Tuesday, March 10, 2015

GDC 2015

So last week I attended another GDC, or Game Developers' Conference -- not sure about that apostrophe -- and I have to say that I had a much better time this year than last year.  Was it my best GDC?  Not quite, but I did return home feeling a little inspired so I say that's an improvement!  Anyway, like I usually do, I want to write about my time, but I'm going to be short and try and cram it all into one post.

The logo!

Day 0

Day 0 usually involves getting to San Francisco, checking into the hotel, registering for GDC, and then maybe attending some sort of networking event.  This all went pretty smoothly, though getting into SF by 11 am and waiting till 3 pm to get into the room sucked, but whatever, that's normal travel stuff.  I went to some party later involving bacon and monetization.  It was fine, a little packed, a little sweaty, but a fun time overall.

Who benefited this GDC?  Novelty bacon costume manufacturers!

Day 1

The next day, Wednesday, was for talks!

Flash Forward

One talk they continue to do to start the conference is called the Flash Forward in which various of the conference's speakers give summaries of their talks, getting buzzed off if they go over 45 seconds (or a minute).
It started off with Brenda Romero and Laura Fryer talking about the current state of the industry, the excitement, the good, the bad, spending a LOT of time trying to differentiate AAA and indie, but overall it was a good introduction.  None of the individual talks made me go, "Dang, I need to go to that talk immediately!" so the sessions I had planned out beforehand seemed appropriate.  After this ended, I was off to my first actual talk of the conference.

Embracing PBR with Substance:  The AAA Studios' Best Kept Secret (except not really for awhile)

The first talk I went to was about a Substance, a suite of texturing and physical based rendering programs.  I have an indie license for some of these products, but no time to actually try them.  I feel like one of those people who buy ten games during Steam sales and play none of them.  Overall, it was a great demonstration of the tools, and I really want to sit down and try and use it one day.  My only reservations are that it feels like you need a good normal map to make good use of a majority of its tools and I've never been to keen on the high to low poly pipeline, not because I think it looks bad or anything, but because I know it takes a long time and don't have the skillset to do it.

Artwork by Gaeten Lassagne, demonstrating a bit of what Substance can do.

Rules of the Game:  Five Tricks of Highly Effective Designers

The next talk I went to was a design talk about "new" rules about game design.  It was very similar to the microtalks (which happened on Day 2 actually); the difference was that instead of 10 speakers, their were 5.  Various topics were discussed:  how to tie player engagement and needs, the importance of the number 3, the danger of minimum viable product.  Honestly, I don't remember them all that well.  It wasn't bad by any means but not terribly memorable.  What I did like was that the main speaker noted that these are just example rules / tricks and that everyone in the industry sort of needs to come up with their own.

Not a super exciting image, but your brain is good at memorizing groups of 3 with 3 or less things in them, so I thought this would help illustrate that!

Sneak Peek at New Game-Making Tech from Autodesk

Then I went to another sponsored talk, which is risky because they have a tendency to feel like sales pitches, and sometimes they are, but this one didn't -- at least not entirely.  In short, Autodesk, the company behind 3D Studio Max and Maya and probably a bunch of other expensive tools, bought a game engine, which they are now calling Stingray!  I have to say, I was impressed with what I saw.  It had a lot of interesting live-linking between the different tools, building quickly to iPad.  Overall, it was an impressive demo.
I am curious about what their business model, especially with Unity and Unreal going "free" recently.  I don't know if they announced anything; I left early in a futile attempt to get a pass to the Unity party, which is something that has always bitten me on the ass in the past.

A tiny logo of Stingray

Surviving the Jump from AAA to Indie

The final talk of my first day was a panel of indie developers talking about several aspects of going indie aka quitting your job to make your own games.  Now this is something I've been wanting to do -- I don't think that is a secret to my employer -- but I don't think I'm quite ready yet and panels like this always drive that point home.  There are still some aspects of the business side I need to learn, though I do question some of them and every time there seem to be one dev that is like "Yea, making your own games is great, but this did ruin my marriage." I guess that doesn't really scare me -- I'm single, no kids, no house, or outstanding loans (sometimes when I type that out I wonder why I just don't at least attempt it anyway) -- but stories like that still seem disheartening and really make me question, "Is making your own games worth that?"  I feel some artists, authors, musicians, and similarly creative people would say yes but not many.  Anyway, I left that not feeling crushed or depressed but not quite ready to pursue that 100%.

