The Pixel GDC Experience

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[Tyrone Rodriguez, the head of Nicalis (the people responsible for, among other things, the Wiimake of Cave Story and La Mulana), recently shared his GDC experience in our community blogs. Read below for his mostly unedited notes of what transpired from Tuesday to Sunday. (Some details and names have been left out because too much alcohol was involved) — JRo]

For nearly half a year I’ve been talking to GDC’s Simon Carless about getting Daisuke (Pixel) to talk about Cave Story. If you haven’t met Daisuke, he’s the super coolest, super nicest person you’ll meet. He’s also INCREDIBLY shy. The idea of him speaking in a large group took some convincing. I was able to twist Daisuke’s arm to come to his first GDC and Simon handled the rest, making sure that there was a spot for him to speak. Since that time, I’ve worked with Daisuke on his speech and the subject matter–including forcing/begging him to include footage and information about the little-known beta version of Cave Story. The whole thing ended up being perfect timing with the WiiWare version being nominated for Visual Excellence in IGF and the close announcement of the 3DS version.

Tuesday 3.1.11
We have it all planned out. I’ll arrive at SFO shortly after Daisuke. Since he’ll be in customs, we’ll arrive at almost the same exact time. Guess what? My flight from Southern California to San Francisco isn’t only delayed, it’s cancelled. My theory is that it was undersold and Southwest decided to cram everyone (including a bunch of Blizzard people and Gaikai’s Dave Perry) into the next plane. Awesome.

I finally land a few hours late in SFO. Daisuke calls me, but he’s on a payphone and it’s nearly impossible to make out anything he’s saying. It’s about 30 minutes and a lost beanie later until I ultimately find him. We get a Taxi and head towards Kabuki Hotel. I specifically chose this hotel, not only because everything near Moscone is taken, but being that it’s in the middle of a quasi-Japanese commercial area it’s pretty easy for Daisuke to go get some snacks or something at Nijiya.

I’ve stayed at the Kabuki before, but I totally forgot how much it resembles a Japanese “love hotel”. Just needs mirrors on the ceiling!

Our plans for Tuesday evening are pretty light. We’re supposed to meet with some developer friends, but that doesn’t happen thanks to AT&T’s lovely wireless coverage. I really don’t know how one company can be so good at sucking so bad. At least we have dinner at Ryoko’s and mostly everything is great. Daisuke is able try sushi with peanut butter. Protip: If you go to Ryoko’s for sushi, DON’T let the cute Asian waitress convince you to try sushi with peanut butter.

After dinner we pick up a few snacks from Walgreens and also stop by a hole-in-the-wall pizza place. Daisuke tells me that he’s not hungry (after all the sushi), but I know better. We’ll be working on his talk for a while into the night so I want some snacks. Sure enough, it isn’t very long before we try the pizza. Daisuke comments that the slice of pizza is about the size of his face. True, but it’s also about the size of a Japanese small pizza.

Wednesday 3.2.11
We wake up relatively early and although Cave Story is supposed to be at IGF, we don’t have time to go immediately. Daisuke needs a bit more time with his slides and I’m helping as best I can.

We finally roll into GDC around lunch time and get setup with our badges and goodie bag. Then it’s time for a quick lunch meeting. At IGF we run into a bunch of old friends and Daisuke is shocked by the general madness that is the overload of crowds. We hang out around the IGF area for a bit and I catch up with everyone. Daisuke eventually goes for a walk to see the rest of GDC.

At 5pm we decide to head to the IGF awards for a little bit. I want him to see Cave Story on the big screen. He took these photos. After we lose to Gaijin Games (congratulations, Alex and Mike and Chris!) for the Visual Excellence category, we head to dinner. At this point there are about 10 of us. We try the Thirsty Bear, but it’s about a two hour wait for a table.

Next stop, the GameSpy/IGN party.

We’ll ultimately end up spending the rest of the evening at the IGN party. Fortunately for us we arrive while most of the crowds are still at the IGF awards. We all eat the delicious sliders and drink, drink and then drink some more. No names, but more than half of our party doesn’t make it the entire night. We had three people lose their drinks and one carted out on a wheelchair. I was able to catch up with a lot of people. It was an AWESOME time!

Fast forward to what feels like 2am. We’re still not yet sober after the IGN party so we end up going to a sushi place in Japan Town.

Thursday 3.3.11
We get to the hotel around 3am. That means it’s already Thursday!

