The Game Developers Conference is big. Last week over 24,000 members of the game development community gathered at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for five days of talks, sessions, and networking.
GDC can be an intimidating place. But it’s also an inspiring place. Creativity, imagination and ingenuity can be found behind every door, in every session, in the queue for coffee and in every bar.
Taking in all five days at GDC is hard work, but unlike videogame discourse on the web, attending GDC is a relentlessly positive experience. Even the simple experience of walking around the conference halls can be enthralling as you catch over heard fragments of conversation, people making introductions, developers solving problems and students sharing experiences and ideas.
At this year’s conference I saw talks from composers, developers, artists, engineers, studio directors and industry legends. I attended sessions on subjects as diverse as getting the most out of the Vertex Shader, to curating a gaming art space in the basement of a New York night club.
In the middle of the week are two keystone award events; the Independent Games Festival Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards. These two ceremonies have improved year on year and have benefited from the move to Moscone West.
Of the two it’s the IGF that really excites the crowd. There’s a genuine sense of pride among the attendees, buoyed by the recognition bestowed upon developers such as Lucas Pope and Davey Wreden. In these moments, as the crowd roars with appreciation, there’s a palpable feeling that anything and everything is possible.
The conference takes place across the three large buildings that make up the Moscone Convention Center. The West Hall is home to the majority of the talks and seminars, as well as the award ceremonies. The North and South Halls host a few of the more popular sessions, but are mainly used as venues for GDC Play, the GDC Expo and the Career Center.
Once the Expos begin, the junction of 4th and Howard becomes a seething hive of badge wearing attendees. As you shuffle across the road your eyes glance across the badges worn by attendees; an Art Director from Crytek, an AI Programmer from Ubisoft, John Romero..? John Romero! (He doesn’t need a badge.)
Dotted around the conference are various exhibitions, installations and diversions. Fans of retro games and technology can be seen milling around the exhibits from the MADE or the Videogame History Museum. This year you could also take part in live game show, relax in the beanbag oasis of The Wild Rumpus, or take on Romero himself in a LAN deathmatch.
The conference is also very well organised. Queues (of which there are a few) are polite and good-natured, session AV is almost universally excellent and the orange clad GDC helpers (most of whom work in the industry) are polite and incredibly helpful. They are the undeniable backbone of the conference.
Diversity appears to be the key to the event’s success. The mix of topics, from the technical to the ethical, show that the games industry is not afraid to share its secrets, push boundaries, nor look itself in mirror and question itself when necessary.
So, GDC can be scary. GDC can be hard work. But GDC rocks.
I will be adding reports from GDC 2104 over the coming week. As they go up you will be able to find them here.