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GDC 2010 - Day 4

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Despite being my first GDC, I actually feel like I'm kind of getting the hang of things. I started another morning in the lobby of the nearby Marriott by writing up the day prior (much like I'm doing right now). Unlike the last few days, though, I have 9:00am sessions to make rather than 10:00am ones, so my attempt at writing up the day is going to be much abbreviated. Which is unfortunate, because these little daily things are my favorite thing to write up.

Day 4 was all about indie. I was in the same session room (Room 135) all day long listening to what were, primarily, all superb sessions. The day was kicked off with Kellee Santiago and Robin Hunicke talking about "How to Manage an Exploratory Development Process." Despite there being far funnier, even somewhat more insightful and original talks throughout the two days of summits and tutorials, the Santiago/Hunicke talk was a marvel. It's so completely rare, especially in this industry, to hear a talk from people who are not only genuinely passionate but optimistic and who preach the emotional relevance of a team development atmosphere. The pair revealed (namely Santiago, as Hunicke was not, I believe, a member of the team at this point) that at the end of Flower's development cycle, Thatgamecompany was on the verge of self-destruction. Santiago said that if the team kept along their path at that point that they would not have lasted past their three game contract with Sony. Robin Hunicke was brought on that this point as a producer and, as she took the stage, talked about all of the lengths she went to in order to get a better, more comfortable, less anxious team dynamic. The pair ended their talk with the promotion of optimism and happiness because if the "five years to burnout" stat was true, the pair, they said, would not be able to play "your" games. It was a rare sort of talk for this industry and conveyed a mood and message that this industry desperately needs.

Next up was a talk by Mark "Messhof" Essen and Daniel Benmergui about "Control Inspiration" where the two talked about their various visual and interactive inspirations for their games. It was an odd talk given by a pair of incredible designers/developers, but it was unfortunate to see how scatter-shot Messhof's presentation of his material was. I know, indie, etc. Benmergui, however, took the audience through a completely interesting evolution of his remarkable game Today I Die. He talked about how the game's "poem mechanic" evolved over time from something simple, to something very cool but incredibly complex, to the final version that was in the game. Benmergui ended by showing off the iPhone evolution of Today I Die which looks promising.

As I was leaving this talk, I ran into Ben Abraham and Nels Anderson. These are, really, the first of a group of incredibly smart game critics/developers that have inhabited a special circle on the Internet. As someone who grew up in isolation of the game industry as a whole, it's always completely amazing to meet people you've interacted with frequently online. Unfortunately, as tends to be the case, I was already late for a lunch thing so I couldn't talk nerdy game stuff, but there's an entire dinner for that later in the week.

One of my favorite moments of the day was in the "Minimalist Game Design: Growing OSMOS" where Eddy Boxerman and Andy Nealen. Boxerman gave what was, largely, a somewhat uninspired and disinterested talk about the game's evolution over the two-and-change years of its development. Boxerman showed off OSMOS at various stages of its development talking about what worked and what didn't and how they maintained a minimalist approach to its design throughout its development. It was neat to see, but Boxerman's portion of the lecture paled in comparison to when Andy Nealen, a developer on the game and a professor at Rutger's University took the stage. For the next six-eight minutes, Nealen talked about the tenets of minimalism in game design from a somewhat academic/game theory approach. Nealen stole the afternoon with this incredibly abbreviated, dense, and insightful speech on "economy" and "coherences."

Immediately after the OSMOS talk was "Indie Solutions to Design Savvy Somethings" by Adam Saltsman, Alec Holowka, and Andy Schatz. I already wrote this talk up, but it was incredibly sad to see each of these three incredibly intelligent speakers cut short by time. Adam Saltsman was, for instance, only able to get about ten minutes into what looked like a twenty minute talk. The gist of this talk was promoting what was inherently indie about indie game development as opposed to the AAA style of game development. The best part of this talk was that all three speakers managed to laud the benefits of indie development without feeling the need to slag on AAA game development (because they're completely different beasts, neither bad).

The final two sets of presentations were an art panel with Derek Yu (Aquaria, Spelunky), David Hellman (Braid), and Edmund Mcmillen (Gish, Time Fcuk). It was a worthwhile panel overall, but, for the most part, it largely felt awkward and stilted until the panel started getting into more personal, process/artistic conversations.

Shortly before the next session I was able to meet and talk to Chris Remo, the incredibly talented and passionate gamer, writer, and podcaster. Once again, this is a person I've "internet known" for years and have had the pleasure of talking to online many times, but have never actually met in person. These kinds of meetings/conversations are one of my favorite aspects of GDC so far (along with the sessions themselves).

The Indie Game Summit ended with the "Indie Gamemaker Rant!" This is a series of five-minute rants by prominent individuals in the indie game community such as Robin Hunicke, Randy Smith, Adam Saltsman, and about eight or nine more speakers. As with any ensemble session, it was a mix of great and not-so-great. One ranter talked about her game's demise and eventual completion, showed a clip of her game, and then a slight plug for more funding/publishing which, indie or not, seemed in poor taste. Then there were the rants by Robin Hunicke and Brandon Boyer. Hunicke ranted about the completely lack of diversity in the game industry, both lamenting it and preaching to the audience to compose their teams of more varied types of individuals. The rant was passionate, true, and completely necessary and I really hope people took something away from it. Brandon Boyer's rant was about sorry state of the game press which, yes, we all know and acknowledge, but more important Boyer ranted on the unnecessary amount of snark in the press (and community as a whole). It was an earnest, heart-felt rant that everyone in the industry, press or not, should heed.

And, with that, Day 2 of GDC and the end of the Summits & Tutorials section of the conference game to an end. The rest of the day was occupied with eating and partying. Here are some awful pictures of Gamma IV (which I will hopefully write about in further detail later).

Also check out my totally rad dinner:
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