First, isolate the group
I just stumbled back from Project Horseshoe, the amazingly intense game design think tank set in the deep wilderness of Texas. Ah, Texas. Armadillos sporting leprosy and overhanging trees dangling with dozens of wiggling arachnids were amongst the more colorful wildlife lurking on the isolated ranch where we stayed. There is nothing more endearing than having a conversation about virtual gods interrupted by a friendly eight-legged fiend swaying two inches in front of your nose. Did you know that wolf spiders merely cause agonizing pain and swelling? We absentmindedly brushed the curious observers aside and got back to the intense task of solving the world’s biggest game design problems. No time for spiders.
If you’ve ever wandered the halls of GDC and managed to hook up for a few golden moments of great design conversation, you understand the purest essence of Project Horseshoe. It is exactly like that, except the mind melds last for two and a half days and the intensity is magnified by an order of magnitude. Sleep is deferred, scotch consumed, and electric arcs of thought crackle. I always come away with a feeling of inevitability: “We shall change the world.”
The quality of people in a small team matters
Key to all this was the quality of the people. With the esoteric topic of game design, you might expect perhaps 1 out of every 100 industry folks and perhaps 1 out of every 100,000 players to be able to have a coherent conversation. Every single chat here went deep. Concepts that typically require a few hours (or days) of build up, were grokked in minutes and then leapfrogged. All told, the various attendees, hailing from a spread of publisher, AAA, casual and academic backgrounds have already created experiences that were integral to the lives of millions of players. I’ve worked with some good eggs in my life, but never have I been around such concentrated brilliance.
Passion is also critical
And it was obvious this crew will inevitably create or influence the creation of a hundred million more experiences in the future. Over and over I heard the passionate sentiment that we are at the very beginning of games as revolutionary and fundamentally positive social force. To have such idealism and talent focused in the same room for a once-in-a-lifetime event was downright intoxicating. It was like witnessing the birth of quantum physics or the computer industry or modern cinema.
Include a few elements from left field
I had the honor of giving the talk that kicked off the geeky portion of the event on Thursday. George “The Fatman” Sanger introduced me by saying he told his wife he found me on the internet. Note: Craigs List ads do in fact work. “Slinky SWGD seeks walks in park.” I’ll post up my slides shortly. I must admit that I was repeatedly surprised and humbled to find out that so many of my fellow attendees read this little blog. (Hay, everyone!)
Work towards are a clear, pragmatic goal
As is the yearly tradition, the working groups at Project Horseshoe will release their reports over the coming months. It would be impossible to capture everything discussed, but at least a few big ideas will surface. Practical, practical. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of egos gusting hot air. And that isn’t the point.
What a rush. I’ve got another dozen fresh essays crammed into my bursting noggin. Life is absolutely glorious.
Escapist writeup on the event: