Alright, everyone, we're finally back from San Fransisco and #GDC2017! We had a blast and we'd like to tell you a bit about our week:
Or, the story of our West Coast Road Trip! In order to save a pretty good chunk of change we elected to drive down from Seattle to San Fransisco. It's not a difficult drive under normal circumstances but it is a good 14 hours long. So we got to know each other pretty well. Also, there was a huge snowstorm in southern Oregon and traction on the road was almost non-existent. That got our heart rates up and kept us awake, which we guess is good news.
One interesting aspect of the Game Developer's Conference is that it's basically split into two parts. The first part, Monday and Tuesday, consists only of lectures. Attendees purchase specific "tracks," or badge types, which enable them to get into a set of talks. Each lecture is usually meant for only one track, and if you don't have that specific badge you can't get in. If you want full access, you can opt for the All Access pass, provided you have at least 1500 dollars. We opted for something a little more within our bugdet.
The talks themselves ran the gamut from high-level discussions on the state of the industry to extremely detailed strategies for coding or game design. Because there were three of us there, we could coordinate our schedules to maxmize the amount of information we heard. That is, if there were two or three interesting lectures happening at the same time, we'd split up, take notes, then reconvene and share after the events.
But the lectures were only part of the first day. After the talks wound down around 5 or 6, the parties began. These were generally invite-only or sign-up attendance parties so you couldn't just wander around until you heard the drum and bass music pounding from the club. Also, these parties tended to be for the "big-wigs," or for those who were already working for large companies in the industry. The indie developers were left shivering in the cold.
Kidding! The neat thing about GDC was that people there really wanted to connect. It was very easy to meet new people and share info and business cards throughout the week. So the indies generally created their own parties. Using the GDC mobile app (which did have its issues but we can talk about those later) newbies to the industry could arrange meals or other meetups to connect with new people. It was very important to have lots of business cards to hand out! We didn't have any.
Okay, Mike had 200, but he left them in Seattle. Thank goodness for Office Depot's same-day printing.
Anyway, there wasn't all that much going on Monday night - at least nothing we all had access to. We were still a bit tired from the trip down so we turned in early to get some sleep in preparation for:
Things really started to get hopping here. Most of the talks didn't particularly interest us so we wandered and looked for new friends.
Up at the top of the convention center was a section for board games. (Generally GDC is for digital developers, so there have never been any big tabletop publishers or developers on the expo floor and there were very few talks regarding board games.) The area was called "Shut Up and Sit Down," so named because everyone in there was very talkative and friendly and stood around exchanging business cards. We got to try some neat games like Spyfall 2, Diamant, and Fake Artist Goes to New York. It wasn't really a place to test games in development, though, so we kept pretty quiet about testing our own game in the afternoon.
No, the time for testing was that evening, at one of the above-mentioned indie-sponsored parties. For the third year in a row they hosted a "Prototype Night" at a nearby hotel, where developers could show off incomplete projects, whether digital or tabletop. Naturally we arrived early and set up at the closest table to the entrance because we knew the event would fill up very fast.
We got to demo Congress: the Board Game several times with lots of different people, and we think it was a pretty good success! Since our testers were also themselves developers, we received honest and helpful feedback on the good and not-so-good elements of the game. We're proud to say that the not-so-good elements were usually very minor, like how to properly arrange the assets of the game or tweak some of the finer points. The reception gave us good happy feelings which we rode on until we returned to the hotel and realized we never set up any kind of e-mail newsletter to follow up with people. Oh well, on to:
On the third day of GDC, the two expo halls opened. This meant anyone who puchased only the "Main Conference" or "Expo Hall" badges showed up this day, and the already crowded event got a lot more packed! The Expo was divided between two buildings, North and South Hall. We're not sure how standard the layout of the Expo is every year, but this time it was pretty cleanly separated between the "tech" and "demo" sides.
