesis is that buildings in games are not analogous to real buildings but to movie sets. Their primary
purpose is to serve the gameplay, just as the function of a movie set is to serve the movie's narrative, and therefore they are not bound by the conventional rules of architecture. It includes a number of examples of how buildings are used in real games.
A variant of this lecture has been published as a Designer's Notebook column called "The Role of Architecture in Videogames."
Overview of the Interactive Entertainment Industry [561K PowerPoint file]
University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (October 2003)
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain (May 2002).
Abstract: A general introduction to the types of interactive entertainment, and the way the retail computer game industry builds and sells games. This isn't about design or project
management, but about the way the industry works, and the kinds of careers available. It's material you probably won't get in college courses.
Careers in the Interactive Entertainment Industry.
Pennsylvania Governor's School for Information Technology (July 2001-3)
Just as it sounds, an overview of how the game industry works as a business, followed by a discussion of the various careers available in game development, both on the publisher and
developer side. It concludes with some advice on how to prepare yourself to be a game developer, and how to look for jobs in the industry.
Game Design (theoretical)
The Mechanics of Love: Practical Challenges of Implementing Mathematical Models of Love and Sex
2014 Lyst Summit, Copenhagen, Denmark
Abstract: Games that model love and sex are little-known in the West, but common in Japan. The mechanics underlying these games, however, are crude and built upon fairly conventional models, particularly those of role-playing games. Most sexuality research has been qualitative rather than quantitative, and is often culturally bound. In this lecture I
examine some of the approaches to simulating love and sex that have been tried in the past, and then go on to suggest more realistic mathematical models of love and sex.
Making MMOGs More Storylike [ 26.3 MB PDF of slides, with notes ]
2011 Game Developers' Conference Europe, Cologne, Germany.
Abstract: Persistent worlds are great places to play but poor places to be a hero, because
in most of them the player cannot permanently change the world. In this lecture I show how the design of current games harms the story-like feel of the experience, and what we can to do to allow all the players to play a more meaningful role in the plot. I also describe a high concept for one such game, The Blitz Online.
Single-Player, Multiplayer, MMOG: Design Psychologies for Different Social Contexts
[ Watch and listen online (not downloadable) ]
2010 Game Developers' Conference, San Francisco, California.
Abstract: Single-player game design is so profoundly different from multiplayer game design that it requires another approach. Massively-multiplayer online worlds are different yet again,
and massively-multiplayer free-to-play games are more different still. In a single-player game, the designer's relationship with the player is personal, intimate, and artistic. The designer of a multi-player game is an architect, the enabler of other people's collective fun. MMOG designers are social engineers, while F2P designers are economists. This lecture explores these different designer's roles, and the varying meanings of the ideas of fairness and
balance in these different social contexts.
What's Next for God Games?
2008 Game Developers' Conference, San Francisco, California.
Abstract: So far, god games have mostly been about sex and volcanoes -- that is, propagating a friendly tribe and doing damage to hostile ones. They haven't really been about religion at all. What is the essential experience of being a god? Drawing on my experience
growing up in a family of professional anthropologists, I consider the potential offered by a game about the relationship between people and their gods, and in particular, the roles of faith, prayer, and sacrifice. The lecture introduces a design for a new god game and how to simulate religious and other cultural behavior in a way never before seen. I then go on to explore, in a more open-ended way, what god games are really about and how they may be improved.
Rethinking Challenges in Games and Stories [ Listen in RealAudio ]
2007 Game Developers' Conference, San Francisco, California.
Abstract: In this lecture I take a second look at the role of challenges in gameplay - how they construct the player's experience and affect his or her emotional response to the game.
Starting with a new proposal for determining the difficulty of a challenge, I go on to question the assumption that games should be challenging at all, and make a case for other forms of computerized play beyond the traditional challenge-achievement-reward structure. I also addresses the effect of challenges on storytelling, and discusses how different mechanisms for influencing the plot of a story produce different feelings in the player. The lecture ends
with a suggestion for a unifying meta-approach to interactive storytelling that obviates all the debate about the "right way" to do it.
A New Vision for Interactive Stories [ Listen in RealAudio ]
2006 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: Over the winter of 2005-2006 I substantially revised my thinking about interactive
storytelling, and this lecture presents the results. I start by discussing three key assumptions that have held us back for years: that an interactive story should be a universal sandbox; that an interactive story will not have an internal economy; and that in a computer game, the player need not know the rules. I then introduce Ken Perlin's Law, a mechanism that provides the solution for the Problem of Internal Consistency that I highlighted in The
Challenge of the Interactive Movie. Next I propose a new approach to designing interactive stories, by treating the player as a role-player (regardless of genre) and following up the implications of that choice. The second half of the lecture looks a game that takes an entirely different tack on interactive storytelling, King of Dragon Pass from A-Sharp. It
abandons the branching tree structure and treats situations as functions and characters as parameters to those functions. I show how neither the branching tree nor the pure social simulator will do the job, but King of Dragon Pass creates a hybrid that may be the future of interactive storytelling.
