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GDC Day One

Highlights, rumination, and minor irks from day one of the Game Developer's Conference

Hello from San Francisco and the 2009 Game Developer's Conference! I thought I'd share some impressions from the first day of the show, and will try to pop on here periodically to share and listen. 

I don't come to the show every year, but this year looked especially interesting, and since the Lincoln Interactive crew and I are working on some more consumer-oriented offerings this year in the educational space, it seemed like a good time to make the trip. 

First: San Francisco. It's one of my favorite places on Earth, and that hasn't changed. The locals know they have a good thing, and a certain smugness comes with that, but I'm from LA and we understand smug. It's not your fault for having it good -- celebrate! Thanks to the whole city for being clean, progressive, pretty, and tasting fantastic. I wish your wireless worked better, but more on that later. 

Second: GDC. My favorite tradeshow on the planet, as well. This makes for a great combination. For years, it was all about SIGGRAPH, but at some point that conference got weak. For years, there was always something new and exciting -- a tech breakthrough or film that changed the game.

Unfortunately the technology settled down, consolidated, and became more or less a commodity. Not "unfortunately," because that's a good thing for users, but it made for a show that was no longer must-see. BUT, what I love about both SIGGRAPH and GDC is that they are teaching shows: academic and introspective in nature as opposed to crassly consumer oriented (E3... cough...) The sessions this year are terrific, even though the attendance seems to be down. Understandable considering the economy and all, I suppose.

HIGHLIGHTS

1) Katherine Isbister's talk on avatar psychology was terrific! Who knew you could major in that?! I have seen her book on character design before, but now I know I have to run out and buy it. You probably should, too, if you are working on a game that offers character creation. Even for fixed character designs, she has a lot of very interesting research and ideas to contribute on what will appeal to players and make them "feel" right in their actions.

2) Crayon Physics creator Petri Purho gave an insightful presentation on his creations and process. Hey people, stop ripping this guy's ideas off! His humble approach, sincere idealism and obvious talent were refreshing, and he's a super funny guy, to boot. He emphasized one of my favorite mantras: iterate, iterate, iterate! Rapid prototyping has apparantly been the secret for him and some of his peers (World of Goo, anyone?) His assertation that 90% of everything is crap was supported by numerous examples of the tenth prototype attempted being a breakthrough for various indie developers. 

3) Stardock's Brad Wardell also gave a super session on running a big indie studio/publisher. He might not consider it big, but it is to most indies. They are doing this crazy thing: making money! His strategies, facts and figures, and anectodes were priceless, and a wry sense of humor with a twist of bitters made it all so fun to watch. Though there was a serious lack of estrogen in the room, the fan boys of space 4x'ers were rapturous. I was one of 'em.

Last thought is a pet peeve, probably second on my list, right behind using the word "loose" for "lose."  Why do expensive hotels have the crappiest internet access, or charge exorbitantly for it? I kinda know the answer (because they can), but it still irks me to no end. Well, there. Got that off my chest. In case you're wondering, I broke down and payed the piper because I gotta work, and a good connection is the baseline.

Here's where a good citywide wireless solution would come in handy. Wait... SF has that right? It shows up on my list. But, I cannot connect. So there you have it, one tiny raindrop in a beautiful California sky. 

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