We have two meetings on Thursday. One is with the Nintendo Channel. Daisuke does an interview while I play Cave Story in the background. I beat Hell — apparently one of two people who were able to do it all of GDC. Awesome. After the Nintendo Channel interview we meet with Allen from Dualshockers. Good interview and he has a lot of good questions to ask. Back at the IGF area, more people are starting to realize that Daisuke is the creator of Cave Story and walk up and talk to him.

GDC day two is over and we get to hang out with our NIS people again. This time it’s Jack and Ryan as well as Daisuke, Mark and me. It’s like a dood’s night out. Jack and Ryan choose this seafood place in north beach. The food is INCREDIBLE. They order some large pot with practically every kind of seafood in it. I goad Ryan into drinking about seven large beers. At 6’2” and 200 lbs, he seems fine. He won’t be later. The best part of the entire dinner is watching Mark, Jack, Ryan and Daisuke all finish a huge serving of horseradish.

After the seafood place we go directly to the 1UP party. We’re greeted by big boss man Sam Kennedy and then try to make our way to the drinks. I’ve been to the party previous GDCs, but holy shart–this year it’s like all of GDC is here. We can’t even get a drink. The entire area with the drinks and Skull Girls is impossible to navigate. There’s just no room. We end up sitting by one of the work stations and chatting for an hour or so, and then we leave.

Friday 3.4.11

The big day!

Daisuke and I are making last minute edits to his talk and it looks really buttoned up. I think this will go over really well.

His talk is at 11am and we show up to room 135 at 10:45am, just about enough time to setup and make sure nothing blows up. I’ve brought a back-up copy of his talk on my laptop, just in case. The AV guy asks if Daisuke wants a lavalier or podium mic, he chooses the former and gets mic’d up. While they’re doing that I setup his laptop and try to get it going. It takes a few minutes to get the Display Port for the MacBook Pro, but it arrives and we have video! By now there are about five minutes before the talk starts and the room is really fulling up.

The translator shows up to discuss a few last-minute details with us then goes to the translation booth. I think we’re ready.

Okay, all set. He’s good to go.

It’s 11:02 and he hasn’t started the talk. I have Mark whisper that he should start the presentation. We begin.

The first few minutes of the talk are a little rough, mainly for the translators. Daisuke’s speaking at a semi-normal speed so I don’t think they can keep up. Instead of translating what he’s saying, they end up translating the slides, which have nominal information. Again, I have Mark walk up to Daisuke and tell him to slow down. It’s like magic, all of the sudden the presentation takes a hugely positive turn since he can focus on taking his time explaining everything. Within a few more minutes it shows signs of being one of the best GDC presentations I’ve been to in a very long time.

He goes over details of design, how he started Cave Story and conscious decisions that had a positive effect on the game that we love. Near the end of the presentation he shows never-before-seen footage of the incomplete version of Cave Story sometimes called the Cave Story Beta. The presentation ends with how and why he included the secret level in Cave Story.

It ends and everyone claps. Great success!

After the presentation he gets mobbed by a crowd of fans. Unfortunately, we can’t stay too long since he skipped out on breakfast and is probably about to pass out. We spend a few minutes talking to fans, he signs autographs and meets a few people from Japan then we head to eat.

After lunch we meet up with JC Fletcher from Joystiq/Tiny Cartridge for an interview then back to the IGF. Unknown to us GDC ends at 3PM! Holly crap, we have a 3pm interview with Anthony Carboni and don’t even know where to find him. Thanks to the magic of Twitter we’re able to connect and Anthony gets to meet and interview Daisuke. YES!

On the way out of GDC and on the way to the composer’s roundtable we run into Eddy Boxerman and Andy Nealen. If you don’t know who they are, you should–they made the awesomely awesome game, Osmos. We end up waiting about 30 minutes for Jeriaska and company to show up, but while we’re there we run into Baiyon and chat with him for a bit. he’s a cool dude. The composer’s roundtable starts and I sit with a friend and have bad sushi at Sanraku. Alex from Cave shows up and we chat a bit more. After that we head to the Hilton and hang out until it’s time for dinner.

Then we go to this burger place with massive burgers. HUGE. Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers in case you’re ever in SF.

After that we go back to the hotel and chat and play 3DS. We call it an early night.

Saturday 3.5.11
We take Saturday pretty easy and sleep in until around 11am. We have lunch with a friend and chat about games and random crap. After lunch we hang out at the hotel for a bit then have dinner with more friends, this time it’s Middle Eastern food–a first for Daisuke. Dinner’s over and we grab some dessert nearby and call it a relatively early night again.

Sunday 3.6.11
Daisuke and I pack up and head to the airport. He gets all set on his boarding and I head towards my gate. We’ll catch up on Skype later and in Japan sometime this Spring.

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