GDC 2009, day 1

The show proper opened on Wednesday, March 25th and I hardly knew what to do with myself. I mean, as I said in an earlier post, it’d been YEARS since I had attended GDC and not been stuck in my hotel room madly revising slides for one talk or another. Mostly, I spent the day sitting at one of the tables on the 2nd floor of the Moscone Center, waving at friends who were distracted by the need to prepare for their talks and talking with folks who drifted over to say hi. (Spent a fair amount of time that way with ex-Champions game guru Steve Peterson, MMO guy Raph Koster and got to meet Cory Doctorow, whose book Little Brother I happened to be reading on my phone thanks to Daily Lit…). Good times, as they say…

I did manage to attend a few talks on day 1, though. Here’s the scoop on those:

Discovering New Development Opportunities (Nintendo Keynote)
Satoru Iwata

I was a little surprised that much of this talk was about Shigeru Miyamoto’s development style — not disappointed, but surprised that someone other than Miyamoto himself would discuss it. Anyway, from the sound of it, Miyamoto seems inspired by the things in his life (as are, I think, most successful designers). Starting with an idea you think is “marketable” or “niche-filling” or any of the other myriad starting points for projects seems foolish to me. Great games come from personal passion, not business objectives. Someone burns to do something and they do it with dedication to quality that goes as far as anything can to ensuring success… Anyway, I was not at ALL surprised that Miyamoto’s games come from a personal place… From what we heard at the talk, once a subject’s been settled on, the approach is very methodical, very iterative, very into defining the essence of fun with a small team (and often for a very, very long time) before expanding into a real game and a real (for which read “expensive”) team. We could all learn from that!

Iwata also talked fairly extensively about how Nintendo wanted to be friendly to developers of all types and went to some lengths to make clear how important hardcore gamers are to Nintendo. This was all great to hear. But what floored me were the sales stats he talked about — notably that the Wii Balance Board has shipped nearly as many units as the PS3 has total! Wow. I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that Nintendo has surpassed both PS3 and 360 in units sold, but to hear there are — what did he say? 15 million-ish Wii Balance Boards out there. That took me aback. That starts to sound like a peripheral more people should be supporting. (Of course, that was probably EXACTLY what Iwata hoped the audience would leave believing, so I’m feeling a little used right now…)

There was some talk about the DSi and camera games and all, which looked kind of cool. (Now that I have a DSi I’m a LITTLE less excited than I was before, but still a nice little device.) A demo-er came out and showed off a camera game and a simple animation toolkit that looks like it’ll allow users to create some lovely 2D cartoons. Can’t wait to get my hands on that.

But the best came last — video of a new Zelda game for the DS is coming “later this year.” Woohoo! Bring it on!

And then everyone who attended the talk got a copy of Rhythm Heaven for the DS – a variation of Rhythm Tengoku, one of the best DS games ever, but never shipped in the US. If you don’t have it, go get it. Great little game.

Lighting with Purpose
Jay Riddle (Disney Interactive Studios), Paul Ayliffe (Blackrock Studios)

Okay, I admit I went to this talk mostly because Jay and Paul are Disney guys I like and respect a ton, but I’m hugely into lighting these days and wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on any pearls of wisdom because I work with these guys and assume I’ve heard all they have to say on the subject.

As it turns out, that was a really good idea. The talk was really nice and did touch on some stuff I hadn’t heard them talk about before about how to use lighting to achieve aesthetic and gameplay effects. Jay was nicely conceptual while Paul was nicely concrete. I love that Jay comes at things from a film background and was able to show examples from movies as well as games. And I’m always blown away by what Blackrock does graphically and take advantage of any opportunity to learn how they do such amazing things, vusually. Frankly, I need to get both of those guys to give those talks at Junction Point some time.

Next year, a follow-up that gets into even more specifics, particularly with regard to how lighting can create specific moods, and how color plays into things would be great.

David Perry’s Lunch with Luminaries
David Perry, Gary Whitta, Brian Fargo, Rob Pardo, Will Wright, Neil Young (and me!)

Other than the super embarrassing title of this event it was a ton of fun — one of those things that has me gawking like a kid in a candy shop wondering what I did to deserve being here with all of these guys! There’s been enough online coverage that I won’t go into details, but I got to give Blizzard’s Rob Pardo a (totally joshing) hard time about MMO’s and how much I’d prefer it if Blizzard would Just Give Me Diablo 3 RIGHT NOW. And for the first time in MY life, at least, I actually got Will Wright to admit that I was right about something we argued about — specifically, the big impact cloud computing was likely to have on games and game development. (I think it’s going to be huge and he, at least at the start of the discussion, didn’t think it would change things at all.) I got into a little good-natured sparring with Neil Young as well, about how I totally don’t get the mobile gaming business and development model, and I got to hang out with Brian Fargo (one of my heroes when I first got into the videogame business), all of which, together made the lunch a huge win for me. Hope I get to do it again at some future GDC!

Everything Old is New Again: Using Musical Style to Enhance Storytelling
Lennie Moore, Garry Schyman

I went to this session expecting to hear about music gameplay – a topic I’m intensely interested in. (Not music games per se or rhythm games, but how we can introduce musical play ideas into traditional game types.) The panelists didn’t actually address this topic at all, but it ended up being a great session nonetheless.

What these guys DID talk about was how composers can suss out what developers really want, musically speaking, and how they research and echo specific musical styles and/or the music of specific time periods.

I came away impressed enough by both composers – their working methods, their collaborative process, their musical knowledge, their connections, their versatility and, of course, the quality of their work. A nice surprise, only because I didn’t know either of the panelists and expected the panel to be about something it wasn’t about, yet I learned a ton.

That was it for day 1 of GDC 2009. I’ll be back with whatever I can remember of day 2 soon.

4 Responses to “GDC 2009, day 1”

  1. VG247 » Blog Archive » Spector: I changed Will Wright’s mind on importance of Cloud gaming Says:

    […] “For the first time in my life, at least, I actually got Will Wright to admit that I was right about something we were argued about — specifically, the big impact Cloud computing was likely to have on games and game development,” Spector said, writing on his blog. […]

  2. gshonk Says:

    I’m surprised I didn’t bump into you if you were on the second floor a lot, though it was probably because I was to busy fussing over my first talk. 😉

  3. kpallist Says:

    Back at the 2008 Montreal Game Summit, Jason Mitchell from Valve gave a great talk called ‘connecting visuals to gameplay’, talking about use of shaders and lighting to guide & enhance gameplay.

    He used a great metaphor of calling it a sideband communications channel between designer and player, akin to music score in film.

    Anyhow, rough notes I took here:

  4. akatasonov Says:

    What a great a review! David Perry’s Lunch with Luminaries is particularly interesting

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