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On October 2nd and 3rd, a few hundred game developers gathered at the Santa Clara Convention Center to see the launch of a new annual conference for game developers. The Xtreme Games Developers Conference, or XGDC, was conceived by well-known author and game developer André LaMothe, and is targeted at game developers of all levels, from newbies to professionals. This year's event was intended as a mini-conference, to prepare for much larger conferences in the years to come.
So Why Another Game Developers Conference?
To quote from the XGDC home page:
The XGDC was created to solve a growing problem in the game development community -- commercialization. The original GDC used to be the greatest thing in the world, now it has become so commercialized due to the exposition attached to it that it's void of content not to mention it has a price tag of over $1000. But there's nothing else, so everyone ends up going. At Xtreme Games we want to try and bring back the purity of the original game developers conference, that is, keep it developer-centric while at the same time keeping it simple to keep the cost down. Moreover, Xtreme Games along with our other sponsors will be offsetting the true cost of the conference to bring the price down to you, so that it's affordable to as many people as possible.
Tickets for the conference were $100 or less, depending on when you purchased them and whether or not you are an Xtreme Partner (a member of a developer network founded by LaMothe).
Was the XGDC a Success?
In a word, YES. Over a hundred game developers were in attendance, coming from as far away as Florida, Canada, and even France and the UK. Attendees were very enthusiastic and focused on gaining new knowledge and meeting their peers. Although many of them were independent or hobbyist game developers, there were professional game developers in attendance as well.
The actual content of the lectures was in most cases excellent, and everyone I talked to agreed that they were on par with the lectures at the GDC. Topics were targeted at all levels of expertise, from advanced to beginner. The presenters included representatives from the DirectX team at Microsoft, Intel, and 3Dfx, LaMothe himself, and other well-known figures in the game development community.
I couldn't attend every lecture, but I'd like to mention the most notable ones. "Fuzzy Logic for Games" by LaMothe presented a viable way to use fuzzy logic to replace the finate state machines used in many games with a system that allows greater flexibility and range of responses. In "Realistic Lighting for Landscape Based Games", Jonathan Blow discussed how they are using the information gathered in the field of scientific visualization about how specific materials refract light to generate lighting that looks real. "Particle Systems", presented by Richard Benson of Dreamworks Interactive, showed in detail how to create a particle system to add smoke, fire, rain, sparks, and many other effects to your game.
One of the greatest aspects of the conference was the intimacy. There was plenty of time to be able to talk to other developers, including the presenters. The roundtables allowed for some focused discussion as well, in which everyone was allowed to contribute, and which didn't break down into arguments (well, okay, there was one exception to that, but it was pretty funny).
So, It Was Perfect Then?
Well, no, it wasn't perfect. In an attempt at some kind of journalistic integrity, I do have a couple of minor criticisms.
A few of the presentations were less than professional. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that planning for the conference didn't start until a few months before it happened. Originally, LaMothe was going to hold the first XGDC in 2000, but because of popular support decided to do a mini-conference this year. Planning for the next conference is already underway, so speakers for next year should have more than enough time to prepare. Also contributing was the fact that some of the presenters were doing so for the first time. However, I think that it's great that fresh faces are being given the opportunity to speak, and although some of the presentations were not as polished as they should have been, in all cases the presenters knew their subject quite well and were able to convey their knowledge effectively.
Although there were "professional" game developers in attendance, there were not as many as I had hoped to see. One of the big advantages of the GDC is the opportunity to make publishing and/or employment contacts, and the XGDC did not present as many opportunities in that way. However, I think that this will change in the future as more people become aware of it. The XGDC is very much a developers conference, focused on learning and sharing of ideas, and thus valuable to any game developer, regardless of whether they are a pro, indie, or hobbyist.
Are you done yet?
Almost. All things considered, I think the XGDC accomplished what it set out to do, largely because of André's energy and enthusiasm and the support of everyone involved with it. Will it reach the level of the GDC? It certainly has the potential to, and it will be good for game development community as a whole if it does. Everyone I talked to that attended this year is planning on attending the next one, which should be around the same time and same place. If you weren't able to make it, you owe it to yourself to check it out next year, and to encourage others to do the same. It was worth much more than the trivial ticket price, and it's just going to get better next year.