GDC 2010 – Day 3

Being from the Central Time Zone, I’m really digging the fact that I actually am waking up early by local standards throughout the week. My morning office consists of a couch and table in the back of a hotel that I’m not staying at:


My plan for the day was to attend the Game Design Workshop since, well, I am a game designer, so it seemed to fit. After a couple hours of correspondence and writing I met up with Scott and Tim and we all walked all scrawny nerd pack-like over to Moscone North. After getting lost once or twice, I actually successfully ended up in the Game Design Workshop and took my seat near the pack because new people scare me.

Then I got kicked out because media badges weren’t allowed.

Since I actually planned out my schedule for the week well and didn’t rely on my normal amount of organized disorganization, I actually had an entire day of Indie/Serious Game Summit sessions lined up throughout the day. The first of these sessions was the Indie Game Summit kick-off lecture by Ron Carmel: “Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System That Never Worked.” This is the kind of topic that has been coming from game developers and publishers of various sizes over the last few years but the primary focus of Carmel’s talk was how the newly-proposed Indie Fund could potentially fix the publishing system for smaller, digitally-distributed games. The talk wasn’t anything particularly new or insightful (especially since the Indie Fund had been announced well prior to the lecture), but it was the perfect tonal kickoff for the summit.

The lecture immediately preceding Carmel’s was given by the indie-famous Cactus whose hyper-prolific development habits have yielded several gems of games over the year (including Tuning, which is a finalist in the IGF awards this year). Cactus delivered the kind of message which more indies should be giving and more developers (as a whole) should hear: imbue your own sense of style and character into your games with little regard to design conventions. Cactus also played one of the best scenes of any David Lynch movie by putting the Lost Highway party scene on display for the entire room. So, you know, props for that. This talk was my first attempt at live-writing up a lecture and, as a result, it has a bunch of grammatical and tonal oddities (I’m pretty sure I switch between two or three tenses at random), but it was a fun first one. The write-up, like all my other material is at my development journal.

The new couple of hours were a lot more subdued. Not being used to this whole sort of thing, I quickly discovered the limitations of my MacBook’s batteries and the lack of any real area for people to just sit down and charge/use their laptops. There is always the press lounge, but for some reason the lounge is in a tiny, incredibly crowded room with a dearth of seating available. As a result, we asked for directions and for some reason the GDC photographers felt this should be in the GDC 2010 gallery (check out my rad flip-flops; they’re so floppin’):

The next series of talks that we attended were all focused on the more social aspects of game development; the first of which was a talk on marketing and PR (“open development”) by John Graham of Wolfire Games. I went into this talk incredibly skeptical regarding the validity of “good marketing” claims by a company who has yet to actually release a game. It seemed, to me, that a well-marketed game is one which does well once it has been released. Graham, however, made a very compelling and interesting case for the way that Wolfire is handling the marketing of Overgrowth (their in-development game). Graham promoted being open, making friends, and staying in contact with their personal game’s community as well as the large game development/game-playing community as a whole, but the real take-away from the talk that Graham didn’t explicitly mention was the benefit of being completely earnest and honest throughout the development process. No one will know whether the Wolfire marketing style will yield long-term success or not (and how much it takes away from active development time), but, for now, it appears to be treating them well.

The next major session of interest was the Independent Game Summit keynote from Tiger Style’s Randy Smith (Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor). I already did a somewhat lengthy write-up of his talk, but I’m still not entirely sure what I thought about it. Smith seemed to add an unnecessarily divergent meaning to what designers/gamers typically refer to as “depth” in a game by conflating “depth” with “meaningful content” rather than the traditionally-used definition of mechanical depth. I appreciated his focus on immediacy/”depth” and the importance of utilizing the strengths of a platform like the iPhone. What I wasn’t as much of a fan of was the exceptional amount of time that Smith spent on analyzing his case study games; both Spelunky and Captain Forever were each talked about for about ten minutes each. While both of these games are fantastic and deserving of analysis, it’s not something I would expect in a keynote speech (nor would I expect to hear Smith’s ideas for improving those games). Smith’s incredibly random shot at mainstream games by indicating his apathy for Uncharted 2 (which he admits is an incredibly tuned, polished, and iterated-upon design) and following it up with the joy of being indie. Not only is this not a bad message to deliver — especially at the Independent Games Summit — but burying that message in the last five minutes of a speech came off entirely as a crowd pleasing oration trick rather than a meaningful point.

I also discovered that Randy Smith is, like me, an incredibly fast and energetic talker which not only makes live-writing his speech difficult but makes me have sympathy for everyone that has to listen to me on a daily basis.

The rest of the night was filled with the enormous, multi-course GameDev.net dinner followed by the group of us ending up at a Mexican restaurant. I also drank my first margarita. So that was fun. And salty. And delicious.