The XGDX (Xtreme Games Developers Xpo) was held October 9-10 at the computer history museum in Mountain View, CA. This event, which was started by Andre LaMothe as the Xtreme Game Developers Conference in 1999, is targeted at both independent and aspiring game developers, providing them with a means to both educate themselves and make connections with other developers. This is the second year that the XGDX has been under the management of Thomson/Course Technology (best known in our community for their series of game development books), who again added polish and professionalism to the conference while maintaining a grassroots feel.
The conference enjoyed a great deal of support from the game industry this year, largely due to the tireless efforts of Jennifer Labossiere, Event Coordinator for Course Technology, in arranging an impressive group of speakers, especially for the keynotes.
Keynote: Sim Dietrich
The first keynote was given by NVIDIA's Sim Dietrich, whose keynote centered on issues for independent developers. After briefly covering his history as an independent developer (prior to going pro a few years before joining NVIDIA), he provided recommendations for improving efficiency as an indie. One of his most important tips was to finish the game, no matter what. He also recommended using 3D, since doing so will make it easier to leverage art assets.
Keynote: Dave Perry
The second keynote was by Shiny Entertainment founder and president Dave Perry. Dave talked about lessons he's learned over the course of his career, beginning with coding by himself for the Sinclair, up through Enter the Matrix. He then opened up the floor to questions, and spent a good half hour responding in a refreshingly candid manner to the audience.
One of the things he recommended to programmers trying to break into the industry was to pick an area that interests them (e.g. physics, AI, special effects) and get really good at it. Then make a really polished demo showing of your knowledge in that area.
For people in the industry, Dave recommended working on relevant projects. In other words, you should be trying to work on games that are going to be successful, because it will make you more valuable throughout your career.
Including the keynotes, there were 30 sessions covering a broad range of topics. Although the sessions were definitely programming-centric, audio, art, design, and business topics were covered as well. Some of the highlights are listed here.
GameDev.net's own Dave Astle provided a comprehensive introduction to current shading technology, including assembly level shaders in both OpenGL and DirectX, the OpenGL Shading Language, HLSL, Cg, Sh, and tools used to make shader development easier.
Andre Lamothe used the XGDX as the first public demonstration of the XGameStation. He also gave a well-attended presentation covering the development of it, from a hardware designer's perspective.
Criterion's Troy Gilbert presented an interesting session in which he took a look at what a lone wolf developer can accomplish in the days of 100+ person/$10 million+ games. To do research for the presentation, he started his own indie project which you can read about at TroyGilbert.com.
There were several sessions targeted at aspiring artists, including Kelly Murdock - author of numerous books covering 3ds max and Maya - who presented on the basics of realistic character animation, and Les Pardew - founder of Saffire and Alpine Studios - who presented a session for beginning artists and non-artists. Red Storm Entertainment's Steve Reid discussed tools and techniques available for critiquing artwork to improve your work and meet your company's goals.
Les Pardew also gave a presentation on creating game design documents. He was joined in the game design track by veteran game designers Noah Falstein, who analyzed the structure of 5 different blockbuster games, and Lee Sheldon, who talked about creating meaningful NPCs.
One of the most talked about sessions was held by three members of G.A.N.G.: Tommy Tallarico, Bor Rice, and Todd Fay. In this session, audience members presented audio clips (both music and sound designs), which were then critiqued by the presenters, who told them where they needed to improve to create professional quality game audio.
Note: This is not a comprehensive summary of all the sessions. The summary is limited to sessions that we either attended ourselves or received substantial feedback from others.
Over the past two years, the XGDX has matured considerably, with the session quality and production values both improving greatly. Attendance was up over last year with around 150-200 people. Even without the $100 book bundle that each attendee received, it would still be an excellent value. There are an increasing number of these small game developer events throughout the year, and although they can't match the scale of the GDC, the XGDX is among the few that can provide comparable quality at a price that's reasonable for anyone - especially those trying to break into the industry.