At South Hall you would find your big-name companies showing off their wares. People like Oculus (with Facebook), Epic, Unity, Wwise, and more had some neat new tech to show. Generally this part of the hall wasn't for demoing games. While there were plenty of games to play, often they were to show off some new capability of the engine or third-party wares. We'd say a good half of that hall was companies that didn't even make the tech, but were partners in things like advertising, distribution, and monetization. This wasn't the place for a team of indies to hang out.
In the North Hall, however, you had the smaller companies and indies showing their games. At the center of the hall were the IGF (Independent Games Festival) nominees. These were the games of 2016 that were nominated for various awards, such as "Best Audio," "Best Design," or even "The Nuovo Award" for the most avant-garde game. Also there was "GDC Play," showing indie games still in development, "Alt.Ctrl.GDC" for games using non-standard inputs and controllers (like bookshelves, flashlights, and even sand), and the Retro section where we found the actual arcade booth for Computer Space!
That evening was the double-awards-show for the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice, or indies and AAA studios, respectively. You can look up the winners and nominees here, but in the moment it was an emotional rollercoaster between cheering for the games that deserved to win and reeling in horror when clearly superior games got snubbed. We won't tell you our opinions here, but if you find us in person you can probably elicit a 30-minute tirade if you bring this up.
The Expo Halls were far too massive to peruse in a single day, so Thursday went much like Wednesday. We continued looking at new games and tech and meeting new people. Perhaps soon we should do a write-up on our favorite games of the event, but for now let's point out some of the more unique things we saw:
- A game (well, teaching tool) from Carnegie-Mellon that responded to player input on an actual electronic piano keyboard. The prototype there only worked with their particular keyboard and hololens, but ideally this would work with any keyboard in any location.
- A game in which you got into a real cardboard box and leaned left/right/forward/backward to move the box through space. In other words, Calvin and Hobbes' spacecraft!
- A glove which detected the postion of your hand and fingers, using that info in lieu of a controller. The demo they had set up only involved two fingers, but you could move, turn left and right, and fire a weapon.
- A tech-demo/game showing off an AI that understood real English and responded accordingly. It reminded us of seeing Watson on Jeopardy. When we pointed this out to the developers they told us some of their team actually worked on that project at IBM!
After the halls closed for the day we attended a party set up by indies, for indies. It was rightfully called the UnParty, as the point was not to get into a crowded room with loud music and shove portfolios in everyone's faces. Instead we just sat around and chatted. Good times. If you're going to GDC in the future, we recommend the UnParty for indies and introverts.
Finally, the last day. This was the shortest day, and the halls closed early, so we had only a bit of time to see what we wanted to see. But first, a story.
The GDC app, as we mentioned before, was a good place to advertise yourself, recommend places to see, and arrange meetups. However, very few of us used the app. Well, Weather Gage used it, but other than that there were about ten or twenty regular users (among thousands of attendees). We had met with most all of those users at one point or another, except for one guy who posted constantly - if you're reading this, hello Alex! Anyway, we were trying to find a way to at least say "hi" but he was extremely busy and we just never crossed paths.
Well, late Friday we saw a picture he had posted of himself playing a game in North Hall. We just so happened to be in the same building, so we literally dropped the controller to the game we were playing and made a beeline for him. So that worked out pretty well, and it got even better when he asked us to demo our game for him! That was unexpected and it was even cooler that he really seemed to enjoy the concept. It just goes to show you should always be open for anything and be ready for everything. Not only were we watching that app like hawks but we just so happened to be carrying our prototype on us.
It was a good end to a great week. So we went back to pack, and:
We drove back up to Seattle. It was much better weather, but we were a lot more tired and just wanted our own beds to sleep in. The anticipation when driving down kept us going, but the return home gave us nothing cool to look forward to. We wish we could be at GDC forever! Well, not exactly. The food in San Fransisco is really expensive. So is the real estate. Tell you what, we wish we could be surrounded by friendly devs like at GDC forever. That works.
Now began the process of getting back into life and trying to remember basic things like "what are our names" and "where do we work again." But hey, we found a place where you can buy the Nintendo Switch so we just played Zelda: Breath of the Wild all day.
That's all for now! Thanks,
The Weather Gage Team