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February 25, 2020
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GDC Saves the World - Impressions: Day 1

by Robert Boyd on 03/01/11 10:36:00 am   Expert Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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This is my first time attending GDC and I'm thrilled! Not only is this my first time attending GDC, but it's also my first time speaking at a big conference (I'm in the XBLIG success story panel on Friday - be sure to come!). I thought people might be interested in seeing the conference from my dual perspectives - both as a first-time attendee and as someone who is actively participating as a speaker - and so I've decided to do a 5-part day-by-day blog of my experiences at GDC.


Although I'm very shy in person, public speaking isn't a problem for me - I have experience as a teacher and I've given speeches to large groups before - so when I was invited to speak at GDC, I jumped at the chance. Free admission worth a couple thousands of dollars and all I have to do is talk for less than an hour? Sign me up!

Like I said, I'm introverted and shy so how to properly network at a big event like GDC? T-shirt power! I went to a local shirt store, ordered a bunch of shirts with our company logo (Zeboyd Games) on the front and the box art from our most recent game on the back (Cthulhu Saves the World), and I was set! Rather than having to approach people on my own, I'd attract interested people to me! We'll see how it works.

Other preparations I had to make before attending GDC was ordering business cards (250 to be exact), buying a disposable phone (not a phone guy, although I might have to become one in the future given how that market is booming), and shoveling a whole lot of snow so that I could get out (I live in the San Bernardino mountains in Southern California which had a big blizzard last weekend). Then it was into my car for the 8-9 hour trek up north to San Francisco. I was worried that I'd run into some bad roads on the Tejon pass, but luckily everything was clear by the time I got there. The $5 toll to cross a bridge in San Francisco surprised me - I honestly didn't know that toll bridges still existed in the USA - but I had a few dollars in my wallet so I made it through. I found the cheap airport motel that I'm going to be staying in, checked in, got some dinner at the nearby IHOP, called my wife, and then played a bit of Xenogears on my PSP before going to bed.

Day 1

I can see why the organizers chose San Francisco for GDC - navigating the roads here is a videogame unto itself. The traffic is insane and half the roads are one-way. I drove right by the conference center the first time, but luckily my gaming skills kicked in, and I was able to find a complicated way back. A $10/day parking lot and a walk later (noticing a little Japanese sushi/bento place on the way) and I arrived at the Moscone Center and GDC.

First impression of GDC – wow, there’s a lot more people than I was expecting. Given the high price of entry, I was expecting a smaller, more intimate meeting, but no, there are easily thousands of people here, maybe even in the tens of thousands. Going with casual dress was a good choice as I have only seen one or two people who were dressed up at all. Oh and if you want to stand out, a white shirt with a logo is about the best thing possible. NO ONE is wearing white here. I'm going to be easy to find.

The official GDC volunteer shirts have a huge Sony Playstation logo on them. For much of the first day, I was confused about why there were so many Sony representatives here. Yeah, I'm not the fastest on the uptake.

The line for speaker registration was pretty short so after realizing that I cut in front of someone accidentally - they looked like they were just talking, honest! - I got in line. Someone behind me said hi and I said hi back. Darn! I should have tried to strike up a conversation! I reached the front of the line and handed over my ID. Would there be a horrible mistake with registration? No, I was in the system and I was handed my badge and goodie bag.

What wonderful goodies await the recipient of the fabled GDC speaker goodie bag? Vouchers for free 3DS development kits? An all-expense paid ticket to the Tokyo Game Show? Major Nelson's private phone line? No. There was a GDC shirt, a small packet with speaker tips, lunch vouchers for the week, a pass for the GDC Speaker party, a program guide, a pixel for the wall, and a bunch of advertisements (including a magazine that as far as I can tell is a big Intel ad). I thought I was supposed to get a free copy of GD magazine, at least? Oh well, at least I'm in the con for free.

The first panel I went to was the Humble Indie Bundle discussion. Before the panel began, Grue of Verge RPG fame came up to me and said hi. Score one for the T-shirt, baby! He said that he was pleased that my games had done well and proven that there was a market for JRPGs on the XBox 360. I mumbled something incoherent about an aardvark, he looked confused, and walked away. Yeah, I gotta work on my people skills.

