Friday, April 5, 2013

GDC 2013 Days Two & Three

Day Two:  Roundtables and Inspiration

Stop drinking tequila, baby!
So after the KixEye party I was feeling a bit hungover.  At this moment I was really questioning the importance of open bars and dancers -- of either gender -- and photo booths at parties, yearning for them to be more professional and chill.  At the same time, I was afraid that I had caught the dreaded "GDC Plague" early in the conference as my throat was aching; later I found out this was probably due to drunkenly screaming over loud music.  Anyway, I was able to get up just in time to catch my first Tuesday talk entitled "10 Questions:  Am I Ready to Go Indie?" given by industry veteran Don Daglow.  The talk was a bit of a lie.  There were more than 10 questions, but the number of questions wasn't important.  Essentially, Don asked various questions relating to subjects that individuals on the verge of going indie need to ask themselves related to relationships, risk, finance, and passion.  It was a very well delivered talk and probably one of my favorite this GDC.  The takeaway I got from it is that I have the passion and drive, but I still have some negativity I need to fight and going full indie is probably too financially risky for me at this time.  I still like my job at Schell Games, and I'm not ready to leave it either, so for now I'll stick to doing my small projects on the side.

Much like this tiny salad, my side projects, are just a small yet nutritional part of my game development career.

After this talk I went to the Game Design Challenge, the FINAL Game Design Challenge.  The panel's full title was "Humanity's Last Game:  The Game Design Challenge Final Championship".  To summarize, the game design challenge involves a unique, sometimes esoteric them, and famous game designs are given a few weeks to make a presentation or pitch of a game that follows said theme.  To be honest, I have had a love-hate relationship with previous game design challenges, but it was still sad that after a decade, this was (allegedly) the final game design challenge.  This final game design challenge was the to be humanity's final game -- either a game that would end it or the last game we would play or something.  There were six presenters this year -- as opposed to the average four.  I'll try and simply summarize the entries as I could probably fill several posts on each one.  Will Wright's involved a game that would somehow capture and allow us to share our memories to future generations or aliens that would come to our planet.  Harvey Smith's was sort of a game describing all of human desires and events -- birth, desire to belong, death -- that was stored in the DNA of creatures that would outlive us.  Steve Meretzky's was a humous -- though some would find it distasteful -- reality TV show about hackers trying to launch nuclear warheads.  Erin Robinson's was an augmented reality game that we would become so obsessed with that eventually we would accidentally destroy ourselves.  This was my personal favorite; it felt the most believable without trying too hard.  Jason Rohrer's involved created an all titanium game, chess-like game that he buried somewhere in Nevada in the hopes no one would find it for 2,000 years.  This was deemed the winner; however, I predict that a group of obsessed fans will find this game in less than a decade similar to how Noby Noby Boy players reached planets way faster than the developers anticipated.  Finally, Richard Lemarchand's game was heavily influenced by a religious group who believes some people are wise, some are selfish, and some are asleep to the wisdom of reality that resulted in a YouTube for good deeds of sorts.  Despite the rather dreary sounding theme, this was my favorite Game Design Challenge and it was sad that this was the last one.  It was never clearly stated why this was the last challenge, but the speaker, Eric Zimmerman, explained that the goal of the Game Design Challenge was to influence and make a change in the games we make in the industry and after a decade of doing these challenges, he believed that this change was occurring and that it was time to end the challenges.  I can't fully agree with this sentiment but I respect it, though I will do a Liz-Lemon-style eye roll if there is a Game Design Challenge hosted by him next year.

This image was used in two of the presentations, and dammit, I'm going to use it in my blog!

This is often my expression every year when I hear the themes of Game Design Challenge or the Global Game Jam, including this year, but at the end I usually leave more inspired...somehow.
After this I went to two IGDA special interest group, or SIG, roundtables.  They weren't as good as the design roundtable I went to the prior day, but they were still interesting to see different perspectives and hear about different issues in the industry.  My only critique of these roundtables is that they both go around and have everyone introduce themselves which eats up a fair amount of time.  I understand the point, but if I were to run one of these roundtables I would prefer people introduce themselves when they talk for the first time but that's it.  Overall, I feel like I "over" roundtabled myself, but I still enjoyed them, but two in a row was probably a bit much as I was so flooded with random conversations I didn't really bring back anything specific or useful to say.

