Friday, March 11, 2011

A Look Back at GDC 2011 -- Day 3

So after a rather calm but eventful night of meeting other XBLIG developers and reviewers, my third and final day of GDC began. My first talk that day involved a lot of theory about writing for games, particularly with character development. This talk was entitled The Identity Bubble - A Design Approach to Character and Story Development given by Matthias Worch of LucasArts. It was an interesting talk; a little dull for something given at 9:30 in the morning, but overall, I enjoyed it. To summarize, or at least what I was able to gather, is that there are two types of game-character types -- the puppet and the vehicle -- and they both involve the player projecting themselves onto a character but in different ways. Another interesting point I took away from it was that writing for games is different than writing for novels, with which I agreed.

Anyway, I skipped the 11:00 talks because I really wanted to go to the game design challenge at 12:30, so I met up with some coworkers -- both current and former -- and had an enjoyable lunch. So after waiting in a massive line, I went to The Game Design Challenge 2011: Bigger than Jesus hosted by Eric Zimmerman. The Game Design Challenge essentially pits the ideas of three well-known designers together. This year's theme was to design a game that could be considered a religion. Firstly, I felt the theme was a little lame. Anyway, the three designers were Jason Rohrer, John Romero, and Jenova Chen, who was last year's winner. Jason's game essentially came down to a one-play Minecraft mod, explaining that religion becomes the stories and tales of those who came before us. John Romero's essentially made the allusion that he thinks he's Jesus through a twitter-based follower game involving starred Post-It notes. Finally Jenova Chen's was simple a proposal to turn TED into YouTube. Due to the popularity of MineCraft and the fact it was the most game-like, Jason was the clear winner. I'd only put John Romero is second because unlike Jenova Chen's, despite his rather well-thought out and well-explained ideaology of religion, it was a game. Overall though I asked myself upon leaving, "Why did I go to this?" It's also that thought that probably answers why I'm a professional scripter / gameplay programmer and not a designer.

So after the Game Design Challenge, I went to a panel entitled XBLIG Success Stories - How to Make the Best of Microsoft's Self-publishing Service held by Brandon Sheffield of Game Developer Magazine. This was exciting for me because it gave a little insight into the best of the best of the XBLIG community I am currently a part of. The following developers were on the panel: Ian Stocker of MagicalTimeBean, James Silva of Ska Studios, Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games, Inc., and Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games. It was rather chill; all of these developers were really down-to-earth, and I liked that. It was very interesting, and it could have been longer, but they were given the "Arm-X" signal to leave. I walked away learning that just marketing both your game and yourself and being part of the XBLIG community are both really important, but unfortunately for me, much easier said than done.

The final two talks of my GDC experience were only a half hour each. The first, given by LucasArts' Dmitry Andreev and entitled Anti-aliasing from a Different Perspective, discussed new approaches to anti-aliasing involving edge-detection and measuring of it. It seemed rather complex and over my head, but it got me excited to try some of these techniques, even if my results would never be nearly as good. My final talk than began entitled Approximating Translucency for a Fast, Cheap and Convincing Subsurface Scattering Look given by Colin Barre-Brisebois of Electronic Arts Montreal. This talk discussed their studio's shader that used a map to determine the thickness of an object, which would then determine it's translucency. Unlike the anti-aliasing one, it seemed to make more sense to me; however, I knew I'd forget almost everything about it once I left the convention, and low-and-behold, I have, but I can probably just search and find the talk again or at least the slides.

Finally, it was time to leave. Some coworkers and I settled down to eat and then we were off on our red-eye flights. I refuse to ever take one of these again. I just can't sleep on planes, but the flight wasn't important. What was important was the contacts I had made and the things I had learned at GDC, and unlike the prior year, I was excited and hoping that I'll be able to go in 2012.

Ah, the memories...

("I'm the one in the green plaid shirt, but that's probably not what you're focusing on.")

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Look Back at GDC 2011 -- Day 2

I forgot to mention the IGF in my last post! Essentially it was the Indie Games Festival awards. It was pretty cool to see indie developers getting awarded for their hard work and dedication and always makes me want to aspire to get on that, or a similar, stage one day. I think all the awards were well-deserved. I disagreed with the winner for one game; I can't remember what it was now. Overall, everyone loves Mincraft and Amnesia!

Now the above image may look scandalous, but the dancers at the PlayPhone Social, which closed my first night at GDC, were wearing less. I guess diversity is important in the game industry after all, right? The real problem for me was the open bar, which, let's just say, I definitely partook in. I learned a very important lesson that night -- stop at midnight!

