GDC 2011: Alex Diener's After Action Report

Alex DienerMar 09, 2011

The Game Developers Conference (GDC), held yearly in San Francisco, is a one-of-a-kind experience for game developers of all types. In the week-long duration of the conference, an attendee will have the opportunity to bump elbows with anyone from casual hobbyists working on their first game, to seasoned professionals with many big-name titles under their belts.

This was my third year attending GDC. Though expensive, I opted for the All-Access pass to make sure I’d be able to see everything the conference had to offer. The first two days are dedicated to Summits and Tutorials; the rest of the week has various sessions, the GDC Expo, Game Career Seminar, and many other events. Summits are two days of back-to-back sessions focusing on a particular topic. This year’s summits included Artificial Intelligence, Education, Localization, Smartphone, Independent Games, Social & Online Games, and Serious Games.

As I’d done the previous two years, I attended the Independent Games Summit all day on Monday and Tuesday. These are always the best two days of the year for me. The cream of the crop of indie game developers give passionate, energetic, inspiring talks about their processes, projects, and perspectives on game development. It’s largely the same group of people in the room for both days, so a strong sense of camaraderie is felt during the summit. Highlights from this year include Michael Todd’s talk about techniques for developing games while depressed (a common issue among developers working alone), Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes’s Super Meat Boy postmortem, and Rapid-Fire Indies, a series of 10-minute talks from notable indie game developers on topics of their choice.

Wednesday through Friday, sessions are no longer focused into summits, and a wider variety of topics is discussed. Something I particularly enjoyed among the main conference sessions this year were several postmortems of classic games, such as Pac-Man, Prince of Persia, and Out of this World. To hear the creators of games that shaped my childhood talk about how they were made was a real treat. Also open during this time is the GDC Expo, which is a large-scale spectacle of new products being shown off by a variety of companies. Stereoscopic 3D was a noticeable theme, with 3DTVs all over the expo floor, and playable 3DS units at the Nintendo booth.

On Wednesday evening, I went to the Independent Games Festival and Game Developer’s Choice Awards. The two are separate award shows run back-to-back, one honoring independent game developers and one open to the larger industry. Minecraft, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Red Dead Redemption were big winners, taking away several awards each. During the expo, IGF finalists are playable on the show floor, which in the case of unreleased titles is the only place they can be played.

The best thing about GDC for me is the sense of community and belonging it brings. I’m a somewhat shy person by nature, but at the conference I can sit down next to any person and immediately have a substantial conversation. There’s really nothing that compares to being in a room with thousands of other people who have the same passion for what they do as your own. Year after year you run into the same amazing people, and lasting friendships are formed. It’s an amazing experience like no other.

About the Author

Alex Diener is a long-time iDevGames community member and has participated in multiple uDevGames and other iDG contests. With several open source games and a small collection of game-dev articles, as well as the developer of the budding libstem project, Alex is a wonderful asset for iDevGames.

uDevGames 2011

Convergence — Best Gameplay
Kung Fu Killforce — Best Overall Game, Best Audio, Best Presentation
Flying Sweeden — Best Graphics, Most Original
Time Goat — Best Story