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GDC: The Fantasy of Control Part VI - The Sound of Music

A series of daily scene reports from GDC 2010 in and around the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Part VI: A parade and Trauma.

Matthew Burns, Blogger

March 17, 2010

4 Min Read

[A series of daily scene reports from GDC 2010 in and around the Moscone Center, San Francisco. Part VI: A parade and Trauma.]


My thoughts are shattering into fragments before I have the chance to capture them; I’m often pausing mid-sentence to ask people what their questions were again.

The conference won’t let up just yet, though, and neither will the city itself. As if the crowd, spectacle and intellectual stimulation of GDC hasn’t reached surreal qualities already, my route to the Moscone on this late morning takes me straight into the middle of San Francisco’s 159th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

I cross to the other side of the parade route along Market Street after a pair of marching bands pass by, and see next to me a car in the motorcade carrying California State Senator and longtime anti-game advocate Dr. Leland Yee.

(In an amicus brief filed in 2009 in support of Governor Schwarzenegger’s appeal to the Supreme Court to criminalize the sale of “violent” video games, Senator Yee bizarrely claimed that among other things games are impossible for parents to check because they “can contain up to 800 hours of footage with the most atrocious content often reserved for the highest levels and can be accessed only by advanced players after hours upon hours of progressive mastery.”)

Today, however, our state senator is waving to the crowd with both hands, smiling, apparently unconcerned about the largest video game development confab in the world going on a block over. I wave back with a newfound manic energy and head to the conference for its last day, and to see Vincent Diamante and Steve Johnson describe their work creating the music and sound for Flower.

The pair are so clearly excited about the chance to share their experiences that struggle to get everything they want to say in an hours’ worth of talking. Vincent explains his carefully layered music tracks, about how most of the game is in D Major (“Beethoven said that D Major was the key of royalty”), and the jazz theory he asked to be coded into the game to inform the note next chosen for a petal pickup sound.

Steve describes the components of the different city ambiances, each individually created to reflect a certain mood that conveys the ambiguous (yet clearly present) narrative, and the wide range of tonal qualities in the game’s grass and wind. Even though Vincent had told me earlier he was worried the talk was going to be too technical and detail-oriented to draw much of an audience, the room is packed.

Sound plays an equally important role in Trauma, a game that I try in the IGF booth, and about which I have a long conversation with its creator, Krystian Majewski. It is an intense kind of adventure game, stitched together out of hundreds of haunting photographs of his native Cologne, with three-dimensional navigation reminiscent of Microsoft’s Photosynth technology and a gestural interface that heightens the emotional feel. Even what little I play of it on the bright, loud expo floor lingers in the memory.

I came away reeling at the passion and creativity on display. It is so easy to become jaded when one’s hopes and expectations crash up against the wall of reality, but the energy of others pursuing their own dream helps immeasurably. At dinner that night my companions and I talk about games– games of all genres and budgets and countries of origin: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and one-button GAMMA IV entries, the Mass Effect franchise and Warcraft 3’s free Defense of the Ancients mod.

The last night in San Francisco ends in a way of which I have little memory. I have stayed up late all week, collapsed on floors, survived on momentum, and now I have to rush to the airport hung over, coughing, with gothic circles under my eyes and a crimson-red cut on my face that I was unaware of receiving. Video games, I think. I of course blame video games.


My waxy pall causes the gate attendant on the flight to recoil at my visage, asking me to wait until more important people have boarded before me– a first in my decades of flying. I am initially offended, but later forgive the man; how else could he react upon viewing the disreputable person I had instantly become?

People walk past me like I’m not there, and in my half-dazed stupor I feel as though I am video games, somehow, knowing deeply that I have important things to do and say, prejudged and shunned by the world around me.


The flight home, luckily, is short.

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