The panel itself was reasonably interesting with a lot of cool graphs (I make a lot of graphs). They recommended a bunch of apps - Akamai, TenderApp, and Olark. Gonna have to look into those sometime. I learned that you have to be PC, Mac, and Linux compatible if you want into their promotion - that leaves me out. A more tech-savvy friend of mine showed me Linux once - I think I lost 10 sanity points from the experience. WAY above my skill level.

After the panel, the T-shirt attracted a few XBLIG developers like the Xona guys and Luke from Radiangames. Holy cow, Luke wasn't kidding when he said that he was tall! It's a good thing to know that if he ever gets tired of making totally awesome games that he can fall back on a life of professional basketball stardom.

I was a little late to the next panel due to talking to people after the first, but I still got in. It was a panel about Ethics for Developers. The speaker had a thick accent and was a little hard to follow but he made some good points like if you're making education software, the ethical thing to do is to make it run on as many hardware and software configurations as possible, including older machines. Just when the discussion started getting good, he ran out of time. Really should have given him a full hour to speak.

Before lunch, I ran into some people playing the Metagame cardgame - a cardgame where you argue about games. It's quite possibly the geekiest thing I've ever seen. I would have joined in, but I didn't have any cards so I just watched a few minutes while I waited for the lunch room to open up.

Then it was lunch time and time for me to take advantage of the free lunch vouchers I get for being a speaker. The lunch was about as good as you’d expect a mass produced lunch to be – cold sandwitch, some sort of potatoey thing, and a cookie. Hey, it's free. The bread was hard to chew so I think I’m going to try the vegetarian alternative meal next time.

After lunch, I went to the Replica Island post-mortem. Chris does a great horror game blog ( that I’ve followed for a long time so it was neat to actually see him in person. Learned a few things about Android phones that I didn’t know before and he made a few good recommendations about game development, but I could really tell that he’s the kind of person who feels more comfortable writing about game design than speaking about it. He spoke pretty fast, seemed a bit nervous, and made several funny remarks that nobody laughed at because his delivery was off.

Then, I went to an awesome mini-panel about fostering character expression in games. The examples were fantastic (saving the cuddly animals in Fallout!) and the discussion was insightful. Definitely going to try to use some of the ideas in our own games - give the player the chance to create data and then try to use that data in interesting ways.

After that, I had about a half hour before the next panel that I wanted to attend so I just stuck around and sat in on the panel before that. It was about turning depression into inspiration and I see why they chose the speaker – most depressed speaker I had seen all day. There were a couple of good tips, a few bad tips (seriously, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do boring work if you want an awesome game – it’s not all fun and games), but for the most part, it was quite the downer. The “You have to be tortured to make art” comments really rubbed me the wrong way. And PopCap can't make art? They've already made art - it's called Plants vs. Zombies! The really sad thing is that as far as I could tell from audience reaction, most people loved the panel. Is depression really that big of a problem for game developers? I mean, goodness knows I’ve got my own oddities (I’m probably ADD with a bit of OCD for good measure), but it seems odd that an entertainment industry would attract so many unhappy people.

Final panel of the day was probably my favorite. 3 different designers who had worked at big companies before and were now working on indie stuff talked about their experiences. Lots of fantastic advice here. The first guy was great (worked on Rez & Space Channel 5 before) and gave good advice about working well with teams and keeping the vision consistent. Wasn’t a big fan of the second guy – he seemed to subscribe to the whole social game mentality which I’m not a fan of. The third guy was awesome (made the AaaaaaAaaaaAaaaAa game) and gave good advice after good advice. I especially liked how he talked about including marketing as part of the game design and development – stuff like making unusual games, adding weird features, and being amusing with your public relations. It's true - most of the work in marketing is just having a product that is worth marketing in the first place.

After the panels were done, I grabbed a tasty bento from the place I had spotted on my way to the conference center and then headed back to my motel room. Called my wife and talked a bit, then played some more Xenogears on the PSP, and then went to bed.

And that's it for day 1! Turn in next time for more exciting developments! Will my T-shirt develop sentience? Will I hand out more than 5 business cards? Will someone hand me a free console development kit (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, I don't care!)? Will I finally get to meet Ashton? Stay tuned!

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