Letting the Audience onto the Stage: The Potential of VR Drama [962K PDF file]
Virtual Storytelling '05 Conference, Strasbourg, France
Abstract: The video game industry has spent more then twenty years investigating interactive storytelling, with mixed results. One area they have not paid much attention to is interactive drama—that is, interactions among characters, rather than the effects of plot upon characters. This lecture examines several new efforts to develop interactive drama, and
suggests some approaches for integrating interactive drama and virtual reality.
Interactive Narratives Revisited: Ten Years of Research [ Listen in RealAudio ]
2005 Game Developers' Conference, San Francisco, California.
Abstract: At the 1995 Game Developers' Conference, I gave a lecture called "The Challenge of the Interactive Movie" (also on-line here). That lecture listed a number of theoretical problems with interactive narratives as I understood them at the time. This lecture is a retrospective over the last ten years, examining the work done by both the industry and the academy. It highlights some advances, some failures, and re-examines the problems to see if they are still relevant today.
Why We Shouldn't Make Games [ Listen in RealAudio ]
2002 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: The game industry defines games in a reductionist way, in terms of players, rules,
and a victory condition. Society has a much more vague definition. Games connote childhood, pretending, play, and insignificance. This lecture examines some of the limitations of the "game" concept and the constraints it imposes on our creativity. It concludes by advocating the creation of a new paradigm for works in the interactive medium.
Dogma 2001: A Sermon on Technology, Creativity, and Art
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain (May 2002)
2001 Game Developers' Conference – Europe, London, England.
This lecture combines elements from my Dogma 2001 Designer's Notebook column with material from Will Computer Games Ever Be a Legitimate Art Form? (below).
Interactivity versus Narrative: This Time, It's War!
Digital Media World 2001, London, England
Digital Storytelling Society Conference 2003, Seoul, South Korea.
Abstract: Examines three qualities of narrative that pose problems for interactive storytelling. It then discusses some of the emotional limits of gameplay, and finally proposes a partial solution to the apparent conflict between interactivity and narrative. [This lecture is now outdated by more recent work.]
Will Computer Games Ever Be A Legitimate Art Form? [ Listen in RealAudio ] [ In Romanian ]
2001 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Game Intersections '01, Stockholm, Sweden.
Abstract: Computer and video games have gone from being a fringe form of entertainment to
a worldwide business that generates billions of dollars and employs hundreds of thousands of people. But unlike books, movies, and even television, they're still not recognized as an art form. This lecture looks at what art is and does, and what it takes to be an art form. It concludes with a series of concrete suggestions about what we as game developers must do to gain that status.
Putting the Ghost in the Machine
1999 American Association for Artificial Intellgence Symposium on Computer Games and AI, Stanford University, Stanford, California.
1998 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Long Beach, California.
Abstract: Just as poetry is the art of language, interactive entertainment is the art of artificial intelligence. One of our core goals is to create the impression that the player is competing
with an intelligent opponent. AI is incredibly hard to do, so we cheat in a number of ways, taking advantage of the player's suspension of disbelief. I looked at some of the ways we can cheat, and suggested a number of models for behavior from the animal kingdom.
Game Design (practical)
A Requirements Specification Template for Interactive Storytelling [318K PDF]
2011 Game Developers' Conference, San Francisco, California
Abstract: There is no one right way to do interactive storytelling. A designer needs to choose from among the techniques available based on his or her own goals for the experience. During my 2007 GDC lecture, "Rethinking Challenges in Games and Stories", I proposed that designers should write a requirements specification before they start to design their interactive storytelling game, so they clearly understand what they want to achieve. In this lecture I plan to explain what a requirements specification provides to the designer and to offer a template for writing one, going through the main headings in detail.
Interactive Narrative Tools and Techniques
Georgia Institute of Technology, 2007.
Abstract: This is a general introduction to the various approaches we have taken to interactive storytelling, with a discussion of their strengths and weaknesses. I address the most familiar approaches: linear, branching, and foldback systems; and then go on to consider some of the more experimental techniques: drama managers, leadership simulators, and pure emergent storytelling.
