GDC 2020 Previews

Every year I write up a list of interesting-looking narrative-related talks I’m looking forward to at GDC. (I also have an old post about surviving your first GDC that still mostly holds true, though Samovar no longer takes reservations, alas.)

This is a longish list, with a lot going on Monday and Tuesday especially given all the narrative and indie talks presented in the summits.


Game Narrative Summit: Narrative Innovation Showcase. 9:30 AM. This is one of my favorite recurring panels. Highly recommended.

Simultaneous with that, I’m pretty sure this is going to be good too: Independent Games Summit: The Art and Science of Mystery Game Design. Lucas Pope, Katie Chironis, and Sam Barlow are among the speakers. (9:30 as well.)

From Bots to Bandersnatch: The Future of Interactive Romance. Heidi McDonald, 1:20 PM. Heidi McDonald is an expert on romance in interactive narrative, and has edited an entire book on the subject; I’d expect this to be very solidly grounded.

Game Narrative Summit: Storytelling with Verbs: Integrating Gameplay and Narrative. Kaitlin Tremblay. 2:10-2:40. Kait is excellent and this topic is very close to my heart.

Board Game Design Summit: Exit Strategy: The Shape of Endings in Tabletop Game Design. Cole Wehrle, 3:30 PM. I know less about this one than about many of the other talks, but the description sounds really intriguing: “Tabletop games present a rich venue for storytelling, but few things are as anti-climatic as the way many of them end. Even the best designs are liable to grind to a halt in their final moments and players adjust their strategies and make careful tabulations. It doesn’t have to be this way. In this talk, Cole Wehrle, designer of Root and Pax Pamir, offers a new framework for thinking about the final turns of a game, and shares some hard won lessons about when the quest for strategic depth in game design can sabotage its narrative structure.” The combination of strategic depth and narrative structure sounds fantastic to me.

Game Narrative Summit: Conflict, Mystery, and Connection in Casual, Free to Play Puzzle Games. Lisa Brunette. 3:50 PM. The talk title may focus on a particular genre, but I would expect the techniques discussed to be useful in other contexts as well.

Community Management Summit: The ‘Dwarf Fortress’ Story: Lessons from 16 Years of “Cult” Management. Tarn Adams and Victoria Tran. 4:40 PM. I don’t normally include community management things in these roundups, but I know some DF fans are readers, and Tarn’s talks are always good value and usually contain at least one mildly horrifying anecdote.

Independent Games Summit: 2020 Hindsight: A Decade of Indie Dev Viewpoints. 5:30 PM. I am on this panel, talking about text-centric games, predictions I made about them in the past and what has actually come about. Many other cool people are also speaking: Nina Freeman, Rami Ismail, Swery, Tom Francis, Catt Small, Ethan Redd, Mike Bithell, Claris Cyarron, and Rebekah Saltsman.

Pushing the Boundaries of Voice RPGs, Chris Morrow, Ezra Kim, and Jared Bartlett. Likely worth checking out if you’re interested in narrative games played via voice UI. Also 5:30 PM, vexingly, which means I can’t see it myself.

Monday evening from 6:30 PM, inkle is holding a social event for people who use the ink tool. (RSVPs are required.)


Independent Games Summit: Sparking Curiosity-Driven Exploration through Narrative in Outer Wilds. Kelsey Beacham. 10:50 AM. I have not played this game myself, but I’ve heard friends rave about it, and I suspect this will be an interesting unpacking of how the story aspects work.

Game Narrative Summit: Q&A For New Writers, 12:00. Some very fine folks offering advice here, so if you are in need of new writer input, definitely check it out.

Game Narrative Summit: Live Your Story: Immersive Storytelling at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Anisha Deshmane and Casey Ging. 1:20 PM. Storytelling within a theme park is a fascinating area: it’s able to draw on technologies that aren’t practical in most other situations, higher budget than most immersive theatre. At the same time, guests may be of all ages, and have a lot of real world needs that other types of interactive story don’t need to take into account.

What a Piece of Work is a Man: Weird AI Problems in Elsinore. 2:10-2:40 PM, Katie Chironis and Eric Butler talk about the AI driving the very complex narrative in their IGF-nominated game.

Game Narrative Summit: Kill the Hero, Save the World. Hannah Nicklin. 3:00 PM. This one takes on the challenges and up-sides of writing for an ensemble cast of characters. I’d love to see more such games.

Game Narrative Summit: The Problem of Failure. 3:50-4:20 PM, Jon Ingold. Jon’s talks are always good value.

Experimental AI Workshop, 5:30 PM. Me, MC’ing a panel of people talking about cutting edge AI projects in spaces from casual creative tools to AI to improve game accessibility to AI Dungeon.


“Telling Lies”: Creating a Metroidvania of Conversations. Sam Barlow. 9 AM.

Meaningful Play: Emergent Narrative through Gameplay Systems. Jakub Stokalski. 9 AM.


Sunless Skies: A Narrative Post-mortem. 10 AM, by my excellent colleague Chris Gardiner.

Next-Level Marketing for Indie Games. 3 PM, my other excellent colleague Hannah Flynn talks about marketing strategies used by Failbetter.


The Uncredited: a Lost History of Labor in Games. Laine Nooney. 10 AM. Not a narrative talk per se, but an interesting topic with a lot of implications for the present state of the industry, presented by an excellent historian. I’ve enjoyed all the work of Laine’s that I’ve encountered before, and I’d expect this to be great also.

Experimental Gameplay Workshop. 1:30, assorted speakers. Typically one of the most surprising and entertaining sessions at GDC.

2 thoughts on “GDC 2020 Previews”

    1. Unfortunately the rest of the post is *also* out of date, since GDC 2020 has been put off because of coronavirus fears. But I have updated the XYZZYNews link to point to an archived version of the site on the wayback machine, rather than the casino site. Thanks!

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