My GDC ’19 (Part Two)

Driving over the Bay Bridge at the height of rush hour is an exercise in patience. Despite my best intentions, I wind up judging my fellow humans rather harshly.  I imagine torture fantasies in which they are made to stay in a lane, while people cut THEM off, and crowd THEM out, while slowly being eaten by ants. I wasn’t in a rush to do that again, so I blew off early morning GDC sessions and we drove in at the decadent time of around 1030am. I think my driving benefactor was grateful for the extra sleep too.

I’d planned on exploring the expo more thoroughly today. The day before  I’d pretty much stayed around the Unity and Intel areas. I had plenty of space for swag in my backpack, and now I was going to get some.

I did start off where I began the day before, but this time I noticed the Magic Leap booth. Magic Leap is an Augmented Reality system that I had literally first heard about the week before. I was keen to give it a shot, but it was not to be. You had to have an appointment, and they started taking them at ten. They’d filled up their entire day in about twenty minutes. I did get some decent swag from them though, a rocket ship pin, and a red plush … ghost-fish thing?

I was only able to stare longingly at the Magic Leap booth.

Next I grabbed a morning beer, t-shirt and some appetizers from the Epic booth area, which was teeming with a throng of people doing the same. It had a very frat party atmosphere. Their booth had the Fortnite theme going on, and as I mentioned last time, they had a big area made to look like mini-living rooms where you could crash and play video games. It was pretty darn cool.

They had an ongoing lecture series on using Unreal for their games. I didn’t stay too long but I did snap this:

How to course for the Unreal Engine

I happened to see the lady that I’d met the day before in the Unity line as well as the composer from Maine. I asked them if they would mind if I took pics of us for my blog. They said yes! So here we are:

My two vict … err demo testers, Jessica and Michael and myself in my first ever selfie.
Playing Space Uber.

Amazon had a corral of sorts – where you walked around various displays that talked about their own game development tools called Lumberyard. You’d fill out a questionnaire and they gave you a list of six displays/demos in the corral that would most fit your needs based on what you said. You went to the display, swiped your badge in, listened to a rep describe whatever it was they were selling and then you swiped out. If you collected enough of these, you were eligible for a prize. It was a kind of neat system, and it worked on me. My needs are still mostly in asset creation, but it seemed like Lumberyard’s tools are mostly geared for very advanced game development where your assets are already created, or your game is already out, like player behavior analysis, advanced databases and  animation management. It was interesting enough, so it was fairly painless to get the star prize of 9 points.

The Amazon Lumberyard

Their prize claim was a little bit silly, but I liked it. It reminded me of those kiddie carnival fishing booths, where your kid casts their fishing pole over a tall divider, and they attach some toy to the clothespin that’s tied to the end of their line. In this case, you got to choose a cabinet which has your prize shape on it. I chose the yellow star in the top left, opened the cabinet and there was a reusable grocery bag with the Amazon “game tech” logo on it. Inside there was a really nice black “Deepracer” baseball cap and, oddly enough, a pair of Amazon socks. Socks! Covered in various app logos. It was hilarious, but kind of odd, kind of like Christmas presents your practical aunt would give you as a kid. It wasn’t until that night, after I came home and dumped my loot out on my desk, that out dropped a $20 Amazon card, so I really did

Toward the back of the Expo’s South wall, they had smaller booths dedicated to smaller game companies, and development tools. I found Kongregate, Enjin, and I noticed the motion capture display X-Sens. They had a dancer hooked up, and she was displayed in both block form, and in a game scene. I suddenly realized that I recognized her from last nights Level Up Mixer. I wanted to say “hi” so I was going to wait until she had a free moment. However, she was way into it, dancing without a care, and pretty cool to watch. Then it dawned on me as I am staring at her that I might be coming off a bit … creepy. Right on time an X-Sens person came over and asked how interested I was in motion capture, if I was in the market for a system and so forth.  I answered her questions, but made my exit as soon as possible.

After that I perused the international booths. The UK was represented, with Wales and Scotland being most visible, Italy, Germany, South Korea were all there, and later I eventually found Canada all the way on the other side of the Expo in the wildlands of North Hall Indie territory. Back in the South Hall, Korea was rotating presenters, hawking a very Asian RPG/combat game or promoting a game publisher or advertising the odd asset development company. Near that booth was an assortment of people playing a networked mobile game for prizes.

