Foundations of Digital Games 2010

Keynote Speakers


James Gee

Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies

Division of Curriculum and Instruction

Mary Lou Fulton College of Education

Game Design = Learning Design = Game Design

I will argue that the basic principles of good game design are, in many respects, equivalent to the basic principles of good design for human learning as supported by research in the Learning Sciences. I will also argue that game design and learning design need to be seen in terms of designing software/content and an associated learning community (or "modding community"). Finally, I will argue that commercial games hold the paradigm for 21st century learning and assessment as it will be developed (with and without games) in and out of school. The talk will argue, as well, that game designers and learning systems designers have much to learn from each other.

James Paul Gee is a member of the National Academy of Education. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990, Third Edition 2007) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the "New Literacy Studies", an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts.  His book An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (1999, Second Edition 2005) brings together his work on a methodology for studying communication in its cultural settings, an approach that has been widely influential over the last two decades.

Professor Gee's most recent books deal with video games, language, and learning. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003, Second Edition 2007) argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences.  Situated Language and Learning (2004) places video games within an overall theory of learning and literacy and shows how they can help us in thinking about the reform of schools.  His most recent book is Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays (2007). Professor Gee has published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences, and education.

Markus Gross

Director of Disney Research Zurich, and

Full Professor of Computer Science

ETH Zurich

Research in Animation and Simulation for Interactive Entertainment of the Future

With the increasing complexity of modern computer games and the quest for higher visual realism we observe that technologies initially developed for computer animation or special effects are transitioning into the realm of game development. A prominent example includes advanced rendering methods and global illumination effects. Another example relates to the simulation and animation of physical phenomena such as smoke, fire, fluids, deformation or fracture. The design of such advanced interactive graphics technology, however, is focused on visual plausibility, stability and ease of use in the first place, and hence has to follow different design paradigms than classical methods do. In this talk I will give an overview of current research topics in computer animation and interactive simulation carried out at Disney Research and at the Computer Graphics Laboratory in Zurich. I will focus on methods for physically‐based animation and discuss their potential for next generation computer games using examples from fluid simulation, elasticity, and facial animation. I will also highlight how we exploit synergies in research and education by encouraging the Computer Science students in our capstone class on game programming to utilize such methods in practical game designs.

Dr. Gross is a professor of computer science at ETH Zurich, head of the Computer Graphics Laboratory. In 2008, Prof. Gross was appointed as the director of the newly founded Disney Research Zurich (DRZ) laboratory ( DRZ is one of two external research laboratories that have recently been established by The Walt Disney Company and by its business units. The second laboratory is located in Pittsburgh (DRP) with a strong link to Carnegie Mellon University. The involved Disney business units include Disney Animation Studios, Image Movers Digital, Imagineering, Disney Interactive Media Group, ESPN, and others. The mission of the two laboratories is to conduct applied research in computer animation, geometric modeling, computational photography, image generation, video processing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and related fields.

For more than 20 years Prof. Gross has been pursuing basic and applied research in computer graphics, image generation and display, geometric modeling, and computer animation. His research interests include point-based graphics, physically-based modeling, immersive displays, and 3D video. Prof. Gross is a member of ACM and ACM SIGGRAPH, a senior member of IEEE, a member of the IEEE, and a fellow of the Eurographics Association. From 2002-2006 he was a member of the ETH research commission. Prof. Gross serves on the boards of numerous international research institutes, societies, and governmental organizations. He also co-founded Cyfex AG, Novodex AG, LiberoVision AG, and Dybuster AG.

John Hopson

Games User Research Group

Microsoft Game Studios

Better games through better understanding:

Researching games from inside the games industry

The way that game developers study and understand their games and their players has evolved just as quickly over the last decade as any other part of the industry. Having dedicated internal researchers was once seen as a rare extravagance, but now every major publisher engages in some form of games research and they consider it to be a vital strategic tool. Under the names of playtesting, usability, data mining, or business intelligence, researchers are playing an expanding role in how we make games.