How I'd probably be if I were to go indie right this moment.

Night 1

That night I went to a party called the Wild Rompus or something like that.  It was okay; the first hour was a bit awkward because I'm awkward.  People were playing some indie games and drinking -- I saw Gang Beasts which immediately made my blood boil.  Overall, even at my age, I'm still a bit of a wallflower, but fortunately some people I knew eventually showed up and helped improve my mood.  I think that's the part of GDC I like least -- note I didn't say hate -- that I'm still rather introverted and it makes networking difficulty, and networking is such an important part of GDC and conferences in general.  I just like to shout on Twitter and see if someone is listening; not shout in real life (shouting because the music is loud, not because I only shout) and seeming awkward.  But I'll say this: at least social situations don't give me crippling anxiety -- just stay in the corner and tweet anxiety.  Two ideas came of the night though:  One intriguing -- someone suggested I should publish my NaNoWriMo novel from years ago -- and one depressing -- even if you're a successful indie, the pressure of success can be rather terrifying and lonely.

I think this is an old poster, but I like the idea of a sassy toucan.

Day 2

The next day was filled with roundtables, too many roundtables.

IGDA Unity SIG Roundtable

I started my day in a roundtable, a IGDA SIG or International Game Developer Association Special Interest Group, this one focused on Unity the game engine, a game engine I've been using for about 5 years now?  Maybe more.  Anyway, it was okay.  Sorta dominated by the same five people, which happens at roundtables and can be frustrating, but overall, it was alright.

This guy is on Unity's front page.  I'm not sure why.  He's so creepy...

GDC Microtalks 2015:  One Hour, Ten Speakers, Games and Play, and Us

I like the microtalks -- mostly because they aren't the rants -- and this year was no different.  The most notable were from Lisa Brown, a former colleague, who spoke about the importance of giving yourself deadlines as well as showing your game off through live streaming to create player interest.  Another was from Holly Gramazio, who explained 21 different games, demonstrating that game design can sometimes be very simple yet engaging.  There were a few others I remembered, one feeling like an attempt at an apology but really just self-indulgent garbage not really touching on anything of note in the realm of design; meanwhile, Rami Ismail's was an interesting call to get more developers interested into localization and proper use of foreign languages, which interested me to a degree since I recently localized Battle High 2 to Chinese -- though he spoke at the Flash Forward, this, and apparently had another, more full talk all on the subject. which seemed borderline superfluous.  I remember very little about the rest but know Dadaism and gender were some of the topics.

Lisa's talk was filled with fun drawings like this one (that's her Twitter avatar actually)

ROUNDTABLE IGDA Localization SIG Roundtable

It's unfortunate coming from a microtalk about the importance of language to go to a localization roundtable as dreadful as this.  I think the speaker even said if you weren't a translator you should leave, but I didn't quite understand him properly, and I had 30 minutes to kill, so I stayed.  It was disorganized and messy and just talking about LocJam, a localization game jam, which actually sounded rather interesting.  Then there was discussion about how to create more interest in the SIG and what other conferences to possibly go to.  I think their bigger issue is that they need to interact with other fields in the game industry.  Localizing your game into ten languages is great but tech needs to learn skills on how to integrate this new text:  left versus right, integrating unique characters, etc.  Artists could even be useful on how they can design fonts that make Simplified Chinese readable but also not generic and boring.  Their summit at GDC was replaced this year due to low attendance, and I think that is partially why.  Even someone outside of localization asked a question and was given the coldest, most uncomfortable shoulder I've ever witnessed at a roundtable -- it was rather disheartening and felt like it answered their own question.

Localization is about breaking down barriers; I feel they were just making new ones.

ROUNDTABLE Game Development on a Shoestring:  Low Budge Indie Developers Roundtable:  Day 2

This wasn't a bad roundtable, but wasn't great either.   It was a group of indie devs talking about how they try to save money or how they approach the development of their games.  I hate saying this, but sometimes indie roundtables feel like AA meetings -- and that isn't some sort of game development that is less than AAA.  There's just this sadness that permeates; none of us are famous or super successful yet.  We all want to be.  We all have the talent and passion and drive but it's just difficult right now.  Discoverability I think is the biggest problem in game development -- not just indie development really -- today.  Unless you have millions to spend on advertising, it's tough to get your work seen and it often feels like some sort of lottery.  I don't think this discouraged me from going indie one day, but it gave me pause from rushing into it yet again.