Anyway, because of the prior night's social, I slept through my first GDC talk of that day. I didn't really have one planned for that morning that I was dying to go to, so I wasn't too upset. After waking up and recovering from my hangover, which didn't last very long, thanks to my late-night ingestion of a Snickers bar, I went to a very interesting talk given by Dee Jay Randell of Capcom Game Studio Vancouver (formely Blue Castle Games) entitled 1000s of Zombies, 1000s of Problems: The Dead Rising 2 Multiplayer Experience. I liked it because it was rather high-level and didn't get too deep into any code, it was well-delivered, and it was about Dead Rising 2, which I really enjoyed. It was essentially a postmortem about the networking implication in Dead Rising 2. One important tidbit I left with was that if you are doing a networking game, you should test every feature both on and offline before continuing with production.

After this, I went to get lunch and explored the Expo floor some more, even stopping by CGSV's booth and telling them I was impressed with the talk I just went to. I even got a free Zombrex pen and Dead Rising 2 shirt; can't complain about that! I explored the Indie Games a bit more this day. Though Hohokum didn't win best art, I really liked it's style and it's non-intrusive approach to instructions and gameplay. Octodad was there too, making me laugh with its bizarre, physics-based gameplay. Eventually, someone even dressed as the main character and went around the Expo floor!

Anyway, after lunch and my most recent expo exploration, I went to a talk entitled -- it's lengthy -- Adaptive Order Independent Transparency: A Far and Practical Approach to Rendering Transparent Geometry given by Marco Salvi of Intel Corporation. It explained new ways of deriving transparency in games, which is more difficult than I first thought. The method came down to getting each pixel and ordering it in a list and blending all those colors, which someone in the audience had a problem with apparently, someone with a near-heckler-like attitude.

After learning about transparency, I went to my second day of the Casual Roundtables. This time we focused more on social games, and again, I walked away thinking that social games is a term that shouldn't really exists, but instead be replaced with the concept of "social aspects" in games such as leaderboards and online play. It was good overall, but I decided to not go to the third day because there was a talk at the same time I wanted to go to.

I ended day two of GDC 2011 with the Microsoft XBLIG Meet-And-Greet. I met a lot of cool Indie Developers such as Soul Caster's Ian Stoker and XBLIG reviewers like Dave Voyles of Armless Octopus. It was neat to meet someone who recognized my game, Battle High: San Bruno, and enjoyed it as well. I also learned about an interesting facet where I may be able to distribute my indie games in the future called Indie City. Overall, this get-together made GDC 2011 way better than 2010, and immediately made me not regret going and wanting to go to the 2012 GDC.

In my next post I'll talk about my third and final day at GDC 2011!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Look Back at GDC 2011 -- Day 1

It's come and gone -- my second Game Developer's Conference. Five days filled with various talks, tutorials, demos, and exciting news for those in the game industry; however, I only witnessed three of these. Unlike my GDC 2010 experience, I feel like I learned a lot more, met a lot of cool, interesting peopple, and overall had a much better time. Here's a breakdown of how my GDC went.

I was in San Francisco yesterday, so I had woken up early to attend my the keynote of GDC given by Satoru Iwata entitled, Video Games Turn 25: A Historical Perspective and Vision for the Future. It was a decent talked, mostly focusing on the importance of innovation in the game industry and the lack thereof currently. I did like it except for the fifteen to twenty minutes of 3DS advertising, which a part of me understood, but at the same time, this was GDC, not E3. It should have discussed how development for the 3DS will be and not things like the fact it will have NetFlix.

After that, I wanted to go to the IGDA Indie Sig, but it mostly involved a spud-like game dubbed ninja, which I didn't feel like playing, so I just explored the Expo floor. I explored the Expo quite a bit, which I'll mention later.

After lunch, I went to a talk entitled Gesture Control and Character Animation Using 3D Sensors for Unity given by Tyler Bryant and Amir Ebrahimi of Flying Zoo; it was sponsored by a group called Mixamo. It demonstrated two things: how to use Mixamo for animations in the Unity store and how to mix the animations Okem's Shadow Tools with Unity. Okem's Shadow Tools will allow developers to easily utilize things like Microsoft's Kinect and other 3D cameras. This was particularly exciting, as a indie developer on the side; if this is affordable and Microsoft allows XBLIG developers to use the Kinect in the future, I can see this being helpful in the production of a lot of cool Indie Games.

I then explored the Expi floor some more until my next session, which was the Casual Games Roundtable hosted by Brian Robbins of Riptide Games and Wade Tinney of Large Animal Games. I sat on the sidelines the first day since I felt like such a noob. Things like "Are downloaded games dead" and "the significance of indie developers" were discussed. The most important things I took away from this first day were that games should not be vacuumed into types such as casual and social, but instead have aspects of them. Also, if you're an expert at something you should learn to adapt it to new technologies and markets, not try and change you expertise to a derivative version of something that's popular and already out there.

On the Expo floor that day, I talked to GAO -- Game Advertising Online -- about advertising and marketing, as well as music licensing from a site called, which I was very interested in. Most of the things on the Expo floor dont't seem appropriate for indies, but these two did, and I liked that.

Anyway, that was my first day of GDC. At night, some co-workers and I got into the PlayPhone Social. It was a very fun time, but didn't come without consequence...