Emerging Issues in Game Design [1.78 MB PowerPoint file]
FuturePlay Conference, Michigan State University, 2005
Abstract: This lecture is a compendium of several others, discussing what I see as important emerging issues at the moment. Among them are sex in games; the consequences of blurring the boundaries between in-game and out-of-game events in
MMOGs; the end of graphics as a dominant force in selling games; new roles for AI; new forms of interactive storytelling; procedural content generation; games as art; and above all, the arrival of the mass market, in the form of casual players.
Problems with Justice in On-line Communities
Academy of Converging Media, Berlin, Germany 2002-3.
Abstract: Examines the history of on-line communities and social problems that have arisen
as they become mass-market rather than hobbyist entertainment. Discusses the four types of players, the need for and cost of justice systems, and justice mechanisms that have been tried on-line. This lecture is not original work, but more of a literature survey.
Eurostylin': An American Game Designer in Europe
2000 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: In the summer of 1999, I moved to Britain to work for Bullfrog Productions on their
next-generation god game. This lecture contains my reflections on some of the differences between European and American culture, and how it affects game design.
Innovation: Games that Changed the Industry
1999 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: Computer games are no longer a specialty market. Although playing them was
once a hobbyist activity not unlike playing golf or flying model airplanes, it is now a mass medium like the movies, books, and TV. Game developers need to rethink their games to appeal to this new market. In the course of the lecture I looked at a number of games from the past and the lessons they had to teach us about innovation.
The Secret of Eternal (Product) Life: Lessons from J.R.R. Tolkien and John Madden
1997 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
Abstract: As publishers are increasingly reluctant to take risks on new themes or genres, it has become necessary to build "franchises" -- product lines that will last for several years. This lecture looks at how two franchises, Madden NFL Football and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, have managed to achieve their extraordinary market longevity, with examples from
other products as well. I also talk about mythic themes and moral ambiguity as the hallmarks of great entertainment, and how we as developers should perceive our customers if we want to make products that last.
The Challenge of the Interactive Movie
1995 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
Abstract: The interactive movie, which was considered an important genre at the time this
lecture was given, is fraught with design problems. Using the ending of the movie Casablanca as a starting point, I looked at the relationship between narrative and interactivity, and listed several specific obstacles to getting them to work together. I then went on to discuss why interactivity is so important and shouldn't be treated as an afterthought. [This lecture is now outdated by more recent work.]
Society, History, and Culture
The Promise of India: Ancient Culture, Modern Game Design
NASSCOM Animation and Gaming Summit, Hyderabad, India, November 2009.
Abstract: India was the ancient source of some of the world's greatest games, from chess
and pachisi to Snakes and Ladders. Today India is one of the most important emerging markets in video gaming, as well as a source of tremendous technical and creative skill. In this lecture, I examine the special promise that India offers to the world as a source of game design excellence. I also offer some practical advice to help Indian game developers achieve their potential, and warn of some mistakes to avoid.
Developing Backwards and in High Heels
Women in Games Conference, Dundee, Scotland, August 2005
Women in Games International event, Redwood City, Calfironia, March 2007.
Abstract: "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels." Women game developers must also work backwards and in high heels -- backwards because they are usually developing games for a male market; in high heels
because they are often impeded by a masculine development culture. In this lecture, I look at the past and future of women in gaming: what they contributed to the early development of the medium and how they will change it in the 21st century. I examine several different aspects of the question, including the way women are portrayed in games; women as designers and developers; and the wants and needs of the female player.
The Future of Computer Entertainment to 2050
Advances in Computer Entertainment Conference, Singapore, June 2004
Delivered at several additional events.
Abstract: Advances in computer entertainment will take place on three major fronts over the next half-century. These fronts are: technological advancement; demographic and market changes; and aesthetic development of the medium. This lecture examines each in turn, highlighting the key changes that we can expect to take place, and how they will affect the
way we make and sell interactive entertainment.
The Philosophical Roots of Computer Game Design [ Listen in RealAudio ]
2004 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: This lecture is a theoretical discussion of the historical, social and technological
forces that produced the contemporary culture of computer game design and development. Although game design might seem to be primarily about making successful commercial products, in fact the subjects we choose to explore in our games are not necessarily dictated by the market, but are the product of our own peculiar philosophical origins. As digital technologists we work with the classical tools of logic and order; as creative people
we strive for the expression of romantic ideals. This tension between the classic and the romantic sides of our medium is the source of some of our more intractable creative problems. This lecture is not intended to offer specific solutions, but to enlighten and entertain.
