Notes from GDC 2007

Ah, what a crazy time it’s been.

The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week was a good time, as always. I spent most days with friends and colleagues from academia and industry, happily catching up on everyone’s new papers, new jobs, and new loves.

On Monday I went to Doug Church‘s keynote at the IGDA Education SIG. (FYI, as a rule, never miss a Doug Church talk if you can help it–the man always delivers something brilliant.) I was so excited to hear Doug’s talk I couldn’t take a lot of notes but I did manage to write down a few quotes I loved:

  • “I want research that tells me something I didn’t already know.”
  • “Code is brittle and messy.”
  • “We kinda fake it.” — regarding the use of game design/programming ‘texts’ at Electronic Arts.
  • “No matter how hard [working with/understanding] technology is, it’s not harder than [working with/understanding] people.”
  • Making games a part of university curriculums is good when it “is an invitation to a community.”

Doug explained that all game project teams have different discourses, or ways of communicating about that project. Those discourses come from the goals of the project, its team members, and what each of them brings in terms of experience and expertise. Explaing that even within the building he works in at EA, there are four different teams with four different ways of being and ways of communicating. To say that any kind of process or discourse is generalizable across a company, let alone an industry, isn’t accurate. His point, I think, is that it’s difficult for folks in, say, the IGDA Education SIG to be able to put a finger on the magic formula for creating folks ready to enter the industry. It’s more complicated than establishing a curriculum or training workers, he argued.

He pointed out too that for years, folks who teach in game training programs have tried to nail down a kind of universal grammar for game development and design. But Doug argued that we barely have a common vocabulary. He hopes that someday we’ll be able to formalize our vocabulary and eventually find a structural framework for our activity and design practices, but that right now, it’s more intuitive and situated than we’d like to admit to.

There’s a lot more to say here about GDC, which I’m going to do in subsequent posts here and on J101, but for right now, a few more notes on the personal parts of the trip…

I spent a lot of time with my former student Lauren Silberman, who received news while were there that she’s been accepted to our graduate program here in CMS. She was thrilled and we were able to brag to anyone who would listen that she’s moving to Cambridge next year. I was really happy she was accepted and can’t wait to work with her on her research, which involves talking to athletes about their use of videogames to enhance on-court/field performance.

Also spent some great quality time with two of my best friends in the world, Kurt and Constance. They were there to give talks and panels at the Serious Games Summit but the three of us ended up hanging out a lot. After lunch with Jesper and Kurt’s friend Jon Goodwin, Const and I played hooky and took off on a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. We were struck by how commercial it is, and Constance doesn’t eat seafood, but we had a great time just the same, marveling at the enormous ships and Alcatraz’s looming presence in the bay.

Tuesday night we went and visited Nick Hunter in his terrific new apartment in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. It was great to get together with former CMS grads and match them with current MIT and UW-Madison folks. Nick took off early to be a translator for his Maxis friends at the East Meets West party and the rest of us went to the Mission to see my friend Brandon spin at a great little bar there called Casanova. Seeing Brandon is always a treat for me. He watched Kurt, Gary Goldberger (Fablevision), Alex Games, Lauren and I chatted while we listened to the funk, soul, and jazz records he’s collected.

Photos can be found on my Flickr page (see link to the right) but for now, that’s my initial report on the trip. Gotta go level up my belf hunter before we do an instance tonight!

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