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Albuquerque-based Novint’s booth at GDC.
Luke Nihlen

Bye GDC

I crashed with a friend, a former Albuquerque resident himself. He drove me through the Bay Area rain and wind on Sunday morning to the San Francisco airport. The Game Developers Conference 2008 petered out Friday. Although there were still a few lectures that afternoon, most were tearing down their booths during my frantic last-minute Expo crawl.

Although the games industry is blowing up, it's still small enough that you can talk to the engineers or artists behind the project. My boss set up meetings with the teams that create the tools we use every day for our work. We got to pick the brains of a few engineers directly responsible for our toolset. These meetings were the highlight of the conference; a chance to discuss with other games people the problems we have and where we're going.

There was a lot to learn about how the industry works and who the players are. I was hoping for more nitty-gritty technical detail, but most of the lectures I attended read more like product brochures than white papers. This makes sense, given that the industry is very competitive, and games distinguish themselves, perhaps too much, by what technical magic they have.

I’m glad I went. I suppose I should have networked more aggressively, but I wasn’t looking for a new job. I’m going to try to go every year, and I'm considering the Austin Game Developers Conference in September. Maybe you’ll read about it here.

A screenshot from “Crayon Physics.”

Crayon Physics

GDC Debrief

The Game Developers Conference occupied the West and North Halls of Moscone Center in San Francisco. Lecture and expo spaces took up both halls.

This was not like E3, where publishers try to outdo each other in the elaborateness of their booths and the beauty of their “Booth Babes.” The expos were packed with people, and the crowd was a little more diverse than I expected, with women and people of color represented if not well, then at least noticeably.

Despite some glamour and glitz, the flavor of GDC was unmistakably that of a trade show, just like many I’ve been to before. The only difference was that the products, services, and opportunities on display were actually ones that excite me, because they are about games.

The North Hall Expo space was mainly filled with companies selling game-making tools, like graphics engines, motion capture rigs and drawing tablets for artists. The space in the West Hall was called the Career Pavilion and was devoted to recruiting and meeting spaces. Because the games industry is growing so quickly, many companies simply need warm bodies to fill empty chairs. Hiring was aggressive.

One of the more stoke-worthy places within the GDC expo was the Independent Games Festival presentation area. These were individual demonstrations of interesting independent games made in the last year. Because of their small, sometimes nonexistent budgets and frequently single-person development teams, these games typically have more individual character and flavor.

Even more exciting is that the developer was usually standing around explaining their game and the thinking behind it.

The winner of the IGF was Crayon Physics Deluxe, a delightful game where the shapes you draw on the screen are modeled as physical objects that you can use to meet the game objective. The game was also shown at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, an annual and very popular seminar that highlights new and different ideas in game design.

More GDC highlights to come.

Where’s the Tourism Department on this one? There has to be an annoying commercial in here somewhere.

Gamers and Booze

Live from GDC

Luke Nihlen is sending the Alibi updates from the 2008 Game Developers Conference.

I emerged from a BART station in downtown San Francisco shortly before 11 p.m. to walk a few short blocks to the hotel where the International Game Developers Association party was supposedly winding down. The crowd on the street was a mix between drunken nerds talking excitedly and homeless people.

Downtown San Francisco from a New Mexican set of eyes looks like unimaginable wealth. The beautiful architecture glides in and out of late-night fog. I feel my skin loosening from the desert dry. A sudden wind smells of ocean.

The party is on the second floor of an opulent San Francisco hotel called The Argent. The large room on the second floor is comfortably full with partiers. I canvassed the room for other New Mexicans and, finding no one, grabbed my single free drink from one of the many impromptu bars.

The night before I left, my wife and I printed up a bunch of business cards with “New Mexico Game Programmer” written on them right under my name. My goal for this party was to hand out as many as I could to total strangers. The wisdom of adding alcohol to this party became apparent—gamers as a rule are a pretty awkward bunch.

I started a lot of conversations with different people and got job prospects in most. The industry is booming, everybody is hiring. It’s nothing personal. These people haven’t seen my resume; they just need warm bodies to fill seats. Of course, with each job offer came the relocation requirement. I was asked to move to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Shanghai.

Some people hadn’t heard of New Mexico, and nobody was aware that we had started an IGDA branch there. I began to understand better the significance of starting that chapter last year. When I told people we had a branch, I could see them registering Albuquerque as a place. Most only knew it from the classic Bugs Bunny joke, which I heard a grand total of 4 times.

I had to catch the last BART ride to Oakland where I’m staying with a friend, so I left early. What a pleasure to be in a room full of people with a passion about video games like myself. It felt like coming home. But in the back of my mind, I knew I had left my home back in the desert.

Luke all wide-eyed at GDC.

Live from GDC

A Giant Nerd Party

You’d figure that by now they’d have the whole fog situation worked out with traveling by air to San Francisco. Such was not the case, however, and I and my coworker Curtis Bennett were sitting in LAX waiting for a fog-delayed flight, and then sitting again in the San Francisco airport waiting for our misdirected luggage.

Waiting anxiously, I should add, for the International Game Developers Association(IGDA) annual party at the Game Developers Conference. It had started two hours ago. Curtis and I represent a nontrivial fraction of the New Mexico chapter, so we really wanted to get down there.

Albuquerque just got a branch of the IGDA last year, with Eric Whitmore as president, and my boss Glyn Anderson at Abalone Studios has sponsored all of his employees as members. I am familiar with IGDA gatherings that can fit very comfortably inside a Downtown Albuquerque bar and so was stoked to attend the huge gala event. Rumor has it last year the line for entry in to the party stretched around the hotel city block.

I’ve been an Albuquerque resident almost continually since my birth in the late ’70s, and a video game fanatic since the mid-80s, but up until very recently those two statements didn’t lend each other very much support. Pretty much the only employment in town for computer programmers like myself has been defense related. The nascent video game production scene in my hometown is the early fulfillment of one of my dearest wishes.

And now I am joining some of the other NM video game people at the biggest convention for video game makers in the US, the Game Developers Conference. I’m not saying this is the first time New Mexican video gamemakers have gone to GDC, but it’s the first time for this New Mexican. Over the next few days I’ll be blogging GDC for the Alibi. Drop by. I’ll tell you all about the indie gamemakers’ shindig in my next blog and how I was drunkenly asked to move to Shanghai within 30 minutes of being there.