Exploring the Fringes: Interactive Entertainment for the 21st Century [ Listen in Real Audio ]
2003 Game Developers' Conference, San Jose, California.
Abstract: This lecture is a survey of the various activities taking place on the fringes of the commercial video game industry. Many are experimental, and could lead the way to new forms of interactive entertainment that will be significant in the new century. Among the areas examined are the formal art world; the machinima movement; the demo scene; the
interactive fiction movement; text MUDs and MUSHes; and the use of computer games for particular ends other than entertainment: religious, health education, subversion, political propaganda, and so on. Illustrated with numerous slides.
In Praise of Sex and Violence
1996 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
Abstract: Congressional investigations and parents' protests notwithstanding, sex and
violence are an essential part of all entertainment media for adults -- books, movies, TV, ancient Greek vase paintings and Roman frescoes. This lecture looks at the role that sex and violence play in entertainment, and discusses the history of censorship briefly. I then go on to suggest how computer game developers should approach the use of sex and violence in our games.
Computer Game Development in the United States: A Historical Perspective
Interactive Seoul '95, sponsored by Samsung Electronics, Seoul, South Korea.
Symposium on Electronic Entertainment, Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Taejon, South Korea, 1995.
I was invited to South Korea to give this lecture to two different gatherings. It was a fascinating experience and very enjoyable. I used a lot of slides and props for this one, since
I was lecturing to a group of people whose native language was not English. Since the game industry is in its infancy in Korea, I thought it would be helpful to describe the hardware platforms from a historical perspective, explaining how each came to be and what the business models were. While describing the PC game business, I wore a propellor beanie (I'm not sure if it translated culturally) to emphasize that it tends to favor the more computer
-literate. When I switched to discussing console games, I took off the beanie and put on a top hat stuffed with play money, to make the point that console games make a lot more money than PC games do.
The Koreans are not a highly demonstrative people, so I was very flattered when I got them to laugh. But were they laughing with me or laughing at me? I'd rather not know.
The Computer As Projector
Interactive Entertainment Developers' Forum, London, England (November 1995).
This was just a shortened form of my lecture, Celluloid to Silicon, below.
Celluloid to Silicon: A Sermon for Newcomers from Hollywood [Listen in RealAudio]
1994 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
Abstract: At the time this lecture was given, we were beginning to include far more audiovisual assets in games, and people began talking excitedly about "the New Hollywood." A Hollywood metaphor for computer game development -- that it was akin to moviemaking -- was gaining a lot of attention. I dissected this and other metaphors and showed how
wrongheaded they were, principally because computer game development requires engineering and the linear media do not. I then went on to explain what engineering was and why it was so hard to do.
This was the first lecture that I put a large amount of preparation into. I departed from the traditional point-by-point method of lecturing which is so deadly dull, and went to much more expressive, narrative style with comedy, drama, and varying levels of intensity. This met with
such success that I've used it ever since.
Game Academics and Pedagogy
Ten Commandments for Game Development Education
2008 GDC Education Summit, San Francisco, California.
Abstract: A personal overview of things to do and not do in game development higher education, based on my experiences as a visiting professor at several different institutions.
Teachers, Computers, Games, and Designers
International Expert Seminar on Videogames and Learning, Centre for Technology and Education
of the Chilean Ministry of Education (ENLACES), Santiago, Chile, 2007.
This is a short formal paper on how computer games can assist teachers, and more importantly, what educators and commercial designers each need to know about the other in order to work together effectively.
2003 IGDA Academic Summit Concluding Summary [53K PDF file]
2003 IGDA Academic Summit, San Jose, California.
During the Summit I took notes on everything that was said, added a dash (well, more than a dash) of my own opinion, and presented it all as a rapid-fire summary at the end. It seemed to be well-received.
Using Game Design to Teach Effectively
Conference on Computer Games in Schools, University of Stockholm Department of Education, Stockholm, Sweden 2002.
Abstract: A half-hour lecture discussing the role of entertainment in education, and how
educational games should be structured in such a way as to most effectively reinforce other teaching. Many educational games are based around an analogy between gameplay and learning, which I believe is flawed. Computer games don't teach, they illustrate, and this is key to designing them properly for the purpose. Concludes with practical suggestions for designing educational games.
Programming the CD-I Player
1992 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
A very straightforward technical lecture on programming the (now long-defunct) Compact Disc-Interactive player.
The Problems and Promise of On-Line Games
1991 Computer Game Developers' Conference, Santa Clara, California.
This was an overview of design and technical considerations for creating on-line games. It was written before the World Wide Web existed, but most of the ideas it contained are still valid.
Some Practical Problems of Immortality
1998 Game Developers' Conference Road Trip, South San Francisco, California
This isn't really a lecture on game design or the game industry at all. I had been thinking about the practical problems that a society of immortal people might encounter, when
suddenly I was invited to lecture at this event. The organizers kindly let me take an hour to discuss some of these peculiar issues.