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.

DICE 2011 Day Three: Raymond’s Rants

DICE 2011 Thursday was capped off by the 14th annual Interactive Achievement Awards. Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption cleaned up, with the former getting game of the year. Legends Bill Budge and Bing Gordon were honored, winning the Pioneer and Lifetime Achievement awards, respectively. Gordon wrapped up his acceptance speech with a 10-minute poem full of excellent videogame references — it was entertaining and inspiring…but for some reason I kept thinking about Reverend Jesse Jackson reciting Green Eggs and Ham on Saturday Night Live.

My personal highlight was watching Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk get inducted into the AIAS hall of fame. I am such a fan of these two men on several levels. After playing through Baldur’s Gate for the 18th time, I kind of became a fan. Then I got to meet these guys and was immediately impressed with how sharp they were. As I’ve gotten to know them a bit over the years — and witnessed several of Dr. Greg’s…unfortunate hairstyles — I was floored by how nice they are. Not only was I fan of their games, I was a fan of them as human beings. They’re trained physicians, brilliant game creators, and two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in this business. Watching them receive this honor from their peers was fantastic.

After the after-party, I ended up with a bunch of old G4 production friends, a dear friend from Sony, an oceanographer’s son, and some cool developer from Mexico that brought tequila that was numbered by hand. The evening ended with Fatburger. Now onto day three!!!

DICE 2011 Day Two: Raymond’s Rants

Man, that was way too much alcohol last night. I’m finally starting to feel like a human being again. As expected, DICE 2011 is awesome. It’s fantastic chatting with incredible developers, catching up with friends, and watching RPadholic N8R. We just had a fun lunch with some major players in the videogame industry. I can’t wait for him to tell you his impressions of Michael Pachter. I’m positive you’ll be surprised.

I’ve said this several times over the last few years — DICE is my favorite videogame conference by far. It’s a relatively small show that’s attended by some of the most brilliant people in the business. It’s truly an honor to attend. To give you an idea of how intimate the setting is, the first person N8R and I bumped into at The Red Rock Hotel was BioWare’s Dr. Ray Muzyka. This morning we shared a cab with the amazing Mark Cerny. I respect and admire the hell out of both of these guys. I’m having my usual excellent time at this year’s show, but it’s fascinating watching N8R meet these people and imagining what he’s thinking.

As for me, it was cool catching up with former Nintendo of American VP Perrin Kaplan. She’s an awesome woman and she shared some great Nintendo stories during our interview. EEDAR’s Jesse Divnich — the number one analyst in the video game business IMHO — shared his thoughts on the upcoming Nintendo 3DS vs. Sony NGP.

I’ll update the comments section of this post throughout the day. Thank you guys for keeping the site active while I’m at the show!

Who is Your ISP? What Kind of Speeds Are You Getting?

Out of curiosity, who is your ISP and what kind of speeds are you getting? I’m a Time Warner Cable subscriber, but only because AT&T U-Verse isn’t available in my building. Thankfully, the company upgraded the wiring in my building a few months. I just did ran and got 24.99 Mb/s down and 1.84 MB/s up with a 17ms ping. That’s much better than what I used to get, but still not as good as the Comcast service I had in San Francisco.

If you have a moment, kindly post your results and let me know if you’re happy with your ISP.

Christmas Randomosity Comment Madness!!!

I’m going to be in Orange County for the next two days, hanging out with family and friends for Christmas. I’m bringing my Google Chrome Cr-48 with me, but my proper laptop will stay at home, ergo I won’t be posting any proper stories. That said, I’ll be checking the site a bunch to see how you guys and gals are. It’ll be like celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, the destruction of Xenu, etc. together! With any luck, we’ll set a new comment count record for That would be an awesome Christmas gift!

Whatever you’re celebrating (or not celebrating), I hope you’re having an excellent time with friends and family! As for me, I wish you a wonderful commercial holiday!!!

Anyone Else Alarmed By What’s Going on in Korea?

While you were sleeping, North Korea launched more than 200 artillery shells at South Korea. Each side has claimed that the other shot first (What is this? Han and Greedo?). Here’s more on the situation from MSNBC.

Anyone else really scared about this brewing situation? Despite its claims of being able to refine uranium for nuclear weapons, North Korea is mostly harmless to Americans…but when you bring China and Iran into the mix then a new “Axis of Evil” seems ready to…do whatever evil things evil axis do.

Obviously I’m concerned because I have family and friends in various part of Asia, but North Korea can wreak havoc in the region and reshape the world — physically, politically, and economically. All it takes is one crazy man (or his son) pushing a button and the world will be changed forever.