Staying Cheap at GDC Day 1
written by Evan Goncalo
The Game Developer Conference, also known as GDC, is the end-all be-all event of the year for game developers. You’ll find no fan-boys here! Once a year thousands of developers, students, and press descend upon Moscone Center in San Francisco for a weeklong chance to network, learn, and most importantly, play.
Monday and Tuesday at the conference are completely dedicated to “summits,” each targeted at one aspect of the industry, with topics ranging anywhere from mobile games, AI, outsourcing, to localization. Today, my flavor of choice was the Independent Games Summit, the place to be if you want to catch the new rising stars of the industry. To take a line out of 2D Boy (World of Goo) Co-Founder Rob Carmel’s book, the folks here “value design over finances.”
Carmel and his business partner, Kyle Gabler kicked off the day with a fascinating talk about making the leap and “going indie” – something that may be a logical next step for many developers affected by the rising unemployment levels, and for those looking to do something new. Their enormous success with flagship title, “World of Goo,” was the base for all conversation, and how the Steam bestseller evolved from a rapid prototype design.
Session two in day-1 was followed by a quick walk-through of this year’s Independent Games Festival finalists, run by two members of Arizona-based Flashbang Studios, Steve Swink and Matthew Wegner. Games covered included Blueberry Garden, Cletus Clay, Feist, Machinarium, The Maw, Zeno Clash, Snapshot, and many more.
What makes the games above, along with so many other indie titles, so innovative are the high levels of creativity and uniqueness that each contains. "Cletus Clay" is a title styled to look like a claymation film. The game’s animation is done in the traditional manner, through individual photos of each frame of motion with real clay models. Feist is a stylized side-scroller that is completely made up of silhouette cut outs. Games like, “The Maw” and “Zeno Clash” are full 3D titles that look like they’ve come directly out of an AAA studio, but in reality are developed by what Mike Wilford of Twisted Pixel described as “eight guys in a dungeon.”
After lunch, Cactus, an independent developer ran a session called “The Four-Hour Game Design.” The presentation itself was virtually a collection of small games and entertaining pictures accompanied with captions. Did the formula work? I’d say so! The entire audience was left laughing throughout the whole presentation, and exited with a lot of helpful advice – Things like the five types of artwork involved in lightning game creation. The five being:
1. Doodles 2. Outlines 3. Pixelated 4. Basic Shapes 5. “Shitty” (the slides that ensued after this one were pure hilarity)
Pair the above with advice like “games don’t need to be fun” and you get quite an interesting presentation. Cactus’ session was my pick for “best session of the day,” it kept my attention and when I left the room my sides were sore from laughing.
Petri Purho of Kloonigames followed, discussing his critically acclaimed “Crayon Physics Deluxe.” Purho’s session focus was on the importance of rapid prototype development, what he described as “the foreplay of game development, the thing that most guys want to escape.” His game is testament to the possibility of success, Purho’s game won last year’s Grand Prize at the IGF. He explained that prototypes are “not just to prove your idea works, it’s a tool to explore it.”
The last stop of the day for me was a session in the Mobile Summit titled “Am I Dead Yet?” John Szeder, the speaker, described his journey from the formation of his studio, to its fateful end. Szeder’s talk discussed the ups and downs of industry financing, and working from week-to-week on a shoestring budget. I’ve learned it’s all a gamble, and you’ve got to have guts to go into business. What I found his most interesting notion to be was the, “Get a job at Starbucks.” The reasoning behind it being you get free coffee, free internet, and a bunch of other perks all attached to working a part-time gig.
If today’s sessions are any indication of the week, it guarantees to be a titillating week ahead. A focal point of this years conference as a whole seems to be “staying cheap” as our economy spirals downward, so expect to hear more about affordable tools, and low-budget productions. Come back tomorrow to hear more the “indie ethic” and some inside info on “Battlestations: Pacific!” Evan Goncalo is currently a game development teacher at Bristol Community College. Evan started in the game industry when he was 18 has worked in QA, Marketing, and Design in AAA studios that include Turbine Inc, Blue Fang Games, and Hasbro Inc. In his spare time he creates 3D art and textures for game modification and as a hobby.