GDC 2011 Notes: Random Thoughts on the Experience

I wanted to write and post this yesterday, but my web host decided to suck. Here are some random thoughts on my GDC 2011 experience. Some of it is personal and some of it is business. All of it is the truth!

– In addition to some great networking and excellent parties, I got to have some quiet time with some of my favorite developers. Cliff Bleszinski treated me to some quiet drinks at the top of the Marriott Marquis. I caught up with Chris Cross over an excellent burger and learned that he’s now with THQ Partners. My darling friend and hottie Melissa Miller from 2K Games joined me for our annual catch-up session while devouring evil meat. Sure, I enjoyed lots of parties and meeting new people at the crazy crowded W Hotel, but these quiet catch-ups were special.

– Meeting Takashi Tokita was all kinds of excellent. The man worked on Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and Parasite Eve. I love so many of his games and it was an honor to interview him. I totally marked out and became a fanboy when he gave me an autographed Cecil Harvey action figure. It got even better at the FFIV anniversary party when he asked me to do tequila shots with him and draw Final Fantasy characters. I’m pretty sure I produced the worst black mage, white mage, and chocobo illustrations in the history of Final Fantasy.

– I was really impressed with all the money Google dropped on GDC. In addition to hosting informative sessions, the company gave away Chrome Cr-48 netbooks, Xoom Android tablets, and limited edition Android Nexus S phones. That’s definitely one way to get developers interested in your platforms. It also threw a big and expensive party, but the vibe was totally douchey.

– I was disappointed in Nintendo’s GDC keynote. There was way too much marketing content. Last time I checked, this was a developers conference. Nintendo’s message to developers wasn’t powerful enough. Iwata’s charming was drowned out by all the sales and marketing. Honestly, the company should have copied Google and gave free 3DS units to developers. That would have taken attention away from Google and the Apple iPad 2 press conference across the street.

– Cliffy’s panel was well attended and well received. I’m so proud of all his success. I’m even prouder that one of us has matured. Hmmm, I suppose that makes me the immature and (financially) unsuccessful one. Crap.

Battlefield 3 looked ridiculous. I didn’t really have any expectations going into the preview event, but I was floored with what I saw.

– The new Unreal Engine tech demo (That someone snuck me into. Thanks babe!) was even more ridiculous. I swear to you that it looked like CG-quality graphics in gameplay scenarios. I was half expecting to see a wizard behind the curtain after the demo ended. That said, most companies don’t have the art budget and technical skills to make games look that way. I’m sure the bar will be raised, but I’m not going to expect the majority of Unreal Engine games to look like that brilliant tech demo…though I hope I’m wrong.

– I was happy that I saw more GDC panel coverage than ever before. I’m sad that there are so many publisher preview events during the show. It takes away from the “developer” part of the conference. I understand that it makes economic sense since there are so many reporters there. I also understand that outlets get more traffic from previews than writing up developer panels. Still, it goes against the spirit of the show. Writers could be cranking really interesting and insightful articles on panels — articles that would help gamers understand more about development and help them get to know the amazing people behind the games. I remember posting an article about this at G4tv and getting heat for it. There was someone there that thought it was silly to admit that we made a mistake with our approach to coverage. Pfft.

– Absolutely loved the 1Up party. It was a bunch of old friends drinking and making a mess at the 1Up office. It was cool seeing people that I’ve known since the ’90s and hanging out with new friends. I had a blast taking over Sam Kennedy’s office, writing things on his white board, and making long distance calls to China.

– A lot of game writers use a similar rule, but if you grab me for a random demo and give me a USB drive then it better be a good size. Journalists judge PR this way. It’s true. This loud German developer grabbed (and frightened) me for a demo for an okay game that will stick in my head because of the 8GB USB thumb drive with the beta. Okay, I’m half kidding about this.

– Overall it was an excellent show with lots of great networking and a reminder that I should still try to do this. Sometimes it’s hard to see the “value” of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to do, but I’m surprised by the amazing people I’ve gotten to know over the years and even more surprised that some of them are interested in my perspective. DICE 2011 reminded me of how incredible the gaming business is, while GDC 2011 reminded me that I have a small place on the outside of the business. Prior to the show I had fears that this would be my last year covering games and that I would soon be on the management track at Burger King (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Thanks to a visit from Zoe and a great GDC, I’m determined to stay here.

Author: RPadTV