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GDC 2005, one of the best experiences of my life!

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Wow. Just....wow. I can't believe how incredibly good this week has been for me on so many levels! The classes have been not only interesting, but extremely useful on a very practical level (can't wait to get all the slides!), the expo was fun (and the Nintendo Booth babes were nice eye candy =) ) for the little time that I managed to get wandering the floor, the parties were great (especially ours, which just rocked!), I got my quaternion camera working well and my movement system working in 3D while I was here (yes, I actually managed to find a few spare hours to code!), and I got to have fun and interact with really fun people. This week is definitely going down as one of the best of my life.

So, for those who are interested, here's what I did on a day-by-day basis:

Monday: After getting the first good night of sleep I've had in weeks, I went to Advanced Visual Effects with Direct3D. I was completely blown away by this talk, but I already talked about it, so I won't bore you with it again.

Tuesday: Went to The Microsoft Game Developer Day. Mostly great stuff with a couple of interesting but not quite "great" talks thrown in. Started with a really fun walkthrough of computer game history in the last 10 years or so. It's amazing how far games have come in 10 years and it was fun to remember what it used to be like =). Learned a little about the Common Game Controller and what they're planning with it, saw a talk on Pre-Computed Radiance Transfer that seemed really out of place and was kind of ruined by trying to cram too much subject matter into too short of a time, but was otherwise interesting. Saw demos and got tutorials on PIX for Windows and XBox (and let me just say...WOW). Learned lots of practical tips on DirectX programming optimizations (really useful stuff!) and then saw a presentation of what Visual Studio 2005 will be (and got a free copy of the beta =) ). Can't WAIT for that to get released, if for no other reason than it makes debugging STL easy. But there's actually a TON more to VS 2005 that will just continue to make it the killer IDE. The new TEAM functionality looks really promising too. And finally, got a glimpse of what's planned for DirectX-10 (though they're calling it Windows Graphics Foundation since it'll be totally integrated into Longhorn). Overall, an excellent event that was well worth attending. Oh, and I got my picture on GameDev.Net!

Yeah, ok, not really =)
That night, I ended up going to Criterion's RenderWare party with Steve. Not being good at shmoozing, ended up sitting at the bar, gabbing with Steve and enjoying the ambience. Won't elaborate on my condition at the end of the party, but I did write this little.."gem". LOL!

Wednesday: The main conference started and most people arrived. The day-long tutorials turned into hour-long sessions and the pace got a little more hectic. Ended up doing:
  • The Future of Games: Unlocking the Opportunity - a fascinating keynote by Microsoft VP J Allard about Microsoft's vision for the future of game development (next-gen gamers are going to expect amazing things - but content generation costs are going to continue to spiral out of control and development times and team sizes will potentially become outrageous). Luckily, there are solutions...(mostly involving MS tools and ideas :P) Overall, a fascinating keynote. Oh, and I won an HDTV. Pretty cool, that!
  • Game Design Challenge: The Emily Dickinson License Rolling-in-the-aisle funny, funny stuff. And one amazing tech demo from Lionhead Studios as well. I was blown away by all three designer's creativity with a challenge I thought nigh-impossible.
  • AI in Computer Games Roundtables and Interactive Discussion. An interesting roundtable that was just getting really interesting when time ran out. Alas.
  • Managing Complexity in the Halo 2 AI System A really useful talk about the AI framework in Halo2. Damian Isla is a very smart guy! Lots of ideas for changes in my code came from this lecture =)
  • Finally had a bit of time to go tour the Expo floor for a bit. Met up with a couple students from my AI class as well as Chad Austin and we wandered the booths for a while.
  • Was planning on going to the Game Developer's Choice Awards, but it was so packed that I gave up on trying to find a seat and just went back to my room and coded for a while :P
  • Met up with Steve, Chad, and Hans for dinner and adventure where we discovered that some of the scarier parts of San Fran are not far away at all =) But we eventually found a japanese restaurant and ate while good conversation flowed freely.

Thursday: Another day of classes, and a good party!

