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A series of daily scene reports from GDC 2010 in and around the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Part IV: Workflows and fluency.

Matthew Burns, Blogger

March 13, 2010

4 Min Read

My energy is starting to flag; my feet are complaining and my voice is growing hoarse. I have ingested so much about video games in the past few days that I feel overfull and ready to burst, wishing incoherently that I want to read a book or play the piano or just do something, anything, but think about video games.

It is not to be, though: today the expo floor opens, even more game developers fly in to San Francisco, and the giant inexorable train of video games barrels along towards its fabulous secret destiny.

I move towards the Unity booth and instantly collide with yet more former co-workers. We reference hellish older times before catching up– one is a gameplay programmer now– many steps up from the PS2 memory card save/load state issues with which he was saddled last I worked with him– and another is the principal in an iPhone game startup. He shows us an early build of his first game before excusing himself on account of his hangover.

At the edge of the north hall floor I speak to a man from TechExcel about his production management software products (DevSpec and DevPlan and DevTrack) with their technical requirements and task trackers and bug lists.

I mention that a lot of game developers take umbrage at this kind of software– not personally, but at the attitude this sort of product often comes with– and that bringing it in can be a political battle because the databases and workflows and boxy user interfaces smack of top-down institutional sclerosis. “I don’t think we’re doing our job right if we’re trying to make it sexy,” he says. “Part of the point is to not be sexy.”

Close by, the exposition floor’s career pavilion is mobbed by recent and soon to be graduates, who are queueing up to talk to representatives of well-known companies like Insomniac or Blizzard, while the booths of less well known studios, right next door, are awkwardly barren. It is again impressed upon me what a buyer’s market it is and I start to worry that video game degrees will be the next film school degrees, acquired in search of a dream, deferred somehow into a retail job at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.

Konami has a desk there too, and in the interest of continuing the theme of what I’d written yesterday about the Japanese game industry I examine their open positions in Tokyo. A notice is included that fluent Japanese is required. I ask the person behind the desk, How many applicants do you get? “A lot. Many hundreds,” she says. And how many of those can actually speak Japanese fluently? She laughs. “Pretty much none of them.”

So is it worth it to fly out to GDC in search of the one person in all of the industry who can do the job, speak Japanese, and is willing to accept the pay and position that Konami is offering? Yes, she says– it’s important to get the ideas of foreigners in order to make games that appeal internationally, before confiding that many of the people most suitable for these roles are Japanese who have gone to college in the US and who are looking to return home.

In the early evening I meet up with Brenton Woodrow, Chris McCarthy and Kyle Murphy, the other developers of Planck, the game I’m working on, and we converse for almost four hours. We talk about our plans and the future, throwing ideas at each other, our enthusiasm infectious and self-affirming.

My tiredness fades, my voice recovers, and I am yelling over the music– yelling about how our game is going to be awesome, yelling about the nuances of FPS mission design, yelling stories about dodgy code. Much like game playing, there is something about game development that naturally begs for discussion; there is a tremendous hunger for knowledge, feedback, and argument.

The night continues in another stuffy hotel bar, where I meet some television producers and watch a girl smearing her lipstick on a hapless game school student’s face. The late, late evening takes place in a hotel suite and is difficult to remember. I collapse on a couch and wake up on the floor.

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