A small child has never made me so angry, but at the same time they probably still don't have enough to make a game.

Night 2

Night two was a bit more fun -- and hectic.  I met some of the cool folks from OUYA, as well as one of the devs from the original Battle High team!  I had to leave early as there was a Unity party a friend got me into as well as an engagement gathering for two former coworkers who are getting hitched.  It was not my best night for a variety of reasons -- some more shameful than others -- but I still had fun and got to try country fried steak for the first (and probably last) time.

Pretty accurate depiction of me that evening...and for part of the next morning

Day 3

The final day of GDC always wraps up a little early, so I wanted to take it rather easy, especially since I wasn't feeling too great.

Game Studio Management:  Making It Great

At the Flash Foward, my boss said he was giving this talk Friday.  A few of my coworkers and I were extremely curious about what this talk about going to be about.  Seeing that nothing else that morning interested me, I decided to go, and I'm happy I did.  It was an interesting talk stressing the importance of information flow in the workplace whether that is physically -- by seating teams close together -- or other ways such anonymous peer reviews.
It was interesting this talk came the morning after last night, as a situation occurred due to some information blocking.  I have a tendency to not always be honest because I'm often afraid of negative backlash when portraying a contradicting opinion -- as I'm often known for doing -- and I end up bottling this up.  Then, for whatever reason -- in the case of Night 2, alcohol -- I end up exploding, spewing some rather hurtful and vile things.  It's like going from 0 to 60, right into cafeteria, filled with snakes -- not venomous ones though, give me some credit.  If the coworker I offended that night is reading this, I would like to apologize.  What I did was uncalled for and unprofessional.  To be honest, I'm not even sure I remember everything I said, but instead of blaming alcohol or other people for my negative disposition, I feel I should find healthier and more appropriate outlets for expressing such information, and for not doing so that night, I would like to say I am sorry.

Bees were discussed briefly too because they elegantly pass information to one another, but I bet there are still a few jerks in every hive...those jerks are then eaten by the queen.

Guilty Gear Xrd's Art Style:  How'd We Do That?!

The previous awkwardness aside, the final talk of GDC I attended was about Guilty Gear Xrd's art style.  Now I'm just going to admit.  I do not like this series or this game.  I think it's a combination of me being very bad at the game -- actually it's probably just that.  I will say though that the new art style is very cool, it's a great use of cell-shading and limited animation to create a 3D game that looks 2D.  I liked this talk because it was inspiring; though I know I won't be able to emulate this game exactly -- 400 to 600 bones per character?! -- it definitely game me some confidence that maybe every game doesn't need to have high poly models and strive for photorealism.  I hope this one is in the GDC vault because it's one I definitely wish I took better notes.

Still a bit mesmerizing that it's all 3D and groundbreaking techniques weren't invented for it.

The End

So that concluded my GDC.  After some movie shopping and some delicious eel sushi, I was back on my way to Pittsburgh.  Oh, and after waiting for a flight attendant to come in for the red eye flight; remember kids, your plane can't take off if there aren't enough flight attendants.
Now, did I feel like I had a great GDC?  No.  Was it better than last year's?  By leaps and bounds, yes!
What could I have done better?  Well I always need to improve my networking skills; even on the expo floor I didn't do a lot of talking with different booths.  I always feel so insignificant and don't want to waste their time, which is stupid thinking -- they are there to talk to me and try to sell me whatever they are showing!  Also, I didn't go into this GDC with a real, tangible goal.  I guess my main goal was just to have a better time than last year, and that I succeeded, but I could have done better.
Will I go to GDC next year?  Maybe.  I think I might go to another conference this year.  I'm looking at Unite since it's in Boston -- and not during the winter.  Maybe I'll try and improve in the areas I failed at GDC there.
Oh!  And I almost forgot.  Night 2 in all it's drunken yelling did render this awesome memory (the guy in the magenta hoodie is the creative lead of Deadly Premonition and D4.  I'm on the left):

Don't let us fool you; 3/4 of us were drunk...maybe all 4.

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