By John Walker on March 17th, 2014 at 10:00 pm.
GDC is the indie scrappiness to E3’s mainstream AAA cacophony. E3 is a terrifying place that has only brought me suffering. GDC is, or at least has been the last two years I’ve attended, a really splendid time. Based around a massive range of talks from all aspects of the industry, rather than publishers’ competing subwoofers, the emphasis here really is on the craft, rather than the explosions. As I explore it once again, I’m going to share the experience in diary form.
Organising this event, I wait until the sessions are announced, and then fill my calendar with everything I’m interested to hear, and think will be interesting to tell you about. And then over the following month, sacrifice one after the other as publishers vie for attention for their games. It’s a tension, GDC, wanting to stay true to the reason we’re here, but not fail to get our hands on exciting games that you, you fine-looking reader, want to read about. My solution is usually to book 17 conflicting meetings on the same day, and then realise I forgot about Thursday. This is the professionalism I bring you. Fortunately, Nathan’s here too, to do things properly, while I sit around in the press room trying to figure out which Polygon writers will punch me on sight. (I can totally see Brian Crecente’s luscious locks from right here!)
What I intend to do this year is grab half an hour each day to report back the highlights, or just waffle nonsense because of the jetlag that’s eating my brain. Or entirely forget, making this Part One look stupid.
Like, right now I’m sat in Davey Wreden and William Pugh’s talk about narrative choices in videogames. How he wants to throw out the means behind which choices are made each time a new game is created. Beginning by explaining that he has no idea how he’d do this, he then emphasises the need for fun being involved, and a range of possibilities about how these things happen.
The talk, one of the first on the Monday, ended up lasting about 15 minutes due to the many hundreds of people who formed a stretching, looping queue to get in. People sure love them some Stanley Parable. Now, sat in Starbucks next door to the convention centre (a Starbucks that will be completely impossible to enter come Wednesday, forcing thirsty RPS reporters to walk upward of 50 metres to find another one), I can give you the latest fashion updates for GDC 2014.
Last year was very much about being fat, with a beard, and an ill-fitting hat. For me. But also for a surprising number of other male attendees. Trying to direct someone by saying, “It’s near that big guy with the beard and the hat,” would be about as useful as blindfolding them and spinning them around. Or indeed, “The short girl with the nose piercing and red streaks in her hair.” This year things have shifted a long way toward blue hair, for all. Blue beards too.
Other GDC traditions are still in place. The convention is split over the San Francisco Moscone Center’s three sites, West, North and South. (There is still no word on what happened to Moscone East.) North and South are around the corner from West, which creates the constant flow of attendees between the two that looks like patrolling leafcutter ants, except with lanyards instead of leaves. West is three storeys high, each linked by towering escalators, on which ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY STANDS STILL. On the up ones, that’s one thing. On the down ones, I really can’t see how I could be criticised for shoving the person at the top to watch them all topple like the barely sentient dominoes they are. And then walk down over their neatly tessellated backs.
Another tradition is people never removing their lanyards. Between West and North/South is fine, I can accept that. But once you’ve moved more than 100 metres away from either, and you’re still wearing it, that means I get to kick them in the shin. It’s for their own good. If someone is wearing it while sat in a restaurant off Union Square, then it’s legally encouraged to smoosh their face into their food. Do any of this while proudly sporting their creepy-plastic-material GDC tote bag over their shoulder, then it’s a lifetime ban from all conventions.
Based on these rules, next year’s GDC would have an attendance of seventeen people. But what fine, fine people they would be.
And it’s already time to say goodbye to Starbucks, as I’m now off to interview Stanley Parable creators William Pugh and Davey Wreden in the sunshine.
What lovely men. I hugged them. Is that professional games journalism? I’d hug people who made bad games too. You now find me in the Chipotle opposite Moscone West, watching as men who look exactly the same as me traipse in and out, and I swear as I write this sentence, I look up and see a woman with bright blue hair. It’s like a cloning experiment out of control.
Already the vibe that has me wanting to book next year’s tickets before this year’s is even over is apparent. The place is buzzing with developers and journalists who all seem to actually care about what they’re doing. Developers view GDC with a special kind of favour, because even though it’s bigger and noisier and far more corporate than many of the smaller, more personal indie gatherings during the year, this is the one that everyone is at. This is a place where you see Chris Taylor at a tamale van (or at least we think it was Chris Taylor) before realising you just walked past utter heroes like Brenda Romero. It’s the one time a year I catch up with former housemate and Official Xbox editor, Jon Hicks, without ever making plans to do so. Even for someone as curmudgeonly and misanthropic as me, it’s hard not to find myself spotting people I know, be introduced to people I don’t, and end up all walking off to get coffee together. I’ve already found myself attending a talk I hadn’t planned to go to, sat next to Gunpoint creator Tom Francis, and bumping into Proteus’s Ed Key right outside. GDC picks you up and carries you with it, and you can see why it can be so important for independent developers, as they cannot help but meet their peers, make new friends, and share in their passion.
That makes GDC pretty special. And it’s only 2.30pm on the first day. Seeing Daedalic next, then interviewing Dave Gilbert. Then having dinner with some guy called Jim Rossignol. He sounds STINKY
Hopefully I’ll be back with more tomorrow. And I’m going to look to liveblog a few things this week too, technology permitting. Starting with Wednesday night’s IGF/GDC awards, and ideally Friday’s always epic Experimental Gameplay Workshop.