The Game Developer’s Conference.

Lo, it is a time when all who follow the Way of the Developer, yea, unto, even from the very small to the very large, from the greenest n00b to the most wither’ed old geezer, makers from every stripe of the field (yea, the testers, the artists, lo, the programmers, the designers, forsooth, the audio folk, and even, dare we speak their name, they who know the lore of the darkest of evil… the producers) gathereth in a single location, and speak the words that have been spoken among our kind for nigh unto dozens of years:

“Dude! Great to see ya! So, like, where are you working now?”

I arrived last Tuesday (the… uh… the 9th of March). The show “proper” (there are pre-show tutorials and other “opening band”-style events in the days before) began in earnest Thursday (the 11th), and ran through Saturday (the 13th).

Here’s what a day at the GDC is like for yours truly:

  • 6:00am
    Wake up. Because, see, I’m still adjusting to the 9-hour time difference. Experience gladness that I’m not waking up at 3 or 4am instead, like I was during the first few days.
  • 6:03am
    Turn on laptop, and log on to the Internets. (I’m not an addict. I can quit any time.)
  • 6:07am
    Pour the water into the weird “one-cup-at-a-time” style coffee makers they have in hotel rooms, unseal the “one-shot” pre-packaged coffee filter thing, put it in the little weird plastic tray, and hit “brew”. (I can quit any time. But I’m not going to.)
  • 6:08am Realize that I forgot to charge my stupid cell phone again. Plug cell phone into charger.
  • 6:09am – 8:00am
    Be consumed by the Web.
  • 8:01am – 8:15am
    Extract self from the Web, shower, and assemble “conference gear”: comfortable shoulder bag with conference guide and lots of extra space (for books and swag), pocket full of business cards, cell phone, room key (crucial, that), camera, notebook with pen(cil), wallet. Everything else stays in the hotel. Walking all day with heavy stuff that I probably won’t need or use? Not a plan for success.
  • 8:15am – 8:30am
    Breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Buffet-style – granola and yogurt, some fruit, and LOTS and LOTS of coffee. This only takes 15 minutes at the most. I am the fastest eater you will ever meet. Yes, even faster than that one friend of yours.
  • 8:31am :
    Start walking to the Moscone Center. While walking, review the “GDC-at-a-Glance” brochure to make sure I know where in the hell I’m going for my 9:00am talk.
  • 8:34am
    Smile at, and then try to ignore, the crazy dude on Fifth and Market who wants to explain to me that the most recent Robin Williams movie was actually all about him. (I am not making this up.)
  • 8:45am
    Slip into the Starbucks next to the convention center, buy a big ol’ cup of coffee. This brings my consumption for the day up to about 2 pints.
  • 8:50am
    Stroll into the Moscone Center.
  • 8:51am – 9:10am
    Meet someone I used to work with, but haven’t seen in 12-24 months. Hoot, smile, shake hands and/or hug, chat, share personal details. Then run, because now we’re both late for our talks. Jog (with the cane) to the talk.
  • 9:11am
    Tweet that I am entering the talk. Yes, on Twitter.
  • 9:12am – 9:55am
    Sit in a lecture, feeling vaguely superior to the speaker when s/he says something I disagree with, and vaguely impressed when s/he says something I agree with. If they say something I haven’t ever considered before, feel both impressed at how clever the speaker is, and satisfied that I was smart enough to come to the show. (Sometimes, write down and/or tweet this little gems.)
  • 10:00am
    Grab a cup of coffee from one of the buffet-style tables they have in the hall. Have my badge examined to be sure I am allowed this cup of coffee. I am.
  • 10:05am – 10:15am
    Meet with Ubisoft PR dude somwhere bright and sunny. Give a quick on-camera interview on Red Steel 2. Be entertaining! Wii Motion Plus, first person swordfighting, new cell-shaded graphics, new world, new hero, best swordfighting game you’ll ever play, Wii exclusive, yes the other motion control systems are exciting. Done!
  • 10:16am
    Wander over to the GDC bookstore, because there’s nothing really interesting going on at 10:30am.
  • 10:30am…
    Still browsing game development books.
  • 10:45am…
    Still browsing. What. Leave me alone.
  • 10:55am…
    Buy a book. Grab a cup of coffee, then go sit down at a chair to wait for a friend to arrive at our previously arranged location.
  • 11:03am
    Friend arrives! Conversational mayhem ensues. I tell the story of how Paris is (this has been done over 500 times now – I think I should get an Achievement for that). My friend shares their recent history as well.
  • 11:35am
    Another friend (maybe more of an ex-colleague, but close enough) spots us, and joins us! More mayhem. I repeat an abbreviate version of the Paris story (still sans achievement).
  • 11:45am
    Friend(s) become sick of me. Friend(s) make various goodbyes, and wander off.
  • 11:47am
    Well, crap. I’ve got 45 minutes to kill before I meet my lunch date. Look down the escalator. At the bottom, the doors to the GDC Convention Floor are gleaming enticingly.

Now, beyond those portals, I know, lie riches and wonders beyond count. All our dreams are contained in that room.

The booths at the front are huge, glorious, imposing monoliths of technological wizardry.

On the right side of the chamber, rows and rows of hiring booths have sprung up: black plastic walls bearing the familiar names and logos we all have come to appreciate and/or distrust, through their products. Blizzard, Activision, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, THQ, Lucasarts, Traveller’s Tales… all of them, big and small, all with desks ready to receive resumes, and often bearing mini-treasures: swag.

