GDC 2013: Alli’s GDC Diary Day One – Radioactive Rat Kings

Alli’s GDC Diary Day 1

Apologies everyone, I’m awkwardly typing this on a mobile device in between playing rounds of Cards Against Humanity with some of my work bros. Yeah, that’s right, I know how to party.


So It’s GDC week and for the first time ever, I’m out here – and it’s amazing! Seriously, I’m as excited as a little kid going to summer camp! (well, a confident little kid, not the kind who dreads leaving their parents and is overcome with a paralyzing fear at the sight of strangers).

I’ve been working in the games industry for the last four years – and I’ve been a designer for a little over half that time. Like many of my mentors and closest colleagues, most of my knowledge is self taught or informal. I’ve transferred skills from other professions, read books, absorbed skills by word of mouth, but I’ve never formally sat in a classroom learning my craft. (PS a big shout out and thank you to all of the people who’ve tolerated me barging into their office with “I have a question” over the years).

NA_GDC_1A few of us from Harmonix went out early to attend workshops and boot camps in our various disciplines. After a delayed flight and a few hours of sleep , I met up with a three of my design colleagues, had an awesome breakfast on a rooftop garden, chugged some coffee, and power walked over to the conference center.

The two day design workshop at GDC has a faculty roster of industry powerhouses – people whose talks and papers I’ve been voraciously consuming, and whose games I’ve been playing. You can view the full roster on the GDC site (sorry everyone I am having the worst time typing).

That's Chris Foster, Sr Designer

That’s Chris Foster, Sr Designer

We spent the first part of the day examining SiSSYFiGHT3000, (a card game exercise where you play as nasty little girls trying to tear down each others self esteem). When the game was first brought out I had two reactions: 1, why does it have to be a game about little girls being total dickheads to each other? 2, if I am going to play a game as a horrible playground child, why am I playing as the color blue and not as Cathy or Missy or Peggy?

As the exercise progressed these questions were addressed. Part of the setup of SF3000 is that it has a wobbly narrative – why DO you have to play as little girls? Does this narrative make sense? Our first major exercise was working in groups to reskin the game with a new narrative. After lunch our groups rapidly iterated on retooling the game’s mechanics to improve it.

In the end, Radioactive Rat Kings, the card game our table came up with, bore little resemblance to SF3000. We played as anthropomorphic rats living in a dystopian society, fighting for control of resources and vying to be the ruler of it all – the Rat King! We changed some of the core mechanics, added new ones, and added an extra layer of player vs player interaction.

I also got to play the game the table next to ours worked on, Barnyard Death Cult. As part of my introduction to the game I learned that not only do people in Australia consume kangaroo meat but that it is also apparently delicious. The more you know ….

After a lunch break (during which I consumed more falafal than a person my size reasonably should) it was time for electives.

I chose to attend a session on tactics for getting players to care about your characters or agents in game. The exercises we did were incredibly useful for developing a skill set that went beyond relying on  narrative to accomplish this. By focusing on the desired emotional outcome our groups worked through the challenges of developing mechanics that could achieve this.

My group did an ok job but I was really impressed by the table next to ours. When it came time to “playtest” each other’s games they had, in about an hours worth of time, built a really rich story out of the mechanics they’d added to their game.

After a lot of handshakes, high fives, and hellos, I wrapped up day 1 the best way I know how – by eating tacos with my workmates as we compared notes about the day. And now of course I’m hastily writing this piece as we wrap up a CAH round.

It’s only been one day and my brain is already buzzing with new techniques and ideas I want to try once I’m home… And a pitch for Radioactive Rat Kings the comic book (I’m only half joking).

More tomorrow – maybe ill even find time to properly draft and type up a post. Phone typing FTW!


For More follow her on twitter: @allithrasher


Alli Thresher likes heavy metal way too much.

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