Tired but inspired, I’m quickly writing down my impressions of my first visit to the “main” Game Developers Conference in San Francisco that has just ended.
Previously I had visited the European GDC in Cologne, Germany twice now, but GDC San Francisco is a lot bigger. About 20,000 people attend this one where the European one probably gets maybe 1,000 in total. The expo part is a full on conference and every time slot there are about 20-30 sessions going on in parallel vs about 4 in Europe.
The only other large developers conference I’ve attended is WWDC (Apple’s worldwide developers conference) in 2012 and while the both of the conferences’ normal sessions have a similar feel, GDC sets itself apart in the special sessions, roundtables and other events. GDC has 2 back-to-back award events and the tone and atmosphere are casual and informal with both the hosts and and several receivers of the awards throwing out the occasional f-bomb. The event was quite polished though and certainly serious in nature, but it’s presented in an informal and fun way.
Apple’s WWDC also has an awards “show” where recipients stand on the stage for a bit and are then whisked away without getting even a word in. There’s also a sort of free-form event that felt incredibly awkward, with long-time Apple engineers trying to force in a 90s Mac OS vibe in front of developers that are mostly there for iOS and likely have no idea what they’re talking about. Apple is not good at being informal. GDC is a lot better, despite being 4 to 5 times bigger.
Networking is arguably the most important part of GDC for many and I had a chance to connect with quite a few people, talking about Stardazed, comparing it to other frameworks and gauging people’s reactions to a TypeScript-based, DOD component based, browser 3D game framework. I got enough good reactions that it at least felt like all my work was not in vain, which is always pleasant.
It was also good to see that since 2012 these conferences have gone from basically all dudes to just predominantly dudes. Especially the younger crowd was a lot more varied than the bunch of dudes in shirts typically seen at conventions like these. Full disclosure: I’m a white dude in a shirt.
And while a good part of the crowd was American, I met, saw and heard people from all over the world. I’d say it was about 40-60 USA-rest of world split. If you attend you have a good chance of meeting up with fellow country members during the week.
Besides meeting people at the conference, GDC has parties going on every evening, but most are for particular groups or those “in the know” but one I went to was open to all at the Github HQ. They have an in-house bar and cafeteria, an ante-room that looks like the oval office, a fixed DJ booth and I would not be surprised to find some places to sleep there as the message is clearly that you don’t have to leave the office ever again. It’s certainly a cool place though and the whole evening was pleasant and relaxed. I also pushed a commit to Github from within Github HQ, which felt appropriate.
VR is the hip tech this year, with companies big and small demoing experiences using their engine or for their controller gizmos etc. I was and remain a VR skeptic, at least until the VR headsets and other gear improves by a good deal. Big VR kits had large cables connected to PCs that had to be held up in place (do VR kits come with these assistants when I buy them?) or they are smartphone-tech based which are not smooth enough for my brain to handle. I’ll keep an eye on VR as kits will (likely) get more portable and cheaper, as long as the current hype does not create disillusionment before it has time to get to a better place.
A few tech highlights for me were:
- The Ray-casting hardware in the upcoming PowerVR chipset. This obviates a ton of workarounds done for GI with all the cube maps, light maps etc. and the idea seems so obvious that I was wondering why no one else has tried this yet.
- Amazon Lumberyard is cool and it left Crytek no other option than to just make their product basically free and open source as well.
I had hoped to have a bit more interesting stuff to show but the next GDC is already in August in Cologne. GDC was inspiring with all the cool stuff being made and people loving what they do. I’m looking forward to the next one!