7 March 2011

GDC Saves the World - Impressions: Day 5 - by Robert Boyd

      Posted 03/07/11 04:54:00 pm  

This is day 5 of my ongoing blog of my experiences at GDC. If you haven't already, be sure to read Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

The final day! The whole reason I'm here awaits – the XBLIG Success Stories panel that I'm speaking at. However, that's not until 2:00 so there's a bit to go through before that.

My day started out with a meeting with someone at THQ (name withheld to protect the innocent) about the possibility of collaborating on a game in the future. The meeting place was a Starbucks near the conference center. The old joke about every other building being a Starbucks came and bit us because it turns out that there were multiple Starbucks on this particular street near the conference center. Luckily, I was able to call him up and get things straightened out.

The actual meeting went well – we talked about GDC, about indie games, about Titan Quest (one of my favorite games of all time and published by THQ), about I Don't Know Jack, about the THQ publicity stunts here (he's not sure who was responsible for the whole balloons in the bay mess), and more. We didn't make any definite plans for the future (we couldn't even if I wanted – most of the rest of my development year is already set), but he said to keep in touch. Very nice guy and it was fun chatting with him.

After the meeting, I had enough time to catch part of the 15 Games in 15 Years panel. This panel had quite the interesting concept – a designer was going to talk about the different card/board/other games that he had made for his children over the years and the different lessons he had learned from each one. The panel was one of the most entertaining I had been to all week. The only downside was that since these were custom made games, I couldn't go on to Amazon the next day and order them – I really wanted to play several of the games he talked about.

After that panel, I had a dilemma – Cave Story or Maniac Mansion? Truly one of the hardest decisions I had to make this conference. In the end, I decided to go with Maniac Mansion simply because nothing would be lost via translation (the Cave Story creator is Japanese). Although I hear the Cave Story panel was great, I don't regret my decision as the Maniac Mansion post-mortem was both interesting (I love how he worked at LucasArts and didn't have the rights to make a Star Wars game) and educational. I've been doing the vast majority of my work directly in code so I daresay I could save a lot of time by implementing a scripting system ala SCUMM in my next game.

After that, it was time for lunch and then time to prepare for my panel. I got to the room about an hour early and talked some GDC volunteers into letting me in. Once I got onto the stand, I was surprised at just how bright the lights blazing down on the speakers are. Quite annoying, although understandable (gotta have the speakers easy to see for the audience and the camera). Some of the technical support staff came by and asked me about our panel and someone brought us a bunch of water. While I was waiting for the panel to begin, I went over the questions that Brandon Sheffield had sent us, browsed the Internet, and did some IM (with someone I'm working with on our secret next project – woo!) and twitter.

Ian (Soulcaster I & II) showed up next about half an hour before game time. James (Z0MB1ES, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai) came next, followed by Nathan (Explosionade, Shoot 1Up). Brandon, our moderator, came last, just a few minutes before we were supposed to start, but still on time since we didn't need to set up any audio visual equipment.

The room was of moderate size for the convention center and could probably fit four or five hundred people. To my great surprise, the room was mostly full by the time we started. Were these people mistaken as to who was speaking? Didn't they realize that David Crane was speaking elsewhere? I briefly considered going to David Crane's Pitfall! post-mortem myself, but since I'd like to get invited back next year, I decided against it.

I'm probably not the best person to ask about what exactly happened during the panel since I was busy trying to give good responses to the questions and trying to not make a fool of myself and had no time for note taking. Here are a couple of articles you can check out for more details about what we actually said. I did think we did a pretty good job of making sure that all four of us got about the same amount of screen time and no single individual dominated the conversation. Ian probably had the funniest bit in the whole panel with his Mega Man for game developers metaphor. I made a joke about XBLIG being plagued with too many mediocre dual-stick shmups and I half expected to read a headline the next day "Robert Boyd hates shmups and freedom! News at 11!" but I guess my comment wasn't as interesting as Nintendo and duct-tape and generally not worth the effort to take out of context.

After the panel finished, I was swamped by several people who wanted to ask questions and compliment us on our panel, including someone at Joystiq who thanked me for the shout-out (Joystiq started doing a feature focusing on XBLIG gems in response to our Indie Games Winter Uprising promotion). When we finally got off of the podium, I hung around for a few minutes and talked to some of the other panelists before deciding to head back to my motel. Sure, there were a couple cool panels left in the day, but it would have felt anti-climactic to have gone to another panel right after finishing our own. Besides, after a whole week of GDC and countless panels, talks, and meetings, I was done. In my motel room, I helped my wife get her phone working and then relaxed with some more Xenogears. The next day, I drove back to my home in southern California.

And that's it for GDC. Time for some recap!

I don't think I attended a single bad panel. Even my least liked panel (the depression one) had a few good points. Everything ranged from pretty good to downright amazing.

Although it looks like it's going to be at least 6-12 months before there are any games that I'd be willing to spend $40 on, the 3DS hardware is very cool and if I thought I could convince my wife, I'd buy one at launch. If the 3D can work even on my strange eyes, I daresay it can work on pretty much anybody's. And unlike all other forms of 3D that I've experience so far, the 3DS's graphics are sharp and clear, even in movement.

Most famous developers are surprising humble.

It's a big investment in time and money to speak at GDC. If you don't get a chance at the panel itself, make sure to take some time to thank your favorite panelists via email, twitter, facebook, etc.

Making good tools beforehand can make game development and polishing drastically easier.

There are a lot of very intelligent and talented individuals working in this business.

With nearly 20,000 people attending this year's conference, you can't really rely on chance meetings. Setting up meetings before the conference begins is best.

I never want to live in San Francisco. The traffic was nightmarish.

And there you have it! I hope you have enjoyed this little excursion into the world of GDC! Feel free to leave comments or if you want to contact me directly, you can email me at rdespair at gmail dot com.

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