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11 Mar 2010

I'm here on a regular conference pass, rather than the super-deluxe all-access pass, so my GDC experience doesn't really start in earnest until tomorrow. But that didn't stop me from having a few San Francisco adventures tonight... and some of them were even related to game development!

I should mention that this is the first time I've been to San Francisco. I've been to half the states in the U.S. growing up, and most of the major cities in California, but until now this one has eluded me. And I have to say: holy shit what is even going on with Union Square. I kinda feel like I just walked through New York City's little brother. I don't exactly come from small-town roots, but it's still a bit surreal to walk by places like Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany's. Methinks money changes hands in large quantities 'round these parts.

I went the wrong direction on my first excursion out into the city, because I grew up in Salt Lake City where you have enormous mountains that orient you correctly now matter where in the valley you are. Not so much, here. Turns out the wrong direction from this particular hotel quickly leads one into a questionable part of town. Within a mile things went from pleasantly upscale-urban to uncomfortably-downtrodden inner-city. This, at twilight, was an... interesting experience. I'm pretty sure I walked by at least one crack house, and I most definitely walked through (rather awkwardly) a group of shady-looking dudes openly smoking joints on the street. And the character of San Francisco's whacked-out vagrants and degenerates is certainly a thing to behold. I wouldn't say I felt endangered (which is good) but, well... let's just say I suddenly became very cognizant of the rapidly fading daylight.

After doubling back and orienting myself correctly thanks to the magic of Google Maps and the JesusPhone, I finally met up with fellow colleague Trent Polack and some other dudes, of whom I remember the names of half and the affiliations of the other half, which is slightly inconvenient. I imagine I'll be doing that a lot for the next few days. We hit up the Gamma IV party at the Mezzanine, the genesis of which was slightly awkward because a) bouncers are notoriously bad at communicating even simple things (a hand-waved "Over there..." in no way stands in for "You guys are here for the Gamma IV party? Line up along this wall, doors open at 8:00.") and b) this venue clearly caters to a very different clientele than "total geek", meaning the staff reacted to our presence with, frankly, open disdain. (Although I do have to give special props for the bartender that served me the strongest whiskey sour I've ever had the pleasure of consuming. This man received a hefty tip.)

In all fairness, the event itself turned out pretty rad, and I don't mean to cast any aspersions or blame on the *organizers *in any way. Staff issues aside, the venue was great, the music selections were choice, and it was all about the games!

The crux of the event was the series of one-switch games on display for public interaction. The most awesome of these had to be "Button", which for some reason was on the upper balcony and had a private bar all to itself: two points which seem inconsequential but suddenly take on new meaning at the moment one realizes that the point of this game is to make four people beat the living shit out of each other in real life in order to win. Or perhaps lose. And maybe there's a side of significant personal embarrassment to go along with that.

Here's the pitch: four players are given an instruction, randomly chosen from among a list of many. All are designed to put significant distance between you and your controller. My group had to back up seven steps and then clap our hands as annoyingly as possible until the game said "GO". The group before us had to back up six steps and sing "Happy Birthday", with the game saying "GO" at an apparently random point during the song. A later group, I'm told, was instructed to perform headstands, with the game saying "GO" at perhaps the most inconvenient moment for all involved (because we all know that game developers excel at feats of physical grace and skill).

When the game says "GO", everyone rushes to press and hold their button. But the rules for who wins and who loses change every time you play the game. Maybe the first player to push his button wins. Or maybe he loses, and the third player wins. Or maybe everyone who pushes his button loses, so only those who show restraint can claim victory. In my case, the third player to release his button was declared the victor. Whichever rule is in effect is clearly displayed on the screen from the moment the "GO" order is issued, so when (yes, when) you screw up, it's just that much more publicly humiliating.

And did I mention the game encourages beating the shit out of each other as part of this process?

So to recap: you a) go to the other end of the room, b) perform some horribly self-demeaning task, c) rush frantically back to your controller, to d) probably do the wrong thing anyway and embarrass yourself and everyone around you in the most hilarious way possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that this was the only game to take place on a raised balcony, and was also the only game situated such that it had its own private bar. Let's just say "Button" got even better as the night went on. This is drunken party gaming at its best. :D

There was news today of Sony's announcement of a new PS3 motion controller, the "Playstation Move". Seeing the games -- and the sweet music visualizer behind the DJ booth -- at the Gamma IV party made me wish that all this motion tech (like the new Move) and camera tech (like the EyeToy) would be employed on a crowd scale. It would've been so rad to see a game projected across an entire wall of the club, the controls for which are the movements and interactions of the crowd itself.

Anyway... I'm pretty much exhausted and it has a lot to do with traveling across multiple time zones, so I'm going to go waste another 8-10 hours of my life in a coma and look forward to a productive day of proper session-hopping tomorrow!

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gdc video-games