My experiences from GDC 2015

 

By Jake Rushing

Hello all! It’s been 3 weeks since Game Developers Conference (GDC for short) came to San Francisco. I took some time off work to attend the latter 3 out of the 5 days of the event. I  always try attending the conference every year because it’s the closest conference to home. Not to mention, it’s a must to attend for people wanting to get in the gaming industry. Even though it wasn’t my first year attending the conference, it was my first time attending as a writer for Last Token Gaming. And here, I’ll share my experiences and thoughts on different aspects of GDC.

Even though I got a pass that allowed me to attend the last 3 days of the conference, my time at GDC technically began the moment I came to SF on Tuesday to check into my hotel and get my badge before registration closed for the day.

One of my great friends (who works for NVidia) recommended I go to the NVidia Press Conference event on Tuesday evening. Right after I settled in my hotel, the first thing I did was to go to their event where they revealed their new Shield TV and Console (nope, not handheld). It’s brought up to be the world’s first Android TV console as it’s connected to Google Play store, built to play TV shows and movies through 4K resolution, and play AAA game titles through NVidia Grid Game Streaming Service. The idea behind game streaming is to be able to buy a new game and play it in less than a minute. Upon release in May, their initial library will include AAA titles of the current generation such as Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight and remastered titles like Doom 3, Half Life 2, and even Crysis.

I had the opportunity to test out the console at the demo party that followed (where I played Shadow of Mordor for the first time). It runs rather well! I loved the console as it was able to run different games varying from Street Fighter 4 to Dying Light to even Doom 3. If you have yet to own a PS4 or Xbox One, it’s a cheaper alternative as it has a $199 price tag slapped on it. However, I am a bit skeptical about the console in terms of specs comparison; its specs are compared to Xbox 360 and shown to be superior, but they didn’t show how Shield compares to Xbox One. I’m also skeptical  how the console streaming service can be as good as your wireless internet connection. It looks like it could be a decent console, but I’d wait and see how it fares in the market upon its release. It may not be as powerful as PS4, but it could be a great start for their first step into the console competition!

Yes, that square in Jen-Hsun Huang's hand is the upcoming NVidia Shield. Let that sink in

Yes, that square in Jen-Hsun Huang’s hand is the upcoming NVidia Shield. Let that sink in

 

After that evening, I spent my next three days on the Expo floor, checking out the games offered at IGF and GDC Play, visiting the different company booths, and going to different talks to see what I can utilize to improve myself as a game developer in the near future.

The expo floor had a lot to offer for this year. So much was there, in fact, that they had to move Career Pavilion out of the Expo Floor and into the North Hall (at least since my previous attendance of 2013). The expo floor had a ton of companies showcasing their services (i.e. law office for copyright claims, Corona Labs SDK), and every booth had its own share of swag (with some candy here and there). There is one major thing that I have noticed just from exploring the floor this year. It looks like that Virtual Reality is on the rise since Oculus Rift has managed to get the virtual reality experience just right. There are now companies wanting to hop on the virtual reality train and figure out how they can improve on it.

First, there’s a company called Omni, where they made a treadmill to complement VR: players straps on their pc gaming gear headsets, play shotgun, and specialized shoes to run on the treadmill to run through the virtual reality shooting course where players shoot the targets as they see them. There’s also another independent company called Realm Systems looking to add force to the virtual reality by adding handles simulating sword swinging and the force behind the swings. I also saw another company with the similar idea which includes light saber simulation in VR. It looks rad, and I wish that Lucasarts discovered this while creating a Star Wars game based on controls (*cough* Star Wars Kinect *cough*). I also saw that Samsung and Valve are bringing their own VR headsets to the game, along with Razer bringing OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) into play. As gimmicky as virtual reality may appear to be, it may have a place to stay in the gaming industry at some point in the near future.

OMG Light sabers in virtual reality!!

OMG Light sabers in virtual reality!!

The speaking events that I ended up going to were also an enlivening experience. (I picked different talks to go to as my time went on.) It wasn’t easy figuring out which talks I should go to versus completing my own objectives at GDC (which I’ll keep secret). As for the ones I ultimately attended, they were rather interesting and informative offering interesting points in regards to their topics. The two talks that stuck with me the most were Gaming Against Violence: Effectiveness of Video Games for Abuse Prevention by the founder of Jennifer Ann’s Group and the #1ReasonToBe panel, which was hosted by eight women including Brenda Romero and Leigh Alexander. Gaming Against Violence talked a little bit about the origin of Jennifer Ann’s Group as well as the importance of making games that educate people about the telltale signs of teen dating violence.

