[For possibly self-flagellatory reason, but more likely a desire to make sure people go to as many of the awesome Game Developers Conference lectures as possible, we'll be finding the top lectures in each major GDC track this week - starting with game design goodness.]

With the 2009 Game Developers Conference's start just one week away, GameSetWatch will be spending all week previewing the major conference tracks, starting out with 20 of the top lectures (in no particular order) from the Game Design track.

This major discipline-specific track, to be held from Wednesday, March 25th to Friday, March 27th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, with a multitude of highlights, including a newly announced lecture with Will Wright, Lorne Lanning and Bing Gordon discussing gaming and social change.

The list of twenty of the top GDC 2009 design lectures is as follows:

1. Ubisoft Montreal's Clint Hocking, fresh from Far Cry 2's positive critical reception, discusses 'Fault Tolerance: From Intentionality to Improvisation', discussing "how game systems can be designed to encourage the player to improvise and recover from incremental failures and set-backs."

2. In an all-star, relatively underdiscussed panel called 'Stretching Beyond Entertainment: The Role of Games in Personal and Social Change', industry figures including Maxis' Will Wright, Oddworld's Lorne Lanning, Lionhead's Peter Molyneux, former Electronic Arts CCO Bing Gordon, and Ed Fries discuss "what we can do with the creativity of design to help inspire a better world."

3. An extremely rare public design discussion sees Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan present 'The Cruise Director of Azeroth: Directed Gameplay within World Of WarCraft', specifically focusing on "focus on the original development of WoW's quest system and how it has changed over time."

4. Media Molecule: 'Winging It' - Ups, Downs, Mistakes, Successes in the Making of LittleBigPlanet features the firm's Mark Healey and Alex Evans discussing "the processes behind the making of a game designed to bring creativity to the masses."

5. In From Counter-Strike to Left 4 Dead: Creating Replayable Cooperative Experiences, Valve South's Michael Booth talks about "the high-level design of Left 4 Dead, how it evolved from Counter-Strike, and the importance of procedural systems such as the AI Director in creating replayable and compelling cooperative experiences."

6. Far Cry 2 narrative designer Patrick Redding has a 20-minute lecture called 'Aarf! Arf Arf Arf: Talking to the Player with Barks', identifying "...both common pitfalls and practical solutions that keep NPCs sounding smart." (This is in addition to a previously highlighted 60-minute lecture on 'Read Me: Closing the Readability Gap in Immersive Games'.)

7. Lionhead's Peter Molyneux (Populous, Fable series) is presenting a special lecture called 'Lionhead Experiments Revealed' including prototypes of "a range of ideas which are bubbling under the surface at Lionhead Studios which may or may not make it into full games."

8. 'Balancing Multiplayer Competitive Games' is a lecture from controversial Street Fighter HD Remix and Kongai designer David Sirlin, discussing "how good games designed balance into their systems."

9. Continuing the always packed series, Braid creator Jon Blow's 'Experimental Gameplay Sessions' 2-hour lecture will highlight the most interesting experimental, innovative titles from major studios and indies alike.

10. Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi puts forth a lecture simply called 'All About Noby Noby Boy'.

11. Former Maxis developer and Spore Creature Creator lead designer Chaim Gingold presents an intriguing design discussion in the form of 'The Human Play Machine', analyzing "how existing game genres map onto the human brain and body, and how our design decisions affect who will be attracted to our games, and how they will play."

12. In a rare hardware design lecture, Nintendo's Masato Kuwahara will discuss 'The Inspiration Behind Nintendo DSi Development', focusing on "how the company came to develop the system with all these new features and what kind of new software development opportunities the team had in mind."

13. An all-star panel called 'Evolving Game Design: Today and Tomorrow, Eastern and Western Game Design" features Fallout 3's Emil Pagliarulo alongside ICO/Shadow Of The Colossus' Fumito Ueda and No More Heroes' Suda51 talking about trends and the future in open-world game design.

14. Game design veteran Ken Rolston (Oblivion), currently at Big Huge Games, presents 'Vast Narratives and Open Worlds, Part Deux -- Big Huge Problems' alongside Mark Nelson, discussing "new approaches taken on the speakers' current open-world RPG."

15. Harmonix's Dan Teasdale rocks out with 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Design Lessons Learned from Rock Band, discussing the series and why "yearly sequels and design innovation arguably don't mix", but the Boston-based team has strived to accomplish this.

16. Discussing Volition's Saints Row 2, Scott Phillips presents 'Breathing LIFE into an Open World', in which attendees "will learn about the inspiration, organization, methodology, successes and failures of the LIFE system used to add life to the open world city of Stilwater."

17. As recently highlighted, the latest iteration of the Eric Zimmerman-organized Game Design Challenge is 'The Game Design Challenge: My First Time', with Portal's Kim Swift, Habbo's Sulka Haro and Infocom veteran Steve Meretzky all participating in a challenge to create "a concept that brings together two unexplored themes for games: sex and autobiography."

18. The fourth in a popular and long-running GDC lecture series, 'Game Studies Download 4.0' sees : Ian Bogost, Jane McGonigal, and Mia Consalvo present "the 10 most surprising and relevant [academic] insights for game designers and developers" published this year.

19. Maxis' Caryl Shaw will talk about 'Spore: Fulfilling the Massively-Single Player Promise - How'd We Do?', covering "the specifics of working with the community-created content in Spore during the first six months after ship."

20. EA Montreal creative director Alex Hutchinson discusses 'Making Friends is Hard: Social Mechanics in Contemporary Design', which will "survey social mechanics between player avatars and simulated characters in several recent titles", including games like The Sims 2 which Hutchinson worked on.

There are multitude of other notable lectures in the GDC 2009 Design Track, among them 'Valve's Approach to Playtesting: the Application of Empiricism' from the firm's Mike Ambinder, 'Paper Prototypes Of Spore from Stone Librande, Naughy Dog and Big Red Button design guru E. Daniel Arey on 'Master Metrics: The Science Behind the Art of Game Design', and writer and design Ian Bogost on 'Learning From The Atari 2600'.

We'll be previewing other tracks from the 2009 Game Developers Conference, held in San Francisco's Moscone Center from March 23rd-27th, all of this week. (For those overwhelmed by choice, every single GDC 2009 lecture is being recorded for the GDC Vault, with some free lectures available, and GDC 2009 All-Access Pass holders getting access to video and slides from every single lecture this year.)

For more information on Game Developers Conference 2009 track schedules and registration, please visit the official GDC 2009 website.