GDC is upon us once again, and that means that just about every major video game developer is in San Fran sharing thrilling tales of late nights, voodoo code, and new tools for artists and designers to argue over. Usually with those stories and talks some companies or individuals will show off a new trailer for what their working on, or have a first time hands on with their new project. Naturally, this is something to get excited for, but Iím starting to get the feeling that much of the game admiring public (and that is a LARGE audience) is starting to believe that GDC is an event for them to go to and chat up their favorite developer and play their game. I donít know how else to put this other than- No, not really.
Then what is it? GDC, in my experience, is a place thatís function exists in its name: Itís a GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE. What that means is- if you develop games or if youíre interested in the development of games, then this is the place for you. At GDC, what I saw most were old friends meeting up again, having some beers, talking about tactics, and drinking to their good (or bad) fortune. This is not a place where I saw companies putting out their new titles to the adoring public, or demo-ing their tech to try to sell it to consumers- thatís what E3, GamesCon, and Tokyo Game Show are for. This is a place for friends to show off to each other, for people who share a passion for game creation to meet up, where booths with ritzy demos are trying to get major developers to drop a couple Gís on a license for their product, and for booths full of HR to chat it up with candidates about what it takes to get your foot in the door. What Iím getting at, to be fairly blunt and repetitive, is that this is not a show for average consumers, itís a conference for people who have made games, and who want to make them.
A Short ďNo duhĒ Defense for Journalism I donít want to sound like Iím implying that GDC isnít for journalists/bloggers, because they absolutely should be present. The gameís press has a vested interest in how games are made because (obviously) who/what/where/when/why/how games are getting made is in their job description. That and I have a feeling that in no other industry is the press as big a part of the big picture as in the game dev one. Itís a mutual friendship. You donít see gum manufacturers boosting interest by showing off at the yearly GumCon (if that even really exists), and you donít see national newspapers trying to get a preview hands on with an unreleased pie at the local pizza joint. I canít think of any other press that is involved so thoroughly in what they report on, and thatís a great thing.
Fanboys doing what they do best The reason Iím writing on this subject is because a pair of stories I heard at GDC last year made me head-desk through the floor, and Iím hoping to pass these on so that you wonít make the same mistakes these people did (I went with ~10 of my peers/friends so even though I couldnít make all the talks I wanted to, I heard about what happened at most of them).
One of my friends happens to be a huge Final Fantasy fangirl (as are most female geeks, but donít quote me on that). As such, she made it a point to go to a talk given by Toriyama, Motomu of Square Enix titledThe Crystal Mythos and Final Fantasy XIII. So here we have a Japanese Game Director/Scenario Writer speaking to the crowd about how he designs a certain mythology across all his games, an interesting talk to attend for sure. As per usual with (most of) the talks, there was a Q&A session afterwards. Sure there were tons of questions a fangirl would want to ask someone with such status at a company she adores, but luckily for her she has intelligence and tact- and since most of her questions didnít pertain to the subject matter at hand, she knew it was inappropriate to ask them and kept to herself.
This guy in the crowd however, seemed to have a different opinion on the matter. His entire purpose for being at that talk was to complain as vocally as possible about how much he disliked FFXIII. He was first in line for the Q&A session (getting up halfway through the talk just to queue up for it) and proceeded to tell Mr. Toriyama a long winded story about how much of a huge fan of Final Fantasy he was- so much of a fan that he had paid over $130 to import the newest game (FFXIII wasnít out in the states at that time) but was so vastly disappointed with it that he demanded a refund.
I find that showing a massive amount of ignorance and disrespect- this is a foreign game developer with a high standing at a very popular company sharing some of his insight, tactics, and knowledge about a subject he knows thoroughly to a crowd of people he (justifiably) assumes are interested in learning from him, and you stand up there and say ďyour new game sucks. I wasted my money importing it and demand a refundĒ. First off, there is a time and a place to air your grievances- and that was not the place to do it. Second, nobody ASKED you to import it- donít act high and mighty because you went out of your way to get a game that you werenít even sure you were going to enjoy (when you buy a game you take a ďfunĒ risk, youíre going to have to live with that). And last but not least- GDC tickets to even get INTO a talk of that caliber cost (depending on the pass) anywhere from $750-$2.5 k! This guy had enough money to decide that thatís a small price to pay to demand his perverted justiceÖ.I hope Iím not the only person who sees a problem with this kidís priorities.
More Like Ass (Creed) Effect Next up is a shorty but a goodie. Ubisoftís Lead Designer Plourde, Patrick gave a pretty wide topic covering super-speech titled Designing Assassinís Creed 2. According to my friend, one of the overarching points he made throughout the talk was a thorough explanation of why the 2nd game in the series didnít have a ďdifficultyĒ option. He justified his point several times throughout the talk and why it made sense from the design standpoint of the game to not have it there- and thatís fair. Enter fanboy at the Q&A who walks up and (no joke) asks Mr. Plourde ďI didnít like that there was no difficulty setting, why didnít you include one?Ē Patrick took it like a champ after a small quip and summarized his point to the questioner- whose sole response was to stare back and essentially reply ďBut I like when games have difficulty optionsĒ. Unfortunately for you, youíre not the designer of Assassinís Creed, and the guy who is just explained to you point by point why he made the calls he made so deal with it. Also an important note- this isnít highschool. If youíre interested in a subject- take notes because the teachers here move fast and shouldnít be obligated to reiterate their points to you because you have a personal opinion about something you rightfully have no say in (a different post for a different day). I will concede though that I give this guy credit for staying on topic, but damn dude really?
What you CAN do I guess I want to end on a slightly positive note- if you are at all interested in making videogames, want to learn tips and tricks from the pros, and have a few hundred (or 2.5 stacks if you want all access) then by all means go! Take a notebook, plan the talks you go to, and go sponge some information and meet some truly fantastic people.
As for my experience at GDC last year, I went to talks and learned way more than I bargained for. Just sitting at the Uncharted 2 Postmortem was well worth the price of admission. Then when I took some time out I went to visit the Nintendo Booth, where I ran into and had a great chat with Danny Johnson of Gaijin Games (while trying out Bit.Trip.Runner for the first time). Afterwards I headed over to the Monster Hunter Tri section where I chilled with a Capcom promo guy (and found out that Capcomís promo teams travel the US to show off product). The important part wasnít trying the games, it was meeting the people, and learning how the game industryís wheels turn.
Then there was the Destructoid party. Man was that a blast. I met tons of people from all kinds of companies, got to chat it up with Dale North, Nick Chester, Neiro, Rey Gutierez (before he went to Sony), and even pre-Dtoid show Tara Long (which I didnít realize was the girl I had talked to briefly at that party until 5 episodes into the show). Iím not trying to show off- Iím trying to hammer the point home that GDC is about meeting awesome people, and learning awesome things (I learned that the party doesnít start until the hosts realize they donít have enough beer and promptly rectify the situation).
(I'm the douche with the tie painted on his shirt. Guy closest to the cam is my pal Phil- Octodad Coder)
I guess the last words I want to drill in your mind are- Be respectful but donít be shy, go out to parties, hang out in busy hotel bar/lobbies, visit booths of small developers and chat them up, just donít treat it like an event for you as a person who plays games, and treat it like it is- a conference for people who make the games you love.
P.S. You can go to The Vault and get TONS of the powerpoints/notes (and a few videos) from just about every past GDC and spinoff. GET LEARN'D!
P.P.S. The next topic is Single Player is Dead, Long Live Single Player