Game (developer conference) Over!
The long awaited continuation of our GDC experience, only 3 weeks after the event finished! Read Part 1 here!
It turns out that my original plan of posting daily was grossly optimistic, as there was far too much happening to hope to write it up at the same time. It also turns out that after GDC finishes you have to follow up all your hard work there with more hard work at home, but we’re getting through it!
My GDC started on Tuesday, having given up Monday to travel and the priority was making sure that Mutiny was installed and working on the machine at the SDI stand.
As I walked into the Moscone Centre I spied Jesse Schell, a personal hero who I was lucky enough to meet last year at Dare Protoplay. Instead of going to speak to him, I proceeded to the registration desk with a head full of doubt “He won’t remember me” “I don’t know what to say” “I haven’t even played Enemy Mind yet”. I quickly regretted the choice, but that mistake got my head in the game for being way more direct in approaching people at the event, and I was sure I’d see him again at some point (I didn’t).
Upon arriving on the Expo floor, the first thing that struck me was how incredibly unfinished the whole hall was. Every stand was still being built, the SDI stand included, and getting around generally meant navigating large piles of cardboard, wiring, and the occasional forklift truck.
Luckily, the installation went smoothly, and the game was up and running fairly quickly, although playtesting revealed some strange artifacts we’d not seen before thanks to Windows 8. After a few trips to the lobby to liaise with the guys back in the UK (there was no WiFi in the Expo hall, a source of great sadness to all involved) and the issues were fixed, or swept under the proverbial carpet. No one will ever know!
With that task complete I was free to start exploring the Moscone Center to see what I could find, and generally I found myself getting lost because it’s MASSIVE! The event spans 3 buildings and played host to around 24,000 people this year, but the amount of space meant it never felt overly cramped and queues never got (very) long, which was great.
As I explored I started to understand how much GDC offered besides the talks and technology expo, namely they had GAMES TO PLAY! I had almost back to back meetings arranged, but I did manage to play a few games while I was there.
For all my excitement however, I was there to work, and meetings were my main objective. I had arranged over 20 meetings for the week, and stumbled into many more besides. As the week progressed I came to understand that GDC was far more informal than I expected, and I could have saved myself some headaches by arranging only a few essential meetings, and simply wandering over to someone's stand when I got there.
I spoke to a whole host of people, from companies large and small, near and far, and had some exciting discussions that we've been busy following up on since the event ended, although there’s still plenty to get through, even 3 weeks later. Thanks to the meeting-heavy schedule, I spent a lot of time at the SDI stand and got to know some of my fellow Scottish developers a bit better. The devs from Ludometrics, Team Junkfish, Blazing Griffin, and YoYo Games, all gave me some great insights into various aspects of game dev and being at GDC. Special mention goes to our friends at Space Budgie, who provided some great philosophical discussions and managed to get their game GlitchSpace through Steam Greenlight while they were out there! Well done! There were more of course, from Scotland and beyond, but if start naming all the names I’ll be here all day because literally everyone I spoke to at GDC shared their knowledge on something of value to me, from game development and business to which toilets are best avoided. It was great, thank you all.
Much of this insight came not from my scheduled meetings, or even during a working lunch (although there were a few of those), but the social events that happen after GDC closes for the day. Yes, it turns out that there are parties galore at GDC, and if you’re skilled in speechcraft you won’t pay for a drink all week. As a GDC noob I didn’t manage this at all, but still got a lot of free drinks. The after-show socialising makes up a huge portion of the networking that goes on at GDC, so make sure you have your head screwed on and try not to get hammered.
As I had been focusing on the business reasons to attend GDC, I hadn't thought much about the games that would be there, but I tried to play as many as I could with what little free time I had.
I warmed myself up with some retro gaming in an arcade space that GDC had set up alongside some great gaming history finds. Clearly I’ve forgotten how goddamn hard games used to be, since everything I played kicked my ass to a shameful degree. It was especially difficult to walk away from the cabinets without even coming close to a decent performance in Robotron, the source of my love of twin stick shooters.
One of the best games I played at GDC was a shiny new twin stick shooter called Android Assualt: Cactus by Witch Beam. Super polished, great control feedback, crazy amounts of stuff on screen, mutliplayer mayhem, it was awesome, and I thoroughly recommend it! It has everything we strive for in a game at Hidden Armada, so I took time to ask the devs a bunch of questions about the game and it turns out they’re also a small team developing in Unity and they’re maybe a year ahead of us in terms of setup, so the bar has been well and truly set! If we can make something that plays that good, I’ll be very happy.
The other ‘best game’ I got to play was Samurai Gunn by Teknopants, which also features local multiplayer excellence as you face off against your friends in a high stakes duel to the deaths by sword and bullet. I really liked the purity of the design in the game, simple and refined, with some nice ceremonies in there, and the team combat was also great.
I was also lucky enough to play with both the new VR kits on show, the updated Oculus Rift, and Sony’s offering Project Morpheus. I’m a huge fan of VR, and welcome the day when we’re all walking around with some sort of screen strapped our faces, so getting the news that Sony were demoing their own VR tech made me pee my pantaloons. I played EVE Valkyrie on the Rift and got my ass kicked as I struggled to orient myself in 3D space, shooting lasers with one hand and launching missiles with face (and the other hand), even losing was loads of fun. The improvements to the tech are immediately obvious, the higher res screen makes a huge difference but is still a little grainy, head tracking was great and being able to lean in to see things more closely changed how the space felt in a subtle way, but definitely increased my suspension of disbelief.
I turned down the chance to play Valkyrie again on Morpheus although having a clear comparison was very tempting, I had heard people from the day before raving about the Sony demo’s so I went with the ‘Castle’ demo, or as I knew it “the one with the swords” where I got to hack up a mannequin, do some target practice, and fight a dragon! With Morpheus I got to try the setup that I’ve been waiting for with VR: having hands. Using a PSMove controller in each hand gave me virtual hands with correct positioning, and a simple enough interface to grab objects. Once I had my swords in hand it was all so natural, and much like Valkyrie once I was engaged in activity and sense of the screens quickly disappeared, I was in the game as much as I could hope to be, to the point that in the final face off with the dragon I tried to avoid an attack and smacked my head off the wall behind me! Truly immersive stuff, and I can’t wait til it’s the standard.
Well, that’s my roundup of GDC 2014!
I hope to go back next year with everything I’ve learned this year and make it twice as awesome as it was this year, which honestly doesn't seem possible, but you’ve gotta aim high!
Coming next: MUTINY FOOTAGE! :D