GDC 2013 – What it meant to me

Indievelopment 2012 – Rami Ismail en Jan Willem Nijman from Vlambeer had an… interesting talk about the history of Vlambeer and making games in general. The talk was more inspirational than practical. There were two thoughts that stuck with me though. First off, make games to become a game developer. Secondly, go to GDC, it will change your life. With that last thought, I applied for a scholarship, received it and went to GDC, to change my life.

I attended the Game Developers Conference as a 3rd (final) year Bachelor student at Utrecht University. I’m going to do a master afterwards, so I didn’t go to the GDC to look for a job or promote a game I was working on. I went there to learn things. I already watched most of the free videos of the GDC vault and I wanted more. The first two days, I attended the Advanced Visual Effects with DirectX 11 and Physics for Game Programmers tutorials. I learned lots of things from these two days, new ways to do lighting, using the compute shader for graphics, doing continuous collision detection, practical approaches to graphics in games, lots of tips & tricks and much more.

These two days were filled with programming related talks. I decided to follow the advice of a fellow game developer to attend a few talks that were outside my field of ‘expertise’. That’s when I decided to attend a roundtable for a change. The Visual Effects Artists roundtable by Drew Skillman from Double Fine. A roundtable is a discussion where people discuss problems in their field and share experiences and tips & tricks instead of a lecture. I then realized that all these people were from companies that compete with each other and still they were trying to share as many experiences and practices as possible with each other. Limited only by their contracts and NDA’s. The whole room looked like one big family that wanted to help each other instead of competing, That´s when I understood what the game developers community was all about and I really wanted to be a part of it.

That evening, at the Game Developer Awards, Journey by thatgamecompany received most of the awards. The day after, at Thursday, Jenova Chen had the talk ‘Designing Journey’. Naturally, the room was crowded and Jenova gave a great talk about the design (and production) of the game. The talk is freely available at the GDC vault, take a look at it.

There were a few impressions that stuck with me about this talk. First off, half the people in the room had tears in their eyes at the end of the talk. After the talk, Jenova was surrounded by fellow game developers, like a rock star, with people asking him for a picture, his autograph and there were a few real questions about the talk.

Lastly, it appeared that the team behind Journey made the game in one year and spent two consecutive years improving the game from ‘a game that sucked’ to arguably the best game of the year. They had to see the potential of the game to become great, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much time to make it better. After the talk, Jenova told me that he had made ten games that weren’t noticed by anyone before making flOw. I realized that even the best in the business need to work really hard to make great games, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way. This was scary and motivating at the same time.

The last day of GDC, I attended a talk about creating the cutscene editor of Starcraft 2. Before that, there was a talk about the level editor of Tomb Raider which I also attended. These programmers collaborated with the artists and the designers in the team to create the tools that they used to actually build the game world. Tool development seemed boring to me, but after these two talks, I realized that creating tools can be quite a creative and fulfilling process. There are so many things that you can do to improve the collaboration between the users, perhaps ship the tools with the game, etc. Before the GDC, I always got excited about realtime graphics programming, now I get excited about developing tools for game development like multiplayer map editors and rewind/replay systems for debugging.

So did GDC change my life? At the first two days of GDC, I learned a lot of stuff about programming. While useful, it didn’t change the way I looked at things at all. The experiences from the other days, however, did. I now truly want to work in this industry, nowhere else and frankly, since the day I got back, I can’t stop thinking about making a game all the time!