Here’s a quick recap of some of the best talks I saw at GDC this year, along with how you can attend the conference and get around the big cost on the pass.
To CA or not to CA
I often attend GDC as a Conference Associate (CA). You wear a brightly colored t-shirt, work some shifts during the week, checking badges and helping out attendees. In return you receive an all access pass to use in your free time.
You also get an instant posse of about 400 other CAs. It can feel a bit like summer camp but for adult game developers. It can be both amazing and exhausting, but if you’re looking to make a lot of friends and attend GDC without paying over a thousand dollars for a pass, being a CA is a pretty good deal.
Top Talks 2015
There were lots of good talks at GDC this year, many of which I missed. But of the talks I went to, here’s a few that really stood out:
Art of Firewatch by Jane Ng
Jane gave a great talk explaining the magic of how they took their 2D concept art below:
And translated its mood and style into the fully explorable 3D world required for the game:
She explained the simple and clever techniques they used including custom color banded fog to pull out layers of depth, simplifying silhouettes in the distance, and detailing the game objects important to the narrative to draw the player's attention. When all these techniques come together the final result is really amazing.
Jane recently put up a video of the talk on their development blog so you can see the magic for yourself.
Game < Design by Stone Librande
Stone's talk looked at other fields of design to see what they have in common with game design and how game designers could benefit by learning from them. The talk asked "what are the different design processes in other fields, and what is yours?"
A slide from Stone's talk showing some of the other design fields to learn from
IDEO, a design firm in Palo Alto, asked Stone to talk about his work on SimCity to help them with one of their projects. Stone posited likewise that we should find people from other fields to give talks and share information with us. You can find the full slides and notes here:
Interior Design and Environment Art: Mastering Space, Mastering Place by Dan John Cox
And as if to prove an Stone's point, Dan's excellent talk revealed how the principles of interior design worked to make compelling spaces, both in real life and in games. Seeing an example where a player navigates a three story house in Dishonored and understanding how the interior design was working to make it a successful and interesting space was deeply educational.
Another great example from the talk was the concept of increasing and releasing tension through the use of small and large spaces. He showed this clip from Uncharted 4 (skip to 2:55):
He pointed out that as Drake enters smaller and more compressed spaces, we as players also feel more tension. When Drake finally he reaches a wide open space we feel that tension released. There was a lot of great stuff in his talk that is easily applicable to your own game designs. Here are the full slides and notes.
Indie Development and the Economy of Favors by Theresa Duringer
This talk was given by my co-founder at Turtle Sandbox, Theresa Duringer. She highlighted how as an indie developer, you can relieve some of the burden of all the different tasks you have to do by being savvy about making lots of friends and helping people out. If you’re just starting out as an independent developer and don’t already have a big network of folks to get help from and share advice the talk is a must see. Essentially she's describing what effect networking actually looks like, rather than the stereo-typical image we have about shaking lots of hands and exchanging business cards.
That wraps up my GDC highlights for this year!