GDC was such a whirlwind of experiences, inspirations, and constant learning. Learning came in many forms, whether they were in workshops, at chill-out lounges, at talks, in the Yerba Buena Gardens, at parties, at the expo, at luncheons, at roundtables, and more. It was cathartic to be surrounded by so many talented individuals from so many diverse backgrounds, and, because of that, I can only have room for improvement in my own craft. I think that it is so important to have people in the industry to look up to and also to approach and talk to about work and life. GDC is one of those places where that there will always be a diversity of people to share their insights and inspire others.
I would not have had the opportunity to attend GDC if it wasn’t for the generosity of the GDC 2015 Dames Making Games Scholarship and the sponsors which made it happen for our convoy. Thank you especially to our Convoy Partner, ID@XBOX, whose generosity helped support women developers who can travel to GDC for the first time. Sharing the GDC experience with so many diverse talents is incredible, and developers I’ve talked to have been very excited to hear about the initiatives to encourage more women and other minority groups into the games industry.
I went into GDC with the mentality that I wish to experience a little of everything that the conference had to offer. I was successful on trying something different each day. On looking back, there could have been an additional networking strategy that I should have struck out with: To find developers and designers who did similar work with similar themes and tonality, so that I can inquire as to their failures and successes and perhaps even find a suitable mentor there. I think that I met a lot of diverse individuals at all stages of game development, from students to seasoned pros, but I should have been more proactive and forward-thinking in seeking out specifically narrative game developers. I think, should I go to Indiecade Festival this October (22-25), that should be one of my top reasons to make the trip.
Different folks will tell you different strategies of how to tackle your first GDC or major developer conference. Student guides will always say to go to events during the day and party till you drop at night. Veterans will tell you to skip the talks because they’re all in the GDC Vault anyways. Some will say that the expo is a see-once experience, but worth it for the swag.
Everyone buzzes about the parties, parties, parties, but there’s certainly no agreement as to which one is the “best party”. I personally like the ones where I can network and chat at normal volume without feeling rushed; Others like thumping dance parties where they can decompress the conference day away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed dance as a practice, but my brain is one of those that finds it hard to switch off from networking, once I’ve got the ball rolling.
This is also what worked for me, which my boyfriend picked up on easily: “What is it that the pass really pays to get you into?” he asked me, “The talks, the workshops, the roundtables. Go to those. They’re in the Vault, yes, but the people who are there bothering to attend the presentation are those who share the same niche interests in game dev as you. And they’re the people that you need to talk to.” And the thing is, I’m the kind of person who feels really engaged with lectures. So I tested this theory on Thursday, Friday, and indeed, I felt like I connected very well with people who are also attracted into a certain specialized talk. As diverse as game-making can be, people at highly specific talks are attracted to the same concerns and questions that I have in my own career trajectory.
Since everyone likely has such a different experience of GDC, I will document my highlights:
- Game Design Workshop, lead by Robin Hunicke (Funomena, thatgamecompany) in my section to iterate in design teams of six on a tabletop game that emphasizes Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics in a causal loop (MDA Framework). We learn how to tune our card game in an iterative feedback system that balances cooperation, betrayal, negotiation, and aesthetics. Slides are available from 2014 session here!
- Design Bootcamp elective on Putting More Emotion into Play, where my favorite take-away is that design should evoke a “body loop”. It is the idea that there should be a direct emotion involved with game mechanics’ direct motion, so to encourage the player to remember and to be stimulated by gameplay actions. One of the most obvious loops is the feedback of delight in an “aha” moment, a really clear example of which is expressed by figuring out a puzzle. Daniel Cook (Spry Fox) lead the workshop and he has more articles here on experimenting on emotions in game design
- Exchanging stories in the Yerba Buena Gardens with game dev friends from around the world, old and new
- Chilling at the Mild Rumpus with friends and in awe of Paloma Dawkins’ presentation of her exploratory 3D game, Gardenarium. It’s so immensely dazzling, you should check it out here
- Keep Grooving: Teddy Diefenbach + Disasterpiece’s live scored “poetry slam” about gamedev life & musings was an experience with spiritual transcendence. It was beautifully tempered and a most engaging performance piece. Glad I got to see this live with so many great friends!
- Spending hours at the Epic Unreal expo booth talking about rendering distance field, procedural generation, and especially the new UMG UI system, or just generally about the Blueprint system in general. The support teams from Epic are just phenomenal. Then, spending hours at Intel Lounge also talking about Unreal. Haha!
- Getting a perfect score on SpaceBro at Alt.Ctrl with developer @nkornek
- Enjoyed Xbox Women in Gaming Awards Luncheon with fellow DMG convoy members, catching up with @stinkerfish over academic interests and meeting our ID@XBOX Convoy Partner Sponsor. The Xbox Luncheon highlights the achievements of women in gaming. Four female game development leaders – Colleen Macklin (Parsons School of Design, PETLab), Abby Lee (LXP of Microsoft Studios), Amy Robinson (EyeWire), Robin Hunicke (Funomena) – delivered incredibly personable and inspiring talks, an experience that I would not trade for anything: From the art of failure, to embracing difference, to prototyping often rather than just ruminate on ideas, to having the positive outlook to believing in others.
- Adventures in Storytelling: Telling the World’s Stories Through Games discusses the community collaboration that brought the indigeneous Inupiat representations in Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) to culturally respective design. Creative director Sean Vesce and Writer Ishmael Hope shared the oral tradition which has a direct source back to the lineage of Elders, and how to transmit emotion and specificity of culture in game form. What particularly resonated with me was their tips on how to create partnerships: To build trust, mutual respect, and exist in a framework of equal power – that is, that game developers do not have all the answers, but must be better listeners to be better storytellers. E-Line Media worked directly with the Inupiat community and was gratified that Elders and community members supported the game.
- Meeting up with fellow Canadian developers at the OMDC party and Tonga, the most stylish Tiki bar in town
- Startup Accelerators Roundtable run by Execution Labs’ Cofounder Jason Della Rocca, which helped cement the idea that I am much more project-based currently in my career, and may be more suited currently to seek grants and publishers in the middle term.
- Meetings for potential sound and musician collabs
- Low Budget Indie Developers Roundtable run by Oded Sharon of Corbomite Games: Developers from all backgrounds and experience levels share their ideas of how to find coworkers, how to leverage social media and Kickstarter, and how to keep motivated
- Date dinners and bonding time in North Beach, Union Square, Telegraph Hill, Japantown; The breaks were necessary and helped me reset my enterprising and networking energies
And, my goodness, I think I missed meeting up with at least 60% of friends that I wanted to see this trip. The week felt like it came and went so quickly! I’m so sorry. Next year? Next conference? We’ll have to have the opportunity to meet up again!
What astounds me about the whole trip is that I was able to connect with people, not just about work and games, but what makes them engaged about the world. I’ve talked to people I’ve never met previously about the flux of change in political states, I’ve listened to a conversation about military practices, I’ve exchanged style tips heartily, I’ve reminisced about our beginnings. That human connection between devs at every experience level and background is something that makes me so excited to be in the game development industry. I look forward to my own work, just as I look forward to new innovations from all of you!