While nothing much about that talk really inspired me as far as my own pursuits are concerned (even though I got some great tips on making educational games), the fact that the founder decided to make something out of a tragic event (the death of his daughter from her abusive ex-boyfriend) and create a group to help prevent teen violence through awareness, education and advocacy is what really got my attention. Just the sheer motivation to help the world prevent similar violence that took his daughter was admirable and moving. However, the one talk that I will remember best is the #1ReasonToBe panel. This panel featured eight different women that shared their stories about working in the gaming industry, with most of the stories having them trekking through their careers despite facing sexism often. After Elizabeth LaPensee spoke about her experiences making indigenous games, Brenda decided to put the empty chair as a guest speaker to represent all of the marginalized people who couldn’t attend the panel due to either their fear, not being allowed by their companies to speak, or the fact that they walked out of the gaming industry completely. In place of the empty chair, Romero decided to play the quotes on the slideshow given to her from the people who couldn’t speak at the panel:

“I can’t talk. My company won’t let me.”

“It’s an actual custody issue. I am prohibited from speaking out because my ex fears for the kids’ safety.”

“I stopped making games.”

“Games were supposed to be a fun career choice. Now, I am afraid I’ll be murdered.”

“Read the comments. Pretend they’re talking about your daughter.”

As much as I want to talk more about this year’s #1ReasonToBe, I’ll include the Gamasutra article here for the sake of length. It talks about the event, and you’ll see why the speeches received loud bursts of applause and standing ovations from the packed auditorium. I’ll say that this was the one of the most powerful events that I have ever been to, if not THE most powerful one.

The amount of support in the this talk is #1ReasonToRockOn in the gaming community

The amount of support in the this talk is #1ReasonToBe in the gaming community

 

At the end of the day, though, what could GDC be like without their games? I’ll be honest, aside from Shovel Knight getting the nomination at IGF awards for Best In Audio, I haven’t kept track of what’s going on in the indie game community as much as I’d like to. Which is why I decided to take it upon myself to check out the IGF section of the Expo floor and GDC Play. Even though I had more opportunities to play games at GDC Play than IGF since IGF is pretty packed I had a great experience with playing whatever games I managed to get my hands on.

As there are quite a bit of games at IGF and Play, there are a few of them that are rather unique and fun in their own way. Here are some of the games that I managed to play that I thoroughly enjoyed: Super Slam Dunk Touchdown by Tipping Goat, Ice-Bound: A Novel of Reconfiguration by Down to the Wire, Coming Out Simulator 2014 by Nicky Case, Framed by Loveshack, Killer Queen by Joshua Debonis and Nikita Mikros (modern arcade machine!), and Outer Wilds by Team Outer Wilds. All of them are either fun, powerful, or just interesting in their own respective ways. I’d highly recommend checking those games out and giving them the unconditional love and support they deserve! If you were at GDC 2015 and you think there is a game that I failed to mention, let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to check them out and give them some love as well! EDIT: I pretty much derped and forgot to mention a couple of games that I’ve enjoyed playing as well: Armed and Gelatinous from Three Flip Studios and Firewatch from Campto Santo. Come check these guys out and give them some love, as their games are pretty fun to say the least!

Ever since I wanted to get in the gaming industry, I’ve felt the need to go to GDC every year to surround myself with people who have the same passion that I have for games. I haven’t been able to go every year since I started going back in 2009 due to school or work. However, every year that I was able to attend ended up besting the previous time that I went, and this year was no different without a doubt in my mind. Aside from personal reasons, I have two reasons why this year was easily my best to date.

The first reason that I’ll list here is somewhat personal, but it helped me enjoy this conference for what GDC is truly about. Every previous time that I have attended, I have been clamoring for a job or anything that I can get that’ll help me gain experience in what I want to do eventually. Even though I was able to take advantage of what GDC had to offer, I always had this objective nag me on the back of my head, which made me worried about getting experience and ruining the potential fun that I could have. This was my first year going to GDC where I have a stable job with great security, so I was able to enjoy GDC for its entirety without any worry of job hunting. Even though I made connections that I could follow through in the future in case I may need something, I have no desire to leave my company and seek out another job.

Another reason why this year was the best was due to the people who are part of the community that showed that they are as wonderful as I remembered them to be. For one thing, going to my first GDC event as a UC Santa Cruz alumni, it was wonderful seeing my familiar colleagues who now have jobs in the gaming industry, including a friend who works with John and Brenda Romero and a friend who recently landed his dream job working for Corona Labs (as in Corona SDK). While catching up with some of my former colleagues over ramen, we shared our own stories where they showed that their passion for games haven’t simmered down after college. It was wonderful seeing familiar faces who are still in this gaming industry, and are continuing to pursue their passions.

Another wonderful thing about the community that even in spite of events related to GamerGate, they continue to show support for one another (females included) and the women in the industry continue to press on despite the harassment. Brenda Romero’s #1ReasonToBe is a true testament of their passion through tenacity and overwhelming support from those who admire them. These kind of people show that as long as you are passionate about what you’re doing, you can’t let anything deter you from what you do, no matter how hard things appear to be.

With that in mind, I am looking forward to attending next year’s GDC at San Francisco. And next time, I will take all 5 days off!

And hopefuly have more fun on more evenings!

And hopefuly have more fun on more evenings! The guy on the right is totally not the author of this article and not having a fun time showing the Witcher guy who’s boss

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