I just got back from a week at the Game Developers Conference. I was fortunate enough to have my company send me which I believe is quite a privilege. I had not been since my Big Grub days in 1996 and this year it was in San Francisco which is a city I had also not been to for about 8 years so it was quite natsukashi (nostalgic).
The show runs for 5 days. The first 2 days are "tutorials" and arguably not part of the "main" conference. The last 3 days everything is going and the show is fully attended. There really were not a whole lot of super moments directly from the show for me. The best part of course is always meeting new people and catching up with old friends. This year they really pushed for Eastern attendance and Tuesday night they had an "East Meet's West" reception to try to foster some new relationships between eastern (mostly Japanese, Chinese, Korean) and western developers.
For my Japanese friends, although they although they all enjoyed their trip they were pretty disappointed to find out how poor their English really was meaning that most of them could not follow along with the lectures. The conference did have some lectures translated live using wireless headphones which was pretty amazing but I guess it's fairly expensive so they were not able to have it for more than a few.
One really really sad thing that happened, the very first day 4 Japanese attendees were mugged walking to the show from their hotel. One of them is someone I know. He was taken to a hospital and was back in Japan the next day. As an American I'm really embarrassed and upset that my country sucks so much. Lots of typical American attitudes were that it was their own fault, they were in a hotel in a bad part of town. But, you have to realize, violent crime is almost non−existent in Japan compared to the USA and the Japanese have absolutely no context for it. Here in Tokyo you can pretty much walk anywhere anytime of the day and not give it a second thought. On top of which there is no way you could expect them to know what's a good part of town and what's not.
Since America is not going to get less violent anytime soon my suggestion is that the show, at least for the foreigners, should provide a crime map marking relatively safe/dangerous areas. I suspect given America's sue happy environment they couldn't do that because it would introduce some responsibility on the conference. Maybe they could put the correct disclaimers or something.
Another more minor issue was one of my friends got booked in a hotel near the Airport which is like 30 minutes by car or a $40 cab rid from the show. The conference organizers did provide a list and a map of local hotels so that issue can only be blamed on whoever did the arrangements for my friend.
As for the show it sounds like the #1 highlight for many was the Will Wright talk showing his new game Spore. I say "sounds like" because the talk was over attended and several hundred people that wanted to see it were turned away including myself. The conference organizers struggled to try to get some monitors setup to let us listen and watch from a distance but unfortunately they had not planned for it and they didn't get it working in any useful way.
I was particularly interested because apparently he showed of algorithmically generated creatures which is something I had proposed a game over a year ago using many of the same techniques.
Heart of a Gamer
There was most inspirational talk was Mr. Iwata's, president of Nintendo, talking about the "Heart of a Gamer". Mr. Iwata is one of the creators of the original Kirby series and others and he talked basically about how he is one of "us", a gamer. As a teen he programmed games on his HP calculator. As a college student he moved to a shared apartment in the Akihabara district so be near the computer shops in the late 70s and hacked away making games. Eventually he help start HAL, the company that did Kirby and others. He said HAL was named after HAL from 2001.
He also talked about crunchtime and all nighters. Seeing the beauty of Mt Fuji in the morning not because he got up to see it but because he was still up from the night before. Clearly he actually is a gamer unlike the presidents of most other hardware companies and game publishers. Of course that doesn't mean Nintendo will do well but still it was nice to see "one of US" leading such a big company instead of the typical "suit".
Soul of a Bundle
I attended a talk about Katamari Damacy by its designer, Keita Takahashi. I'm not sure I really got anything out of it. He said development was 3 years!!! Of course most of that was with just a couple of people and I guess much of it was about the politics of getting it published but really, it was hard to come away with anything useful from the talk except that it's nearly impossible to get an unusual game published.
He did comment that he was happy to have a made a non−violent game. While I agree it's feels non−violent you do roll over screaming people and destroy neighborhoods so ??!?!?!?
There was a talk by Prof. James O'Brien about simulating breakable stuff, something very few games have done so far. Most of us just cheat by making 2 models, one in good condition and one broken and when the object breaks he through up some debris effects and switch to the broken model. Prof. O'Brien though had the breaking simulated in real time and it was Amazing. Even more amazing using the same math he was able to synthesize sounds in realtime so for example dropping a bowl made of wood the bowl would bounce and roll and generate the exact correct sounds for exactly how it bounced, rolled, skidded etc. Change the parameters do a metal bowl and it would bounce, roll and skid with metal bowl sounds. It was really amazing.
I'm not sure what the point was but Microsoft and Samsung gave away 1000 23" LCD HD TVs after Jay Allard's keynote speech. He claimed HD was the next big thing and although he tried to define HD as including everything from networking to customization to HDTV he really seemed to come back to that people watching HDTV TV shows were not going to be happy with non HDTV games. That's probably true but hardly interesting.
The indy games were amazing. Of course most of them have been available for a while on the net but I'm still amazed at how polished many of them are and how much work has been put into them. For example Steer Madness is a GTA3 style of game except you play a cow out to promote animal rights. The game was pretty much entirely created by one guy! Amazing!
There were also presentations by various students including an RPG with voice recognition that was an attempt to teach you Japanese. You had to speak in Japanese to use various objects like saying "Open Door" or "Shut Window". It had a long way to go but I can clearly see that idea as someday really working once if the tech every really gets there.
I gotta say, the #1 idea or thought I left with was my frustration at working in a Japanese company without perfect Japanese and without much influence. There were ideas all around for getting games done quicker, having a better quality of life, working more efficiently, as well as inspiration for new ideas to follow but as one guy on a small team in a situation were I can't effectively participate I left feeling helpless to use any of the ideas I was exposed to.
There were as well ideas and "writing on the wall" of things my company NEEDS to do to compete and yet from my position there's nothing I can do about it except to pray someone far above me "gets it" and makes things happen.
That was probably the biggest issue and made me feel fairly disconnected from the entire show.