I normally wouldn't open up a postmortem with the bad news, but this year there was one principal bit of bad news, and it colored the entire week's experience. Everything was just smaller and less energetic this year. There was a lot of open space on the expo floor, a distinct lack of lines for popular talks, and generally a fairly subdued and muted atmosphere to the whole affair. Of course everyone is going to point the finger at the economy, but I think it ran a bit deeper than that; this was just an off year all around.
Naturally, the trip in general involved a few minor glitches - delayed flights, rough weather, and the occasional argument at the front desk over who is actually paying the hotel bill. That was largely irrelevant though, and I'm happy to have made a trip that didn't involve sleeping overnight in an airport or bouncing several checks.
This was the first year that GDC has put on a summit specifically for AI. I may be biased, as a programmer, but I've always found the AI crowd to be especially awesome. There's no other subgroup of GDC attendees that combines excellent pedigree and achievements with a general willingness to sit down and talk frankly about ideas and technology. There's plenty of famous and accomplished people roaming around the conference, but the AI guys are just so much more approachable and down-to-earth. At least, that's how it seems to me.
The summit itself was great, but even better was the sort of meta-networking that happened after the summit. The AI guys seemed to move in packs, with groups of the same people showing up at various lectures and discussions. That connectedness lasted through all three days of the AI roundtables, which are my personal favorite sessions at GDC. And, of course, we ended the week on a great high note with the AI programmers' dinner.
Of course there was good stuff beyond the AI crowd as well - the GDNet crew is always a blast to hang out with, and with a ninja like Drew around, it's amazing how many places you can worm your way into.
Swag was in general short supply this year, but my favorite bit of souvenirishness is a bright orange "Work Crew" sticker. Apparently, if you blatantly lie to the security guards at the expo floor, you can wander around unchallenged because everyone thinks you're there to help set up/tear down. I intend to exploit this next year for epic awesomeness.
There were plenty of other great bits over the course of the week, but I'll be covering them in detail with my writeups soon. Make sure to hit the GDC coverage page often, because we'll all be churning out articles for the next several days.
GDC was a little slow this year, but still well worth the experience. I will definitely be there next year.