Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 10 – GDC 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016.

So the bad news is this may be my last blog post!  Something is wrong with the University’s WordPress account, so no one can log in, and I am only able to write now because I am still logged in from before on this laptop.  The access could expire at any time, so if this is the last you hear from me at EAE, thanks for reading along!  (Photos are also starting to disappear…and I have exceeded the maximum amount of pages allowed in my site map, so posts are starting to vanish from the menu each time I add one.  You can find them all here.)

gdc2016_220pxI’ve just returned from five days at GDC 2016, and had another great experience!  2016 is the first year I had the All Access Pass, and it was worth every cent!  I barely made it to the Expo hall at all because I was so focused on workshops and networking.  I skipped my last workshop to try to visit every booth in the Expo hall in 30 minutes.  Somehow I made it…picking up more candy per second than I ever have on Halloween.  The Belgian chocolate was best this year.

My notes from the week:

GDC!  (Game Developers Conference)

Day 1.

I attend the Game Design Workshop all day, designing or re-skinning a variety of games in different sessions. The highlight was meeting Stone Librande, whose 2010 talk on one page game design documents helped me create an effective OPGDD document for B.E.S.T. last Fall. He suggests I also watch his 2013 talk on the limits of one page game design documents as seen in Sim City. I also attend the micro talks segment of the Animation track workshop.

A local VR technology startup company tries to recruit me for equity, in part because of my legal background. We have a late dinner at a Thai restaurant a few blocks from the Moscone Center and will probably talk more throughout the week, though I am very committed to B.E.S.T. and starting my own studio.

Eric, Shahbaz, and I spend an hour talking to Microsoft officials about Imagine Cup presentation prep. I feel like I am being groomed for the occasion, and love the process. Hopefully my business background gives us some advantage.

In the evening, I take a dozen Cohort 6 students to the Entertainment Software Association mixer where I mostly speak to people from other countries, especially Germany and Japan. I also talk to Bob, Brian, and A.J. about our progress with B.E.S.T. A.J. mentions the Producer track workshop is tomorrow, so I decide to attend that instead of Day 2 of Design.

Day 2.

Lots of Producer workshops, including one that is really about business that I love. During lunch, I attend an Amazon sponsored session on how to build a following.

An executive from Gearbox (makers of Borderlands) gives a talk on Producer leadership. I write down more than fifty tips to consider adding to my process. I especially like the idea that Producers should do competitive intelligence and influence building in behalf of their team, and help team members to do the same. This in turn helps build the team and social capital at the company.

Unrelated to GDC, but relevant to my inner geek, I learn that Disney has announced Indiana Jones 5, coming July 19, 2019. I am impressed with their calendaring process that can predict so accurately a date of release for such a massive undertaking. Is the script even written yet?

After the sessions are over, Eric, Shahbaz, and I make plans to make a presentation for the mock Imagine Cup judging to take place Thursday.

Day 3.

I start Wednesday with the Epic Games Unreal keynote, featuring a very impressive live demo of Sequencer, which is kind of like a video editing tool, but non-linear, for real time game development.  Later in the day, I attend a follow up presentation that describes the car modeling process at MacLaren, now integrating the Unreal Engine, and enjoy hearing about how NASA uses Unreal to make space simulators.

After the Unreal keynote, I try out some VR experiences, The Rose and I and The Giant.  The Rose and I feels like a cross between Super Mario Galaxy and the French book The Little Prince. The Giant is about a family living in a basement in a war zone.  The little girl thinks the falling bombs are footsteps of a giant.

The evening has two highlights:  The IGF Awards show / Game Developer’s Choice show and an after party at an Italian restaurant called Delarosa next to the Marriott Marquis.  Her Story is this year’s Stanley Parable, winning more awards than any other game.  Also nominated over and over again is American RPG Undertale.  (ARPG?)  Game of the Year goes to The Witcher 3, though the audience choice by a narrow margin was probably Rocket League.  The head of USC’s digital media program, Tracy Fullerton, is honored as an ambassador after being introduced by her most famous student, Jenova Chen of That Game Company (maker of Journey and Flower), who I am disappointed to learn has moved on to movies, participating in the development of Kung Fu Panda 3.  Markus “Notch” Perrson, maker of Minecraft, receives an award, offering only a short speech.  The most emotional moment of the show is a video memorializing Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.  You can watch the video here, and imagine the only true standing ovation of the night.

Day 4.

I attend the beginning of an Unreal tutorial at the Metreon, then leave early to participate in the Microsoft Imagine Cup mock judging session at 10:30 PST via Skype.  There are a few technical issues, but we are on track for a good showing.  We ultimately decide that I will give the official presentation and Eric will handle the Q&A after.

I then attend a talk on building culture at Insomniac Games, followed by attending the first ever GDC Pitch session.  Goliath wins the pitch competition, followed by Norwegian horror game Through the Woods.  I was also impressed with Kitty Disastrous, by a former LucasArts animator who worked on point and click adventure Monkey Island.

I then attend an entertainment law related workshop related to negotiation with publishers, followed by a publisher panel, where I picked up business cards and ideas from three successful publishers.

I drop by my favorite Mexican restaurant, Chipotle, before attending a panel describing how seven startups funded their games.  Aside from GDC Pitch, this may be my favorite panel of the week!

photoI end the night at the Intel University Games Showcase.  The engineer in charge seemed a bit unsure how to connect with Millennials who are already connected to cell phones, but ultimately managed to do so by giving away a free Dell laptop.  The University of Utah showed off Tentacult!, a vaguely Lovecraftian game.  (One of the girls on the team may be distantly related to me, I discover afterward.)  I am also really impressed by student games Inua (first place design) my students at SMU and Aura, among others.  A game I helped prototype, 404Sight, was in the competition last year.

Day 5.

The shortest day of GDC for me.  I’ve already mentioned my 30 minutes at the Expo, where I somehow managed to try out 360 degree environment The Igloo ($90,000 lets you take one home), snag DragonVale t-shirts for my nieces, and track down more information on the components Epic used to make real time motion capture work with Sequencer.

I also attended talks on how to become the game industry in your country if there isn’t one (Costa Rica case study) and how to incorporate crowdsourcing into games.

Day After.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.41.20 PMAfter a bit too long trip home, I get a little good news from Games 4 Health. While my hands were a bit tied in what I could say about my health related game design, I did get a perfect score from a judge in the category “Best of Judging – Commercialization.”  Not sure if this will translate into an award or not, and I also don’t know how to accept one if I win, as the Games 4 Health Arcade and Gala are scheduled for the same day I am presenting at the Imagine Cup Finals.  Validation is always nice!  I will probably send a video and a clipboard so people can sign up for more information as I can make it available.