Game Design Challenge
Game Developers Conference - San Francisco, CA - February 21, 2008

"Bac Attack" screenshotThe Game Design Challenge has become a GDC tradition. Organized by Eric Zimmerman, Gamelab's co-founder and Chief Design Officer, the annual Challenge gives three game designers a design problem, and about one month to create a game design and present it to what is usually an overflow crowd.

Each Challenge is meant to be a statement on some current trend in the industry. Past Challenges have included designing a game using an Emily Dickinson license (to poke fun at the industry's over-reliance on licensed IP), and creating a game using a needle and thread as the input (to call attention to the flurry of new computer and console interfaces, such as the Eye-Toy and the Guitar Hero guitar).

This year's Challenge, inspired by the industry's ongoing search for new demographics, was to design a game for play between a humans and at least one non-human species. Eric specifically said that a real, currently-existing species was required: no T-Rexes, unicorns, or Wookies allowed!

Steve's first competitor was last year's winner, Alexey Pajitnov, creator of Tetris, Hexic, and a personal favorite of mine, Pandora's Box. Alexey's game was Dolphin Ride, designed for up to eight teams of three players each -- two humans and one dolphin. It was sort of a virtual paintball game with the competitors riding on the backs of real dolphins. The dolphins were controlled by a small device that gave them mild electric shocks; sort of the dolphin equivalent of a cowboy's spurs.

Steve's second competitor was Brenda Brathwaite, veteran designer of the legendary Wizardry series, and now a professor of game development and interactive art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Brenda's game, 100 Dogs, was an ARG (alternate reality game) that combined human players, real dogs, and virtual dogs across the multiple cities. It featured ever-escalating challenges culminating in a mystery requiring a community effort to solve.

Steve's presentation slides, and the accompanying audio recording, can be downloaded here. This is a self-extracting ZIP file. Just save it to your hard-drive, and then double-click it. It will automatically extract, run the powerpoint with audio, and then erase all the files (except the original ZIP file.) (Note: an approximately 4mb download.)

The winner is decided by audience vote (that is, volume of applause). The initial vote between Brenda's design and my design was so close that a second vote was required. Eric summoned GDC head honcho Jamil Moledina from the audience to help make the decision, and after a brief huddle, Steve was declared the victor. Suitably embarrasing prizes were awarded: cat gloves for Brenda, a pig's snout for Alexey, and fluffly pink bunny ears for me:

Did every single attendee blog about the Game Design Challenge? It seems so...
     - Joystiq
     - Game Set Watch
     - Geek Gestalt
     - e-Clippings
     - Online Gaming News
     - Oh Gizmo!

UPDATE [January 2011]: Reality catches up with fiction! A Stanford researcher has created a game in which the player's actions affect microorganisms in real time!

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Last updated: 11-08-2011. Contact