The most elaborate game set up I saw, was this one.

Motion Capture Hole in the Wall

If you can’t tell, they are playing a game of virtual “Hole in the Wall”. A game where you must fit your body through a space moving toward you shaped like a body position. It looked really fun. Their target market was malls and amusement parks.

Google set themselves up in midway between north and south, so right under Howard Street, really. They were showing off their Stadia set up. You could play Assassin’s Creed on a Chromebook, and it indeed was incredibly smooth.  As a complete aside, I am not sold on the whole dumb terminal and everything in the “cloud” idea, which every major corporation wants to go to. They would like it much better to have customers on subscriptions than a sell-once product. I could go on, but this is not the place…

Playing Assassin’s Creed on Chromebook through Stadia

Google also had their own little lecture area and some other exhibits as well. They were pretty understated compared to the other companies though.

Google G

I made my way up to North Hall finally. On the ground floor they had the official GDC gift shop , and strangely enough, Oculus. I got in line, excited that I would finally play an actual VR game for the first time. They were showing off both the Oculus Rift S, which is an improved version of the Oculus Rift, and the Oculus Quest, a standalone, non-tethered VR set up. Since the Rift S has the advantage of the attached PC/Console’s memory system and computational hardware, the games can be more lush and intensive, but the idea of a non-tethered, stand-alone system really thrills me. Since I sat in the Oculus Quest session the day before, I already knew I really wanted to get one.

They set me up with Beat Saber, which was kind of disappointing, but understandable. I’ve seen enough Beat Saber videos that I really wanted to see something else. It was fun though, and I took to VR immediately. After what seemed like only a few minutes, the assistant was taking off my gear and ushering me along. It just further cemented my desire to get the Quest when it does come out … which will be any day now.

The sun was getting low, I grabbed some food out of the Moscone Café, an $8 tuna salad, and started to my final destination for the day … The Unparty.

The UnParty was billed as the party for people who don’t like to party. No alcohol, no music, no snacks aside from what you brought yourself. They said the password for the door was to put your fingers to your lips and “Shhhh”. Seems like my kind of thing. I figured it would be low-key, but I planned on being a little early anyway. I marched the seven or so blocks to 9th street at least a half hour early, but when I got there, there was already a line formed, with thirty or so people.

The Unparty briefing

I got to chatting with my linemates. They were industry folks for the most part, but again the fresh faced school graduates were there as well, looking for their way into the industry. We got to talking about games, of course. However this was pretty much a console only crowd, and I didn’t have a lot to say about Kingdom Hearts, Persona or Red Dead Redemption. They finally opened the door about fifteen minutes late, giving us our black “Shhhhhh” ribbon to attach to the bottom of our GDC badge. It was a canonical city loft. A big brick room with a tall unfinished ceiling, they played silent cartoon snippets on the wall, while people piled in.

Everyone at the Unparty was all about video games, and when I said I had a demo, a small crowd gathered to watch it. It felt good to finally be promoting myself in such a casual place. However, it was equally humorous, because the whole emphasis on quiet went out the window when the loft was filled to capacity. Several times they actually did hush the crowd, we were trying to be cooperative. However with that many people and that many conversations going on at once, the din rose immediately.

I had a great time showing off my game, I know I am pure amateur hour with all the talent in the room, but it really thrilled me when I had someone struggling to land their ship on the asteroid. When I was creating and testing that level, I had, without realizing it, become an expert pilot and player of my own game. I never had problems, or blew up when playing the level, and was really worried that the game was much too easy. It really is too easy, but only once you know what you are doing. It’s perfect for a first level.

A woman started asking questions about what I was doing and said she ran a podcast about indies, and I perked my ears up. I turned out she was local to Sacramento area, and knew pretty much all the same people I knew. Small world! We will definitely meet again!

The party went on into the night, and I spoke with mostly other indie folks or students. Around 9:30 the heat and the noise were getting to me. I stepped outside for some fresh air, and saw that there was still a substantial line getting into the party. Not only that, but Uber and Lyft drivers were dropping people off. I decided I was done for the night, called my friend and was back home at 12:30.

… To be Continued

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