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GDC Diary: A Two-Day Jaunt Through the 2007 Game Developer's Conference - Part II

7:30 am – Starfish and Coffee
Having learned my lesson the day before, I took a scarf next morning on the bus so I could wear it western-outlaw style, pulled up over my mouth and nose to filter out the worst of the communal miasma. Thus outfitted, I felt comfortable enough to catch 40 winks on the ride down, in spite of the wall of humanity threatening to flatten me at every sudden stop. Having the GDC morning routine down, I breezed through the latte line without incident, inhaled a cake donut and skipped to the West hall to catch the LucasArts presentation.

9:00 am – Conference hop
LucasArts' talk promised to be a good one and I was all set to enjoy it until I saw a buddy in line who mentioned that the Miyamoto keynote might be really hairy to get into. That offhand comment set my anxiety generator into overdrive and by the time I was seated in the LucasArts presentation, I couldn’t even listen because I was obsessing about not getting into the keynote. I fidgeted around in my chair for 20 minutes and finally during an ILM “sizzle” video, I seized the opportunity to sneak out under cover of darkness and slunk off to the Esplanade ballroom.

10:30 am – Keynote by Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese Mike Meyers
Waiting for this talk to begin reminded me of going to a concert. First we waited in a long line outside the building and then we went on waiting inside in the building’s entryway and followed that up by even more waiting after sitting down. There was ample time for head-sketching since Miyamoto, apparently being the Justin Timberlake of the gaming world, decided to arrive fashionably late.

He hit the stage half an hour late and I was immediately struck by his resemblance to Mike Meyers. Every time he flashed that wide, squinty smile I couldn’t help thinking, “Wayne’s World! Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!” Ok fine, I guess it's just me.

I’m sure there’ll be many critics of his talk entitled “A Creative Vision” but what he had to say to me was interesting and fresh. If he’s not sincere about what he’s saying, he does a fine job of faking it. Or maybe the translator's doing a fine job of faking it.

Anyway, Miyamoto presented some interesting ideas about how he goes about conceiving and creating games, including mention that his wife is his main interest barometer. A lot of what he said echoed what Phil Harrison of Sony had said but Miyamoto managed to say it in a much friendlier, folksier kind of way. He too wants to broaden the audience, sharing his love of games with the whole world (and making a pretty penny in the process too no doubt).

12:30 pm –Lunch
Since Miyamoto took his own sweet time getting to the keynote, when I got out, it was too late to attend a noon session so I blew that off and went for some grub. Not impressed with the mall food at the Metreon, I walked down the street to the Westfield shopping center for some BIG FANCY mall food.

2:30 pm – Conference hop 2
Since non-linear, open-world games seem to be the wave of the future, I attended a talk on the creation of an open-world cityscape. Bad choice. When the lights went down, the two speakers immediately started reading their presentation word for word off a written document and I knew then not to waste a moment getting out. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone droning on for an hour from a pre-written script, is there? I opted instead to crash the Game Writers’ Round Table.

I was a little daunted I admit, upon opening the door. Rather than a large lecture hall, it was a small group of people sitting in a circle of tables (one might even say a “round” table) and every one of them turned to look at me when I walked in. Feeling like an imposter, I scuttled around the side of the room to the last vacant chair. Game writing being akin to screenwriting (I hear the teeth of game writers everywhere grinding in indignation), i.e., sort of an arcane art, I was hoping to gain some insight into how these folks spin their multi-threaded narrative webs. My hopes were probably too high.

The meeting turned more into a debate over entitlement. Now, I understand perfectly well why a person would argue the importance of their work, but it’s unfortunate how often people tout their own discipline to the detriment of others. Some of the writers seemed to forget that they’re taking part in a collaborative effort and that effort’s being made on the way to making a game. Not a novel, not a movie, not a Hallmark card – a game. A couple of participants touched on their personal strategies for game-story excellence but in large part, it was more a squabble than an exchange and what useful information there was seemed less like specialized knowledge and more like common sense. It reminded me of many an art school lecture actually. In the end I learned the hard way that attending lectures or panels on creative pursuits like writing isn’t particularly edifying.

4:00 pm – Conference hop 3
Too much heavy discourse makes Jill a dull girl so post-round table, I crossed the North hall to the Loco Roco post mortem. It had the coolest title – “Making Happiness into Gameplay”—who wouldn’t want to hear that talk?

I sat there before the talk wondering at the large number of people wearing translator headphones, amazed at how many non-english speaking people were attending the talk. I realized my mistake when the presenter came in and started speaking Japanese. I suppose I could’ve sat there, pretending to be fluent in Japanese, thus upping my game industry cool factor by about 1000% but I wanted to actually hear what he was saying so I skulked out of the theater long enough to grab a headset.

Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed this talk more or been more forgiving if I hadn’t gone to the Miyamoto keynote. As it was, at the keynote I’d heard an extremely talented (or well-rehearsed) interpreter work his translational magic on Miyamoto’s speech making it entertaining and informative. The translators at this talk must’ve come from Discount Translators R Us because the two of them jointly managed to suck all life and interest out of the speaker’s presentation, leaving all listeners in a semi-catatonic state. I kept thinking of that scene on Lost in Translation. The one where the Japanese director’s ranting at Bill Murray during the Suntory whisky commercial and after he goes on for 2 minutes, the translator only says, “With more intensity.”

Knowing I was probably missing most of what the designer was saying, I gave up, turned in my headset and decided to check out the Career Pavilion.

4:30 pm Careers Ahoy
Not being much of a party-goer, the most fun I had at GDC aside from listening to other people’s conversations was cruising around the Career Pavilion. There I took my tendency to buttinsky-ness to new heights by unashamedly breathing down the necks of aspiring game artists as they presented their portfolios to mostly bored looking HR staff.

It was an exercise in both delight and horror. There were definitely some talented people showing their stuff but there were many who I though about giving a dollar so they could buy a clue. One guy applying at the Blizzard booth presented a book full of what looked like pixelated screenshots from World of Warcraft worked over mercilessly with Microsoft Paint. The Blizzard guy's pained look by itself was worth the trip.

5:30 pm – Farewell to GDC
Another GDC ended. It was a full two days, days I’d look back on fondly, full of highs and lows, hope and disappointment, stale bagels and questionable hygiene. I’d heard some interesting arguments, and had some long-held ideologies confirmed. Boarding the bus for home I reflected on the lessons - nay, the LIFE lessons GDC had to offer. The most important being, ”Networking's probably a crapload easier when you’re drunk.”