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Conference Call: GDC 2019 Preview

GDC returns to San Francisco with another packed lineup. Here are our picks from this year’s lineup.

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GDC 2019

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) returns to San Francisco next week with another packed lineup of talks, panels, tutorials, and roundtable discussions.

GDC 19 features over 750 sessions covering all aspects of video game development, from programming and audio, to marketing and community management. This year’s tracks include talks on some of last year’s most acclaimed games – such as Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War – as well as respected indie hits including Into the Breach, Cultist Simulator, and Tetris Effect.

Here are our picks from this year’s impressive conference lineup.

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GDC 2019 highlights

‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ AI Postmortem | Adam Noonchester

There are 17 different talks at GDC covering the development of Insomniac’s PlayStation 4 smash, Marvel’s Spider-Man. One of the most interesting should be Adam Noonchester’s look at the AI used for the game’s navigation and fight systems.

‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’: A Deep Dive into the Look Creation of Manhattan | Brian Mullen, Ryan Benno, Matthew MacAuliffe

Another fascinating Spider-Man talk will be an examination of the game’s impressive recreation of Manhattan. The session will look at everything from the use of texture and materials, to the lighting system that brings New York to life so effectively. It will also give attendees the chance to sneak a peek at some of Insomniac’s in-house development tools.

The Narrative Innovation Showcase 2019 | Various speakers

A stellar lineup of speakers – Clara Fernandez Vara, Matthew Weise, Tanya X. Short, Mark Backler, Whitney “Strix” Beltran, Dave Gilbert, and Allen Turner – will deliver a series of short-format presentations that tackle the challenges and possibilities of narrative design. A focus on useful techniques, problem solving, and experimentation make this an essential session for video game storytellers.

Put Your Name on Your Game, a Talk by Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage | Bennett Foddy, Zach Gage

If you follow independent game development, you’ll probably know the names Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage, and with good reason. In this session, Foddy and Gage speak about the artistic and commercial benefits of crediting game creators. The session will also explore how to break the unwritten rule of downplaying designer credits.

‘Subnautica’ Postmortem | Jonas Boetel

Game postmortems are often among the most interesting talks at GDC, and Jonas Boetel’s session on Subnautica should be no exception. The talk will cover the production and release of the game, and chart its progress from Early Access flop to multi-million selling hit. Practical advice on growing communities, finding customers, and dealing with player feedback will prove useful to most conference attendees.

The ‘Banner Saga’ Franchise: Making Indie Sound AAA | Austin Wintory

One of GDC’s most reliably interesting speakers returns with another intriguing talk for all musicians and composers. Austin Wintory will look back on the three scores he composed for Stoic Studio’s Banner Saga trilogy, detailing the evolution of their music, and the production choices he made to create a rich, textured score.

Letting Go: A ‘Florence’ Postmortem | Ken Wong

Mountains’ creative director explores the inception and design process behind one of last year’s finest mobile games. The talk explores the narrative techniques used in the development of Florence, as well Wong’s experience working with publisher Annapurna Interactive.

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GDC Main Stage: The Developer’s Journey | Siobhan Reddy, Sean Murray, Laralyn McWilliams

One of the big additions to this year’s Game Developers Conference is a new panel session held on the West Hall Main Stage. Media Molecule’s Siobhan Reddy, and Sean Murray from Hello Games will take to the stage to discuss ‘The Developers Journey’, a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Dreams and No Man’s Sky. Microsoft’s Laralyn McWilliams will also reveal some practical tips and techniques to help developers stay positive and nurture their creativity.

The Making of ‘Divinity: Original Sin 2’ | Swen Vincke

Larian Studios’ Swen Vincke speaks about how embracing iteration as a design methodology was key to the success of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Attendees will learn how to design and organise for iteration, and discover the value of synchronising design and workflow.

Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across Platforms | Jeffrey Shi, Ramsey Khadder

With Xbox Live shortly set to appear on multiple platforms – including the Nintendo Switch – Microsoft’s Jeffrey Shi and Ramsey Khadder will unveil the new SDK that allows game developers to connect players across different devices.

Classic Game Postmortem: ‘Paperboy!’ | John Salwitz

John Salwitz’s talk is one for us oldies. It will cover the development of Atari’s beloved coin-op classic, and go behind the scenes of 1980s arcade game design. Bring some quarters.

Making ‘Tetris Effect’-ive | Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Mark MacDonald, Takashi Ishihara

Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s talk is sure to be one of the biggest draws at this year’s GDC. Mizuguchi – along with producer, Mark MacDonald, and director, Takashi Ishihara – will present a deep dive into their reinvention of a video game classic. The session will cover pre-production, prototyping, iteration, and user testing – and will hopefully be accompanied by some killer tunes.

‘Into the Breach’ Design Postmortem | Matthew Davis

It took Subset Games four years to develop ‘overnight success’, Into the Breach. This talk will examine the development team’s early design decisions, their approach to game balancing, and how they cut and copied features to create a focused gameplay experience.

Reinventing ‘God of War’ | Cory Barlog

At the other end of the development scale is Sony Santa Monica’s God of War. Creative director Cory Barlog will chart the studio’s journey to radically reinvent the God of War franchise, looking at the successes and failures encountered along the way

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‘Cultist Simulator’: Designing an Experimental Game for Commercial Success | Alexis Kennedy

Weather Factory’s Alexis Kennedy returns to GDC with another talk that will be essential for anyone interested in narrative design, or developing a game on a limited budget. (90% of attendees, then). The talk will look at the mix of design choices, canny marketing decisions, and good fortune that helped make Cultist Simulator a success.

Game Developers Choice and IGF Awards

One of the highlights of GDC is the chance to extend appreciation to the developers and studios behind some of the year’s most impressive games. This year’s crop of Independent Games Festival nominees includes the developers behind Return of the Obra Dinn, What the Golf?, and Hypnospace Outlaw. This year’s GDC Award nominations include Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and Celeste.


GDC Registration

General registration for GDC is available online until March 15, 2019, with on-site registration available throughout the week of the conference.

GDC 2019 passes and pricing

You can check out the full GDC 2019 session programme over at the official website.

Images: Official GDC Flickr

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Thumbsticks editor, and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Ape Out, Skyrim (again), and Yoshi's Crafted World.