  • Went to Data-Driven Programming Made Easy. A very impressive talk about a scripting language developed in-house at Harmonix Music (the makers of Karaoke Revolution which Nicky and many others love =) ). What started out a relatively innocuous lecture has really made me rethink my strategy for driving data in my engine and now the XML stuff I've been driving my engine with just seems so...pathetic =)
  • Nothing sounded interesting for the next session timeslot, so I went back to my hotel to code. Ended up getting totally in the zone and jamming on programming, so didn't go to any more sessions on Thursday. Missed a couple that seemed somewhat interesting, but overall, didn't seem like a huge loss.
  • Went to the RealArcade party because, well, it's not like I work there or anything =) After a bit of adventure finding the party, ended meeting Hans and staking out our spot. Saw tons of developers as well as a few people from work. Decided that if I was going to miss out on coding, I might as well make use of the time. So I consumed a little vodka. Steve showed up. So did more Vodka (this time Raspberry vodka with chocolate powder on the edge of the glass..YUMMY!). Not only did we have our own rent-a- babes there in the requisite skimpy outfits, but somehow TJ managed to convince the Nintendo booth-babes to show, so there was lots of eye-candy. I couldn't help watching the interplay of light on them, though...and wondering how to render the effect. *sigh*. It's ok, you can say it. Geek. More work people showed up as well about a bazillion more game-devs and suddenly the room was not only spinning, but fairly full of people! Had a great conversation with TJ's girlfriend (and the mystery of why he doesn't show up to work half-plastered any more was finally solved!) and ended up having wonderful conversations with lots of people from work about..well, mostly work things, but somehow they seemed so much more interesting when combined with vodka. The night ended for me when a few of us decided to have a toast for 5 years of RAC and they all had shots, but I just had ... Vokda. So, to be polite (of course) I downed my drink for the toast. That was pretty much my tolerance so I wandered back to my hotel room and tried to program for a while. Learned that trying to program when the characters actually swim around on the screen is relatively unproductive. Gave up and went to sleep.

Friday: Woke up still buzzed. *sigh*

  • Managed to get out of bed anyway and go to Advanced MMOG Economies. This turned out to be not quite what I was expecting, but still fun and interesting. Sam Lewis (the moderator and Sr. Game Designer at Sony Online) seems interesting and I would have loved to pick his brain for a while.
  • Wanted to go to The Future of Content, a talk by Will Wright, but the line stretched several miles (I think), so I gave up and went to code some more since nothing else seemed interesting.
  • Went out to lunch with Darryl, a friend from Microsoft Games who also ended up at GDC. Had a great conversation about gaming, interview strategies at MS and Real, more gaming, future career plans, and a little more gaming (well, we're gaming geeks, whaddya expect?)
  • Went to Efficient Proximity Mapping in Highly Dynamic Environments. This was a talk I was highly anticipating. I was only mildly disappointed. The content was everything I was hoping it would be, but was gone over a little too quickly and in not enough detail. I'm really looking forward to the slides for this talk so I can try to grok these ideas better. What he'd done seemed really useful and very applicable for my own engine. I'm also hoping he posts more details or a paper about it somewhere as I'm left hungry for more.
  • Hoping to actually meet Greg Snook in person and tell him how much I enjoyed his book, I went to Recreating the LAN Party Online: The Networking and Social Infrastructure of Halo 2. Alas, he never showed up. On the plus side, the talk that I hadn't originally intended on going to turned out to be quite fascinating!
  • Went back to my room to try and code. Failed miserably and ended up taking a nap instead. Brain hurt a little too much.
  • Woke up in time for the AI dinner that I'd been looking forward to for several weeks. Ended up sitting next to Steve Austin, a developer for Cyberlore Studios, Steve Rabin, and Erik Nelson and Todd Furmanski, programmer and designer of Dyadin, an entry in this year's Independent Game Festival which has apparently gathered a lot of positive feedback. Must go download and play this =). I really regret that I never ended up going and looking at the IGF =(

    Anyway, I was pretty nervous at first because I felt a little outclassed by all the heavyweight AI people there. AI is totally interesting to me and a likely path that I'm considering specializing in, but at this point, I'm still a relative lightweight. Turned out to be not an issue, really. After a bit of awkwardness for a little while, the conversation started to flow and I ended up REALLY enjoying the dinner. We started talking about Ai algorithms and it turns out Erik had been having some of the same problems I have with collision detection, scene graph architecture, etc. So we exhanged ideas and solutions, etc. People were mingling and AI wisdom freely flowing everywhere. I was happy drinking it all up.

    At some point I looked up and there weren't many of us left - I'd been so deep in conversation I'd missed the fact that most everyone had left! The live band at horrendous decibels that started up drove the rest of us out, though. We still wanted to talk, though, so 5 of us (Steve (Rabin), Erik, Todd, me, and Alex walked to a nearby bar and continued the conversation over beer. Intense, wonderful conversation! And about 3/4 of the way through, I realized who Alex was. Alex Champandard, author of AI Game Development and host of the hugely popular AI-depot.com. *facepalm* Ah well, if I have to sound stupid, I might as well sound stupid in front of people who will recognize it =)

    Next thing we know, the bar is closed and we're being kicked out. Ah well. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to my room to write...this. =)

    All in all, GDC 2005 was intense, wonderful, tiring, and educational. And my brain hurts.
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