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Game Developers Conference Plays with the Future of Gaming

The first time video game professionals met for what’s become one of the industry’s biggest networking events — the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) — the gathering was small enough to fit in developer Chris Crawford’s living room.

That was the late 1980s, but almost immediately the conference outgrew Crawford’s house and was relocated to a convention center in Milpitas, CA, according to Rusel DeMaria, Career Advisor for Art & Animation and Game Art & Design at The Art Institute of Seattle. A journalist at the time, DeMaria attended his first GDC in 1989 — alongside gaming pioneers including Sid Meier, Will Wright, Richard Garriot, Dan Bunten, and several others.

“I like to joke that if someone had thrown a hand grenade at us then, it would have wiped out the whole industry,” he quips.

Like the gaming industry itself, the conference has certainly evolved. What started as a core group of visionary game developers has grown into the world’s largest professionals-only game industry event. Presented every spring in San Francisco, the conference “is the essential forum for learning, inspiration, and networking for the creators of computer, console, handheld, mobile, and online games,” according to the GDC website. This year, over 17,000 programmers, artists, producers, game designers, and audio professionals will converge March 9-13 for the event.

DeMaria, who has written over 60 books on gaming, adds that the conference, unlike the more glitzy E3 Expo, is an excellent opportunity to network with game developers and others who are well connected in the industry. While E3 focuses on big game reveals, GDC focuses on technology. “The show floor at GDC has some games, but most of it is tools and middleware,” he states.

Many attendees come for the impressive lineup of speakers, which includes keynote speaker and gaming innovator Sid Meier, Director of Creative Development and Co-Founder, Firaxis Games. Meier will speak on the topic “The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong),” and the keynote speech has attendees buzzing.

“Game play is a psychological experience: it’s all in your head,” states the speech overview, which promises that attendees will “learn why AI’s should not be too smart, how nuclear weapons are like knocking over a chess board, and why gamers can’t be trusted.”

DeMaria states that Meier’s speech has piqued his interest. “He’s a guy I really admire — I still play (Meier’s famous game) ‘Civilization’ on my iPhone. He doesn’t attend conferences all that often, so it will be interesting to see him.”

Eric T. Elder, Game Industry Development Representative for The Art Institutes, has his own take on what looking at gamers from a psychological perspective means for the industry.

“I think the question really becomes ‘what is the psychology of a person who plays a certain kind of game, how much do they play, and what do they get out of it?’” says Elder, who notes that the number of gamers, especially young people, is increasing exponentially. “The next generation of gamers are growing up in virtual worlds like Club Penguin and Star Dolls.”

Wes Wheeler, a concept artist for Sony Online Entertainment and 2007 Game Art & Design graduate of The Art Institute of California — San Diego, believes that it isn’t accurate to say there’s a commonality of psychology between gamers. “There are subgroups of types of gamers who seem to stick to certain types of games, or like certain things in their brand of games,” he states.

In addition to the keynote, breakout sessions will cover everything from production to art. Peter Liang, Freelance Artist and 2006 Game Art & Design graduate of The Art Institute of Vancouver, is looking forward to Naughty Dog’s talk. “It appeals to me the most, as they have a unique way of doing things there.” Onsite demos presented by high profile digital artists, as well as sponsored parties, are good ways to end the events and create new business connections, Liang says.

Another highly buzzed-about topic is Microsoft’s much-ballyhooed “Project Natal,” which turns the user into the controller for games and entertainment. Developed for the Xbox 360, Project Natal promises an interactive gaming experience that doesn’t require a controller. “If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips, or speak, you and your friends can jump into the fun — the only experience needed is life experience,” according to the project’s website.

Brandon Grada, a developer who utilizes game technology to create higher fidelity simulators and trainers for the U.S. Department of Defense, believes Natal is just the beginning of a new trend in gaming. “Nintendo proved you can score big with the Wii. They proved you can develop cheaper games, with low production costs and not-so high end graphics, but yet engage players in a new and different way,” he states.

Wheeler adds that Natal may appeal to a different audience — one that may not normally play games. “It may also may change the way some developers envision what can be achieved through the gaming experience,” he says.

Seeing the future of technology piques Elder’s interest in the GDC. “The technology in this field is advancing exponentially. Coming to conferences like this is definitely a way to stay informed,” he says.

Exploring the conference can be quite an undertaking, according to Liang, who has attended San Francisco conference before. “It’s pretty much the biggest event for development insights and networking, and it was rather packed.” He offers tips for those looking to attend on a budget. “Try volunteering. You can see the shows and interact with the guests.”

There are other perks for industry newbies. Connie Winn, Vice President and Career Services Specialist for Education Management Corporation, notes that a job fair is part of the conference. She suggests that attendees visit the “Career Pavilion and Expo Hall, great conference sessions, and many events and special interest groups related to technology and gaming.”

So what future-forward technology might the GDC feature this year? Everyone has an opinion.

Liang believes that someday, gamers may take part in a points or reward system for things they do every day. He references a speech by Carnegie Mellon assistant professor of entertainment and technology, Jesse Schell, that asserts that games are moving away from fantasy and embracing reality — and may offer users “points” for everyday tasks such as brushing their teeth.

Elder enthusiastically references a “Wii rig” that allows you to see 3D elements projected from your TV without glasses, basically proving we currently have the ability to replicate the holodeck from Star Trek in our living rooms right now.”

Only time will tell whether Liang and Elder’s predictions come true.

Full article HERE

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