And, beyond, in the back of the hall, lay the mini-booths of the hopeful: the up-and-comers, the book publishers, the experimental-controller-developers, the representatives from countries who want you to open up a studio inside their boundaries…

And, lo, there, nestled between the food court and the Hall of Meeting Rooms, lies the open battefield of the Independent Game Festival: the greatest icon of game development hope ever constructed. We, the developers of the world, wander through the black plastic towers of the IGF every year, completing our annual pilgrimage, imagining, silently, that, were we also independent, that we, too, could demonstrate creative ingenuity and plucky resolve, like those we see gathered around us. We imagine, sometimes, that we might even win a prize, and be able to count ourselves among them: the independent developers.

The hall doors beckon. The guardians standing watch at the gate will yield to my badge, I know, for it says “MAIN CONVENTION”, and thus allows me to participate in the great GDC feeding frenzy: the Booth Crawl.

  • 11:48am
    Still staring at the Convention Floor doors, begin to move, unconsciously, as if in a dream, towards the escalator that will convey me slowly down to them.
  • 11:49am
    Enter the Convention Floor.
  • 11:50pm – 12:27pm
    Crawl the booths. (What transpires there will remain forever between me and those I encountered. This is as it should be.)
  • 12:28pm
    Stagger out of the Convention Floor, laden with the fruits of my adventures. No, you can’t have any: they are for my kids.
  • 12:39pm – 1:55pm
    Lunch! Mmmmm, Chevy’s. Give apologies to colleagues, for I am late. Be slightly annoyed that they expected this. Have two or three Diet Cokes, and end with a cup of coffee.
  • 2:00pm
    Arrive at second interesting talk of the day. Realize that the talk actually started at 1:30pm, and I have missed half of it already. How in the hell did this happen? Did everyone at lunch also not know the schedule?? Think about this, and realize that only 1 out of 10 of my friends and/or colleagues actually attend the talks at GDC. None of those were at lunch. Curse their names.
  • 2:01pm – 2:30pm
    Attend second half of the talk. A friend is there! Sit next to friend. Be quiet, respectful, and sarcastic at the same time during the remainder of the talk. Tweet.
  • 2:33pm
    Emerge from the talk, and nab a cup o’ joe from the tables.
  • 2:35pm – 2:45pm
    Second interview time! Repeat _exact same script_, but in a new, fresh way. Be fun.
  • 2:46pm – 2:55pm
    Browse books. What.
  • 2:56pm
    Buy a book that I couldn’t quite get myself to justify buying earlier this morning. But, see, NOW it’s okay.
  • 3:00pm – 4:00pm
    Skip the talk I was going to attend because I learned that another talk is better, and then on the way get totally shanghai’d by running into another friend who I haven’t seen in forever. Find a chair somewhere and sit and compare notes about our various companies. Realize that we can help each other out in our projects. Exchange business cards, email addresses, phone numbers, and make a date to complete this conversation in more detail tomorrow night after the show, okay? That work for you? Cool. Enter new date into calendar, say goodbye, watch them walk away, and realize that I have no clue what I’m doing next.
  • 4:01pm
    Flip through the GDC-at-a-Glance brochure. Find nothing I want to attend. Damn.
  • 4:02pm
    Grab a cup of coffee.
  • 4:04pm
    Pass through the doors to the Convention Floor.
  • 4:05pm – 5:30pm
    Crawl the booths. Gloriousness abounds. Both sadness and joy, hope and abandon, envy and respect, useful products and those that are clearly doomed… all this and more, spread out across a carpeted warehouse whose painted-white cement arches fairly drip with distilled possibility, the air is so thick with anticipation and promise. Witness wonders and horrors.
  • 5:31pm
    Exit Moscone, and emerge into the twilight of downtown San Francisco. Wow, my feet are sore. Start walking to the hotel anyway. Window shop on the way there. Buy nothing, as I am already feeling guilty about over-spending at the bookstore.
  • 5:45pm
    Return to my hotel.
  • 5:46pm – 8:30pm
    Ignore any request to try and coax me to come out to a party, gathering, festival, drink, pub crawl, or other evening-themed activity. Instead, have dinner with one of the many folks who are gathered here who I would gladly leap at a chance to hire and/or work with again, if it were ever to arise. I have excellent taste in friends, and these evening conversations are the reward at the end of a challenging day. Have at least three Diet Cokes, and end with a coffee.
  • 9:02pm
    Collapse into my hotel room. Peel off the gear, drop off any new-found treasure, don the jammies. I’m so tired. My feet are killing me, and my head is throbbing from over stimulation. What I need now is sleep.
  • 9:03pm
    Log on to the Internet.
  • 12:03am
    One bye one, desperately rip the long, gelatinous tendrils of cyber-interactivity from where they have attached themselves to my flesh, as if to feed on my very soul. Ignore the cries of the Beast as, denied its victim, it is forced to withdraw back into the screen. Stab my laptop power button in a final act of glorious defiance. YOU WILL NOT FEAST THIS NIGHT!
  • 12:04am
    Stare at the screen. Look at the clock. Do the math. Six hours of sleep is what I will get, at best. Try not to hate self, but do not entirely succeed.
  • 12:15am

Rinse… and repeat.

It’s a hell of a good time, frankly.