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GDC Day 2 – Serious Games Summit

Day 2 of the Serious Games Summit at GDC really almost blended into the first mentally for me. Being in the same room both days made it difficult for me to remember what sessions were on what day. I had to look at the dates and times on my notes to keep them straight. Here’s some tidbits from my notes.

Microsoft ESP – Taking Flight Simulator from Game to Serious Game
Shawn Firminger – Microsoft

One thing that was reiterated as a theme of the whole summit was that it is very imperative to not treat your business audience the same as your entertainment audience. The reason that this is especially evident with Microsoft’s ESP (a rebranding of their Flight Sim technology for business customers) is that it was and is an entertainment product at its core. It’s not like many of the other projects in the SGS where something was designed as either a game or a sim… this was both. Shawn talked about how the business customers spoke a different language on many levels… both in describing the product but in describing their needs.

You also need to give them “Clear Value Proposition” for their business. Yeah, this seems really obvious – but it may be something that slips by unless you focus on it. Don’t focus on how cool it is… but what it will do for them.

Endorsements are important to other companies… if one customer likes it, make sure the others know it.

Communicate more information about the future potential of the product. This makes it go beyond what it is doing right now… but what it could be down the road for them as well. What can we make it do?

The Ground Truth of Game Technologies for Homeland Security Training
Donna Djordjevich – Sandia National Laboratories

This project, The Ground Truth, is along the lines of a Sim-City sort of disaster management simulation. You are tasked with running all the emergency responders. The first scenario was the “toxic city”. You play abstracted incident commander… run fire, police, hazmat, etc.

They used the USC GamePipe Labs and Sandia Inst. for modeling and simulation engine. They probably could have done a lot more with it, but it’s still a work in process. There seems to be a lot of activity in this sort of space, however. The “first responder” simulations are being mentioned all over the place.

Their next scenario as part of this project is one involving an “active shooter”. They will be including emotionally-driven NPCs. They are interviewing subject-matter experts about such things as psychology in order to make the sim more realistic.

The Paradox of Play: The Challenge of Measuring What Game Players Learn
Don Daglow (Stormfront)
Alex Games, Frank Lantz (area/code)
Richard Wainess (USC)
Eric Zimmerman (Gamelab)

This session annoyed me in that it turned into a semantic argument about what is a game, what is learning, what is rote learning, etc. It really got rather pathetic and off-topic between a couple of the people and ended up going nowhere for a while. Nothing else worth noting here.

Wolfquest – Dave Schaller, Eduweb

This session was rather interesting to me as I had just recently downloaded the game and messed about with it. My daughter is also very interested in animal behavior and played with it as well.

Unlike simply a website, the Minnesota zoo wanted more than just a method of delivering content. They wanted a realistic 3d world is important rather than just a token so that they could really immerse the player into what it is like to be a wolf… from the eyes of a wolf.

They used the “Unity” game authoring tool for prototyping and they swear by it (or got paid to mention it?).

One of the challenges, especially since they were catering to a wide age-range was to find a balance between realistic difficulty and prohibitive difficulty. For example, elk hunts in the wild can take hours. This was simply not feasible in the game. Wolves may also run for hours to look for stuff… again, not really all that fun, eh?

One big note was that they generated a lot of buzz before the release of the game through a community site. Not only did that help build the traffic, but it is a big way to keep the traffic coming back. There is quite a rabid (I did not just say that) fan base on there. This is important since the game is still expanding as they release more scenarios, etc.


All in all, it was a great 2 days of learning what all is going on in the world of Serious Games.

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