This talk will cover the research techniques and tricks used by researchers in the industry, from how we work with concepts and prototypes to how we analyze data from millions of players in a released game. I’ll also talk about some specific findings from our labs that we’ve never before spoken about publicly, as well as the joys and struggles of being a researcher working directly with game developers.

John Hopson is a researcher in the pioneering Games User Research group at Microsoft Game Studios, where he works with developers to improve their products through better understanding how real players play games.  He has worked on a wide variety of bestselling games including Halo 3, Age of Empires III, and Shadow Complex, and also currently oversees the MGS beta program.  He is the author of a number of articles on the interaction of psychology and game design, including the infamous "Behavioral Game Design".  John holds a PhD in Behavioral and Brain Sciences from Duke University.

Michael John

Senior Creative Director “at large”

Electronic Arts

Game Design in the Era of Big Data

We are now in an era of Big Data. Collecting, keeping, and using data at massive scales is economically feasible, and that changes things. Big Data has changed advertising, military intelligence, banking, shopping... even finding the shortest line at Disneyland. Data collection and analysis is affecting not only large portions of the economy, but the way we experience many aspects of our lives.

Data‐driven telemetry is also allowing us to change the way we conduct our business as videogame makers and sellers. Instrumentation in games allows us to go from conjecture to understanding of what our players want to experience. Telemetric analysis along with digital delivery allows us to deliver new content that we know our players care about, and to make smarter business decisions about not delivering them stuff we know they won’t play.

Ultimately, data from our players is transforming the medium and how we create for it. This dialogue on a massive scale is an opportunity to create a new type of relationship between the designer and audience. The talk will cover the trends behind this change, and provide a framework for thinking about this evolving relationship.

Michael John is a Senior Creative Director “at large” at Electronic Arts.  In this role, “MJ” contributes to individual game projects, as well as taking on strategic initiatives. He also directs EA’s internal design education programs.  Currently MJ is involved in an effort to increase the use of telemetry and metrics in EA’s design processes.


Prior to EA, MJ was a lead designer on a variety of games, including the original Spyro the Dragon series and Daxter.  He founded a development studio, and worked as a freelance designer and consultant for a number of years.  MJ has been a featured speaker at GDC, DICE, and the IGDA leadership forum.

Shannon Loftis

Microsoft Game Studios

Developing for Project Natal

Project Natal is the new controller free gaming system coming to Xbox in holiday 2010. Come see the latest Project Natal demos and hear the design principles that are behind their creation. Project Natal’s Creative Director Kudo Tsunoda has been on the project since its beginning and will describe several of the early Natal development experiments and what was learned. Get a detailed breakdown of the platform’s features – not just ones you see in today’s experiences but the full capabilities of the Natal platform. Get a behind the scenes look at the technology that makes the system work. Kudo will take you beyond the games and show off the tools developers around the industry

are using to build Natal products. Whether from a design perspective, or getting the technical know how, you will learn the secrets to making a great Project Natal experience! Audience participation is encouraged.

Launching Project Natal is a big leap toward the fulfillment of Shannon Loftis’ career-long ambition to promote “inclusion” as a fundamental entertainment design value. Shannon has been making games and building teams for Microsoft since 1995. She has been lucky enough to participate in the creation of many titles including the Madness racing series (Motocross Madness, Monster Truck Madness, Midtown Madness); the Project Gotham Racing series, the Rallisport Challenge series, Jade Empire, Fable I and II, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, and many other games. She has established several teams, most recently founding the MGS UK publishing group. Since the early 2009, Shannon has been building and managing a Microsoft internal studio that is pioneering game development for Project Natal.

Prior to Microsoft, Shannon was a management consultant for Booz Allen & Hamilton Incorporated, and a programmer for several DC-area organizations. Originally from Pittsburgh, she graduated from Duke University with degrees in Computer Science and Math. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family, running, traveling, hoping she finds time to continue her education as a pilot, and cheering on her favorite sports teams.


© Society for the Advancement of the Science of Digital Games