Alright, I'll just admit, by the time we get back to the speaker, I'm going to forget all your names...

After this roundtable, I went to an XNA meetup, meeting some cool developers that I only knew from Twitter or their games from the XBLIG forums.  It was a joy to speak to them; however, like an idiot, I went to the "secret" Black Fedora party.  I waited 90 minutes in a line to pay $11.00 for a Jack and Coke.  I felt bad cause I felt like I dragged some people to this party, but would have had a much better time hanging out with the other XNA developers, which I ended up doing after leaving this party and had a really cool time.  Anyway, Day 2 was pretty good.  It was inspirational, humbling, and informative.

The party's wristband and proof that I had actually attended!

See the photographer straddling that statue?  Well probably not but yea, he was there...

Day Three:  Intimidating Tech

I felt much better the next morning, having avoided the GDC Plague, which was good cause my first talk was supposed to be very tech heavy.  Entitled, "Implementing a Rewindable Instant Replay System for Temporal Debugging" given by Mark Wesley of 2K Marin.  It was a packed room but it wasn't a talk packed with code.  The goal of the talk was to discuss ideas of how to implement a replay system for fast and easy debugging.  For example, I'm playing my game, I store important information for the last couple of frames and I can rewind, trying to figure out why certain things were working the way they were.  It was informative and gave good strategies and examples on what to do but no details on how to do it.  The issue is that it's probably hard to show example code because replay functionality is probably very client-side specific.  Regardless, I really want to implement something like this in my next game, and if I can do it, it'll definitely make debugging a much smoother process.

If only rewinding your game was as easy and fun as rewinding a VHS tape used to be.

I then went to Jill Murray of Ubisoft's talk entitled "Divserse Game Characters:  Write Them Now!".  I was relieved to learn this talk wasn't going to be an overbearing, commanding rant but was instead a discussion of tips on how to write more diverse game characters and despite Jill's cough it was a well-delivered, informative, and inspiring talk.  Personally, I'm not an Assassin's Creed fan, but the game she wrote for, Assassin's Creed Liberation, did intrigue me as its main character, Aveline, definitely seemed new and interesting.  The biggest takeaways from the talks are that research is very important as well as understanding your world.  This talk inspired me to make characters in my work more diverse, and I'm going to try in my next indie project.  Will I succeed with flying colors?  Probably not, but at least I'll try!

Image of Aveline, the very complex and interesting protagonist of Assassin's Creed:  Libration

My final talk of GDC was probably the most intimidating.  Brian Provinciano, creator of Retro City Rampage, gave a talk entitled "One Man, 17 SKUs:  Shipping on Every Platform at Once."  He went through the trials and tribulations of releasing the previously mentioned game on various platforms such as XBLA, PSN, Wii, and PC.  There were some tech guidelines -- some of which I was familiar with due to my XBLIG experience -- discussed such as keeping text within a certain frame, how you have to localize depending on platform, and cost.  Cost was the intimating part.  He spent over $60,000 on quality assurance, which I understand is important, but that is definitely something I cannot afford right now.  Also, he spent 3 years on his game, 1 of which went to dealing with publishing the game on these different platforms, which felt very unappealing to me.  I understand multi-platform can do a lot for a game but I'd rather focus on a few than shotgun as many as possible.  Also, he made XBLA sound like an awful platform.  Overall, it was a great talk but made me pause a bit and realize I need a bit more time before I can go "full indie."

Games are expensive, even if they don't necessarily look it...

This was my last talk of GDC.  None of the remaining talks appealed to me, I was tired, and the expo hall had closed.  My friend wanted to see a talk, so I gave him my badge so he could see it and went back to my place to sleep.  I went out with some friends later that night and had a swell time, but the next day I felt, for the first time after a GDC, rather sad and despondent.  I wanted another day, another day to learn, another day to network, another day to be inspired, but alas, there were no more days.  Overall, this was a great GDC, probably one of the best, and though I don't know where I'll be next year -- Schell Games, some other company, or full indie -- I hope I can afford and make time for GDC 2014!

So sad, but if you love something sometimes you have to let it go, right, Leo?  RIGHT?!

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