Sunday, March 13, 2011

The GDC Experience [Day 1 - Wed]

First day at the convention was a blast! I met so many people in the industry that I never dreamed I would meet in person. I hung around with Kez for most of the day so starting from there...

The first thing we did was hit up the IDGA Production SIG roundtable. We originally wanted to sit in the Art Director roundtable - lead by Seth Spaulding from Blizzard Entertainment - but it was full by the time we got there. Seeing that the Production SIG was next door and also led by a Blizzard person: Dennis Crow, we took the opportunity to listen in on the discussion.
Of course, the room was packed with people, mainly producers from game companies. The main topic of the discussion was addressing some issues about the producer's job in the game development team as well as marketing a game. This "roundtable" discussion was great: everyone in the room was split up into small groups of 5 - 6 people. Kez and I ended up in a group that included the producer of Big Huge Games, Patrick O'Kelley: the producer at Bungie, and our teacher's brother-in-law?! (sorry, I can't remember the name) Here are some quick notes I took during our discussion:

Producer's Role
  • The differentiation between design and production
  • It is the producer's job to help the team move in the right direction
    • Does this include feasability? Not exactly
    • Convince the team of the possibility of the product
  • Holes in game docs
  • What's more important: the art direction or the gameplay?
    • Art direction is a good hook for people not familiar with games
    • Gameplay defines the game - makes it FUN
      • (we agreed that gameplay was the most important, however...)
    • Not really a question of art and programming. You need design.

  • Box art usually falls on the publishers
    • You end up having different takes on your game: publisher vs. producer
      • Producer has been closer with the team - understands vision
      • Publishers tend to be distant from the team and their work
      • Try to include these guys in the team meetings to get everyone on the same page
  • Craft: marketing or do you really care
    • The difference between actually making a "game" or just another sequel 
    • Batman Arkham Asylum (for example)
      • Many Batman games out there, but this one stands out well
  • Does is become the studio's responsibility to prevent/control game addiction?

After hitting up the roundtable, we headed to the Expo. Here, we traversed through the many booths of amazing game companies and obtained portfolio feedback. Overall, the advice I received was helpful and constructive. Here's the rundown of the booths I hit and the key notes I took from each:

  • can't work there unless you live in Canada :(
  • did not get a portfolio review, but I asked questions concerning what would they want to see in concept art/modeling portfolio
    • For character modeling, they prefer to see a hi-res sculpt as opposed to an optimized character
    • Environment art: I was directed to look at Gustavo Mendonca's work

Guerrila Games
  • get an iPad (texture maps show up better on a screen, plus it shows that you can use technology)
  • specify what you want to be. I showed a general portfolio - figure out what you want to do!
  • as for the props I had, indicate the polycount (show numbers). Looking at the wireframes I showed, the polycount of the prop models in my portfolio were too high.

  • looking for an environment concept artist
  • they are known for being stylized, so they are interested in looking at stylized environments in your portfolio
    • doesn't hurt to show that you can do both realistic and stylized environments. Include both.

  • if you're looking to concept art and/or modeling, have two separate portfolios for each category
    • more importantly, however, figure out what you want to be. Concept artist or modeler?
    • have your website show what you're most interested in, then have a link to the other portfolio if whoever's looking is interested
  • for modeling, they're looking into props, so include more of that
    • also pointed out that the polycount was too high for my props, looking at the wireframes
  • the concept art is strong, however, show more of the process work
    • first image in the portfolio looks like an illustration
    • show off your exploration! Silhouette work, sketches, color keys, turnarounds, modularity. Process, process, process! Definitely the silhouette work.

In between visiting Guerrilla Games and Insomniac, Kez and I sat in the Dead Space 2 Art Direction lecture, lead by the art director, Ian Milham. What I liked most about this talk was that he covered the positive and negative attributes of the franchise's art direction. Here are the key points:
  • Art direction for Dead Space 1
    • Aimed to create a noticeable style for the game
      • dark, almost no lighting
        • (I was reminded of when I showed a concept piece from Dead Space 2 in Prepro class. The class agreed that the concept art was strong and had visual complexity, however, the details were washed out with darkness in the in-game result. Ian seemed to point out that the darkness was a part of the style for the franchise.)
      • environment was influenced by gothic architecture (ribbing of flying buttresses, etc.)
      • also tied that influence to the character design (have him fit into the world)
    • What went wrong: lack in variety
      • if you take screenshots of each level and put them on the same page, you can't tell a difference between them. The color keys were too similar.
      • you were an errand boy. Characters in the game kept telling you what to do and you obeyed without question. Boring and repetitive gameplay.
  • Beyond horror (Dead Space 2)
    • Added variety in art direction and gameplay
      • improved color schemes for the overboards. Now you can remember which level was which based on the colors (i.e. greenish tones = hospital). Color also indicated progression in the game. I think it started with saturation and desaturated until the end.
      • varied the character design. Changed the helmet into a more interesting shape.
      • also put more emphasis on the character. Gave him a voice. 
      • Overall, a more story-driven game.
    • Highlight epic moments
      • this helped add variety in gameplay
      • emphasized in the beginning of the game. Main example was the first time you see the necromorph transformation.
        • over emphasized the transformation sequence. Dramatized it so that the next time the player sees a person turning into a necromorph, you remember what that looked and felt like.
        • building an emotion so that later in the game the player can experience the same feeling without having see the dramatization again.
        • leave an impact on the player.
After the lecture, we got to chat and ask some questions with Ian. I asked about the mindset behind designing the RIG and Ian replied it was solely for removing the HUD. Originally, however, he envisioned the RIG to be something that the player character can peek over and see behind his back, but the design of something like that would interfere with the gameplay. They had to be careful to balance the action during gameplay with always seeing the RIG on the character's back. There were also challenges with the RIG placement and preventing it from colliding into the character model whenever his torso turned a certain way. 


At the end of the conference, we attended the IGF and Game Developer's Choice Awards. Definitely have to say: one of the most amusing and exciting experiences at a con ever. It was fun, especially listening to what the Indie game developers had to say when they received their awards. It was improv at it's best. Tim Schafer was an entertaining host, too.
Favorite highlights:

  • MineCraft got the most awards in both IGF and Game Choice
  • Limbo was nominated a number of times and finally achieved the Game Choice visual arts award 
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent won two awards, one of them being Technical Excellence in Audio (totally agree with that one)
  • Game of the Year: Red Dead Redemption (aww yeah! Great game!)


And so that concludes Day 1 of GDC. Also, this was the best freebie I grabbed:

It came from the Capcom booth. :D

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