Due to circumstances that should be obvious if you’ve ready any of my posts, I really wanted to catch the session “A Survival Guide for Game Developers” put on by Richard Vogel. The problem was that it was the session was at 9AM, and having just gotten to bed around 1AM the morning before and the 3+ hrs of rush hour commute from Sacramento to SF, that meant that to ensure I’d be there on time with a little buffer, I’d have to be on the road at 5-ish. This gave me around four hours sleep. For some people that’s a perfect amount of time … those people aren’t me.
I dragged myself up to the third floor of West Hall and threw myself into an empty seat, nicely isolated from anyone else. Have you ever been getting instructions and all the while you are telling yourself “Hey, this is important, you’d better not miss any of this.” and while you are giving yourself this inner-pep-talk the thing you are supposed to be paying attention to is happening and you are missing it? … Just me?
Anyway the class turned out to be pretty interesting but geared toward the young game dev seeking their place with the big time studios. It was basic advice on how to assess whether you’d actually fit in and thrive in the culture, and not to throw away your principles once the first offer is made. It really didn’t apply to me, but I listened nonetheless.
Right on the heels of that session was “Networking Etiquette for the Modern Games Industry Professional”. He had some pretty interesting tips about some simple things that I’d never heard about. Such as when you are gathered in a circle and talking, leave an obvious open gap, this allows people to join in, AND gives people a kind of out if they need to leave.
It was about halfway through when I really began to feel the effects of the lack of sleep. I desperately needed more caffeine in my body. So I grabbed a $5 bottle of Pepsi from the convention concession stand, and went to pay for it, and the lady asked “Cash or Card”, I said “Card”, and she said something like “Today is your lucky day, it’s free.” and just handed me the bottle. I did a double take, and made sure I was hearing correctly. I have no idea why I was so blessed, maybe their card reader was down, maybe they’d overcharged all the other Pepsi buyers, and were trying to balance the books, and I know it’s a little thing, but how cool was that?
One of the sessions I had was called “Time IS on Your Side”, was probably the most valuable to me in the entire conference. Being a solo developer makes it incredibly hard to stay focused and on-task. I have to be the boss and the worker, I have to set my own goals and schedule, and I am the only one keeping myself to them. I started out well in the beginning. I was impressed by my own progress when I created the “Space Salvage” project. As time has gone on, It has become more and more difficult to maintain that high degree of productivity and motivation to the point that I really didn’t make much progress at all. As I slipped further and further from my goals, I became more and more frustrated and desperate. This session was really the shot in the arm I needed.
The session was run by Amanda Gardner half of a husband/wife indie dev team running The Deep End Games. She was raising children, writing books, and dozen other things all at the same time. She HAD to be organized to keep things together, and she did this by managing her time with ruthless efficiency. She had a lot of advice on how to do this, and I gobbled up every word. I even wrote her after the conference and asked for advice on my problems, and she recommended a reading list, which I am trying to make my way through now. I am not sure I could ever reach her level of efficiency, but I am going for it.
The rest of the day, I explored the Indie side of the Expo in the North Hall. It was here that I saw/had the most fun in the conference. There were an endless string of indie video games playing on an array of machines in several places. One thing you can’t ding indies on is variety. They were great, BUT I really loved the strange games under the label of “ALT CTRL”. These were games that did not use a keyboard or joystick or any other traditional input device to be played. These were the coolest things I’d ever seen.
The first one that caught my eye was called “HellCouch”, which was a possessed couch. Three players had to sit and stand as indicated by the growled instructions coming from the couch, to release the demon of the couch. When they won, vapor came out of the rug at the player’s feet. It was a lot of fun just to watch.
There was the Tied Escape: Curse of Cortez game where two players, tied back to back, with their hands behind their backs, had to complete a series of tasks using just their feet and bodies to win.
Then there was the 44 games, which was an LED table with an LED tower, which presumably you could play 44 different games. I played a game of Simon with a fellow GDC goer. However, imagine Simon, the electronic game, but with twelve buttons instead of four. It was difficult to say the least, but we actually did decent..?
Then there was Coal Rush, where you raced your train against someone else. To make your train go faster you had to literally shovel black golf balls (coal) into the train’s hopper. You switched tracks by yanking on a mutual lever that also switched the tracks of your opponent. You had to avoid obstacles, and stay ahead of the approaching dust storm(?). It was pretty fun to watch.
Guitar Wizards was pretty awesome, you used a Guitar Hero controller and sent colored blasts at your opponent via an LED table between you. They could block your blasts with their own, and you both just kept attacking until some one got hit.
There was a great game called HOT SWAP: All Hands On Deck which you controlled a ship on the monitor with swappable plastic modules. Each of them did a different thing and had to be installed and then “activated”. For example to steer the ship you had to swap in the ship wheel, and turn it. There were modules for loading cannons, fire suppression, lowering and raising the sail, and firing the cannon.
The last one I am going to talk is called “Cook Your Way” and was one of the most interesting and complex games I’ve ever seen. You play as someone applying for immigration, but the country you are trying to enter requires that you prove your value to their society. This is accomplished by cooking something, while being interviewed by two chefs. So you have to answer questions, and not screw up the recipe at the same time. It was really interesting watching people juggle with the play kitchen and try to answer or look up answers on their interview sheet at the same time.
The ALT-CTRL games were one of the biggest highlights to GDC, but I don’t think a lot of people knew about them, so the crowds were pretty small. I wish I’d worked on something like these for my Computer Engineering senior project rather than the rather boring data pipeline we did work on. This is a pretty true analogy for the game business though, work on something different, fun and exciting or work something that makes money. Real life tends to make us try to hammer out something in the middle at the best, or abandon your dreams at the worst. However I really hope I see more of these in the future.
I spent the rest of the day just strolling and catching whatever sights I could see. I had this impression that I was only seeing the surface of deep water, that I was missing a great deal, but I would need to know … someone to get to see it. Since I am not part of any studio, nor connected at all, I feel that those insider views are probably out of reach until something big changes.
Was GDC worth the money? Yes and no. As a gamer and a dev, I felt like I was in the middle of the action. I saw big announcements, I talked with industry professionals, I saw tons of great games and tools, I took note of the current industry trends, I hobnobbed with Unity and was able get a few helpful titbits. It was fun, but I was there to see if it could help me with my business. I am not sure what I was looking for really.
As a business person though, I sunk in some of my carefully scrimped and rationed monies, thankfully a lot less than it could have been. I did make some contacts, I don’t know if they will translate into new business arrangements or a more lucrative change of practice. I guess we’ll see.