Although I didn't wake up and get ready super early like I had hoped, I still managed to get to the GDC Keynote address about half an hour early. It was already fairly well attended when I arrived so I went ahead and sat down a few rows back behind a big pillar and chatted with a nearby design student while we all waited for the presentation to begin.
Iwata got up and gave an excellent speech full of insight and humor. He mostly used examples from Nintendo, but to be fair, what speaker at GDC hasn't been mostly drawing from their own work? He did make some rather positive comments about a few of their competitors like Microsoft with XBox Live and the success of games like Call of Duty & Angry Birds. In short, an all around classy talk.
However, about halfway through Iwata's talk, something horrifying happened. Nintendo of America president, Reggie Fils-Aims took the stage. Apparently, nobody bothered to tell Reggie that he was at Game Developers Conference because what followed was the most shameless shilling I've ever seen. It's one thing to promote your game or company at a panel about your game or company - people are coming to hear about you, after all. However, it's a completely different thing to use the conference's keynote address for such purposes. In just a few minutes, I lost a lot of respect for Mr. Fils-Aims as an individual and Nintendo as a whole.
Of course, much of that damage could have been largely mended by just spending a million dollars or so and giving everyone in attendance a free 3DS, but no such luck.
After the keynote, I had a delightfully different experience at the next panel - the classic post-mortem for Prince of Persia. Jordan Mechner was very humble as he talked to us about how he slowly made Prince of Persia over the course of about 3 years. He gave some great advice about development ("All survival, no triumph" was one of my favorites), he shared funny stories, and he just seemed like the soft of really nice guy that you'd just like to hang out with. Some of his experiences I could definitely relate to like procrastinating while you're trying to figure out your life when in reality, you should just roll up your sleeves and get to work. Oh and I didn't realize it before, but when he showed Karateka, I recognized it as one of those very early games in my childhood that I had loved, but had forgotten the name.
After the post-mortem, I had time to check out the expo hall (which had just opened up today). I didn't make any cool business contacts or neat deals, I just wandered around. Overall, I didn't see much of interest other than my first chance to try out a 3DS. I tried Pilotwings for a few minutes and thought it was rather fun. At max 3D, it made me feel nauseous, but I was okay after turning the slider down a bit. The 3D effect was very cool, although I didn't see anything jumping out of the screen; it was all inner screen stuff. The main downside seemed to be a very narrow effective field of view - move your head a little to the left or right and the image would be ruined. It's probably not a problem for most regular games, but I have no clue how you're supposed to play a game with tilt controls in 3D without this causing major issues.
Since the expo hall wasn't as interesting as I had thought it would be, I had some extra time to kill before my next chosen panel, so I decided to go to a panel about the development of the 3DS. I thought it would be a very technical panel, but it wasn't - it was mostly about the features of the 3DS with a few anecdotes here and there. It wasn't a bad panel, but it wasn't horribly useful or interesting either.
Here's the thing. I want to get excited about the 3DS, both as a gamer and as a developer. However, as a gamer, the launch lineup isn't very exciting to me (although now that I've tried it, I'd like to play more Pilotwings) and the price of the system and the new higher standard price of games is unappealing. As a developer, it's nice that Nintendo is revamping their e-shop, but I have seen no indication that they plan on reaching out to small indie developers. Microsoft has XBLIG, Sony has PSP Minis and their upcoming NGP/Android tools, but Nintendo has nothing. The DS was and is a popular system for RPGs so I'd love to make something awesome for its successor, but only if Nintendo makes it easy for indie development.
The next panel I attended was The 7 Ways a Videogame can be Moral panel and it was one of my favorite panels in the entire conference. The seven points were Clarity of Intention, Multiple Points of View, Redemption, Complexity, Quandry, Thoughtfulness and Respect, and Medium/Genre/Message. Using a mixture of examples from video games and other forms of media, he illustrated each point beautifully. A recap can't do this talk justice - go find a video of it and watch the whole thing.
The final panel of the day for me was the Pac-Man post-mortem. Now if you know me at all, you probably know that I'm a Pac-Man: Championship Edition (and DX) fanatic. If you search for Pac-Man: Championship Edition and my name on youtube, you'll find my top score run of nearly a million points in CE. To my knowledge, no one has beaten that score (although it's no longer up on the leaderboards due to a board wipe). I haven't had as much time to play CE DX since it came out during the height of self-induced crunchytime finishing up our last game, but last I checked I was at around rank 50-60 on the overall board on the XBox 360 version.
Not only do I love to play these games competitively, but I think they're a wealth of great design ideas and development wisdom so I was thrilled to finally get a chance to hear the original creator speak. He did not disappoint. Although the interpretation wasn't the best (she kept saying "the Pac-Man" among other things), his comments were insightful and easily adapted to current gameplay development. As you would expect from the developer of the video game equivilent of Go, a focus on simplicity and accessibility permeated his discussion. Oh and the Q&A section was great - I really wish there had been more time.
The Pac-Man panel would have been a great end to an interesting day, but there was more yet to come - the big award ceremony. I'm not a big fan of awards ceremonies and I didn't know any of the nominees personally (closest was Recettear which was an honorable mention), but I figured this was the closest I'd ever get to the Oscars, so I went anyway. You can go elsewhere to find out who won and whatnot, so here are some random thoughts I had during the ceremony:
Wow, the ceiling looks like it morphs when the lights change just right. Some of these indie games I've never heard of look pretty cool. Shafer is a pretty funny guy; the other host, not as much. The video joke segments would be funnier if they didn't try so hard - like the Yu Suzuki Shenmue ending discussion would have been a lot funnier if it had ended with the forklift gag instead of beginning with it and then tapering off. I need to take care of myself better. Glad that Desktop Dungeons won the design award.
At the end of the award ceremony, I was feeling kind of depressed. So much talent - would I ever make something so amazing that I'd be up there on stage accepting a reward? Yeah, pretty selfish and self-centered of me, isn't it? But as I was leaving the conference center, someone stopped me and thanked me for keeping Lovecraft's legacy alive by making a weird RPG about Cthulhu. To quote the Simpsons:
"You know, if we get through to just that one little girl, it'll all be worth it!"
"Yes. Particularly if that little girl happens to pay $46,000 for that doll."
So if there's one thing that the GDC award ceremony has taught me, it is that award ceremonies don't really matter. Sure, they can be fun to attend and it's nice to try to draw attention to well done games and talented individuals, but there are countless scores of talented individuals working on wonderful games every day. You can't possibly recognize everything and everyone that is worthy of recognition in just a couple of hours. Moreover, competition is unnecessary. Does Minecraft's existence somehow invalidate Super Meat Boy? Does Red Dead Redemption's winning Game of the Year make Mass Effect 2 (or any of the countless great games that weren't even nominated) a less enjoyable game? Of course not. So I will not worry too much about striving for awards and official recognition and rather focus my energy on improving my skills and making enjoyable games.
That's it for Wednesday's report. Stay tuned for Day 4 where I attend my first one-on-one meeting, go to the Microsoft meet and greet, and attend my first party (the exclusive Speakers-only party..oooh!). The proverbial excrement's about to get real.