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13 Mar 2010

Thursday was my official start to GDC, and the opening day of the main conference and expo floor. Upon arrival to the Moscone Convention Center I was immediately impressed with the overall quality of the event. The venue was well-organized and labeled with big, professional-looking signs and banners. The individual session rooms featured high-quality projectors and aesthetically-appealing stage backlighting. There were plenty of catering stands around selling drinks and snacks at not-too-exorbitant prices, as well as free coffee stands in the side halls that spun off to all the session rooms.

Perhaps it's just because our industry still retains some of that "garage games" identity, but I somehow expected the conference to be less upscale than this. I was pleasantly surprised: GDC really does an excellent job casting our medium and our industry in a professional and respectful light.

I didn't spend a ton of time on the expo floor, partially because I had a full session schedule and partially because there just weren't that many booths that interested or applied to me. I did, however, make sure to stop by the Unity booth, since I work with it on my personal projects (including Cortex):

And I also had to stop by the Playstation booth, in part because I'm professionally close to Sony (you know, *Warhawk *and all that) but mainly in hopes of getting a hands-on with the new motion controller, the Playstation Move.

It took some doing (there was a guy in line in front of me who *would not stop *asking questions), but eventually my quest succeeded. However, I didn't actually play any games with the Playstation Move (those were at the other end of the booth). I was interested in a straight-up tech demo, so I was playing around in a demo app with lots of diagnostic displays and testbeds showing off specific aspects of the technology. Being a designer, I wanted to check out the controller in a sterile environment, free of creative interpretation.

And what a glorious controller this is. It kicks the pants off the Wii-mote for accuracy and smoothness, and has virtually imperceptible latency. And in combination with the Playstation Eye, which tracks head and body movements and utilizes face recognition to differentiate between players, you can quickly get into some compelling physical interactions. I hope game designers will deeply explore the possibilities when they get their hands on this hardware, because I can easily see the Playstation Move enabling incredibly novel gaming experiences.

Thursday night brought the Indie Games Festival and the Game Developers' Choice Awards, and I was bowled over by the production value of the show and, more importantly, the honest respect it showed toward our medium. After two years suffering through the godawful (and frequently insulting) VGAs, the IGF and the GDCA were a much-needed breath of fresh air.

The IGF was hosted by Kyle Gabler and Erin Robinson, and was not only an awards show for indie games, but also a free-spirited celebration of them. Monaco took home the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, as well as the Excellence in Design award, making it the only game to win two IGF awards during the night. I haven't played it, but after watching the brief previews played on-stage during the announcements of the nominees, I really really want to.

I was happy to see *Continuity *pick up the Student Showcase Award, because that game is really very clever and I didn't see much buzz around it. And Cactus -- who took home the IGF Nuovo Award for *Tuning *-- delivered the greatest acceptance speech ever. The man is truly a legend in his own time.

The Game Developers' Choice Awards followed immediately after, and were hosted by Warren Spector. Warren Spector is my #1 role model in this industry right now, so you'll forgive me for barely containing a total fanboy breakdown upon seeing the man in person. And he did an admirable job as host, bringing both gravitas and good humor to every one of the award categories.

To nobody's great surprise, *Uncharted 2 *pretty much swept the show, taking Best Writing, Best Technology, Best Visual Arts, Best Audio, and of course, Game of the Year. Congratulations to Naughty Dog for pulling off such an amazing feat!

I was glad to see *Scribblenauts *pick up a couple of awards: Best Handheld Game and the Innovation Award. To be honest, I didn't really expect that game to get recognized, given that its brilliant innovation and ambition was masked by some pretty severe flaws in execution. Both awards are well-deserved.

I also had a moment of pure joy when *Flower *won Best Downloadable Game, after it had been nominated for, but failed to win, multiple other categories. *Flower *was a beautiful game and a unique experience, and I'm extremely happy for its well-deserved recognition.

There was an odd moment in the show, and that was when FarmVille *won Best New Social/Online Game. *FarmVille *winning the award wasn't strange -- it was, in fact, depressingly predictable -- it was the acceptance speech that followed that kind of set the room on edge. The Zynga guy (whose name I've completely forgotten) opened with a blatant shot against the indie community, asserting that games like *FarmVille *are "just as indie", and that indies should jump into the social games space and put their money where their mouth is. Apparently Zynga guy has no fucking idea what the indie community is all about, i.e. precisely the opposite of commercialized Skinnerian time- and money-sinks driven by business and user metrics instead of love of the art. It was frankly insulting to the half of the room that had just concluded an hour-long awards show celebrating its prolific creative output. And then, just to make things even more awkward, he started pitching Zynga as a great place to work, going so far as to directly ask for people to send in their resumes. Hey, Zynga guy: There's a time and a place for that, and your acceptance speech at the Game Developers' Choice Awards is neither. *Learn some fucking tact.

Luckily, the Penny Arcade guys received the 2010 Ambassador Award shortly thereafter, for their contributions to the industry including PAX and Child's Play, and they admirably demonstrated how a proper acceptance speech is made: respect for the industry and the audience, recognition of the meaning behind the award, and a healthy dose of humility. "We'll never stop trying to earn it," they said of the award.

Gabe Newell received the Pioneer Award for his work on Steam and digital distribution. His acceptance speech was, randomly, a PowerPoint presentation involving odd predictions about the future of game development. Then his laptop went BSOD. And then the internet discovered that the whole thing was an elaborate ruse, yet another part of Valve's clever Portal 2 ARG. Well played, Mr. Newell. Well played.

Finally, John Carmack received the Lifetime Achievement Award. This is self-explanatory: the dude made Commander Keen, for fuck's sake. Oh, and also some shooters or something. ;)

And then, at the end of the show, Warren Spector came back out and debuted a trailer for Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution. (Um... FAN-GASM! That is all.)

That covers the goings-on on the show floor and the main conference events. Coming up soon are additional posts detailing each of the sessions I attended.

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gdc social-games video-games