My week at GDC 2018 – Part 2

I got persuaded to dress up at the Indie Mega Booth.

This is the second blog post about my 8th GDC trip. The first part can be found here. In this post I will describe what I did each day and link to some of the talks that I enjoyed.

Monday

I woke up pretty early and snuck around getting ready for GDC whilst Brian got his beauty sleep and then headed to the conference to pick up my badge. I bought an Indie Game Summit badge because that gets me into the talks I’m most interested in and also the indie summit is a good place to meet old friends and chat.

The first talk I went to was the Failure Workshop in which two devs talked about failed game launches. It was honest and interesting. Then I went to Jeff Vogel’s talk which was basically about his 24 years of making indie RPG games. It was hilarious and amazing. Best talk I saw for sure.

I hung around until Jeff’s fans had all departed and then went to lunch with him and some other devs including Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress fame.

We went to the food court in the Westfield mall which has tons of options, though getting seats for a group of 6+ can be tricky. Jett and Tarn camped out on a two person table and gradually dragged in new tables whilst everyone else ordered their food, which was a valid tactic. I went to a place called “The Loving Hut” which has nothing to do with sex. It’s just a vegan Thai food place. Very nice.

I also got to meet an old friend and casual game dev, Joe Cassavaugh. Since meeting at a GDC dinner years ago we’ve both exchanged info which has made us quite a lot of money in the casual game dev space. Another example of why going to GDC in person is valuable.

Lunch in the food court.

After lunch I went back the indie summit and watched a talk by Erik Johnson about his meta analysis of games that sell on Steam and various correlations. It was good and afterwards I introduced myself to him as I felt we had similar nerdy data interests. He’d read some of my blog posts and we agreed to meet later in the week for a chat.

Then I went to Starbucks with some indies including Gabriel Del Santo who recently organised the online #ProIndieDev conference which I did a talk for. It was his first GDC and Rami Ismail helped get him there at the last minute. He was super-stoked (that’s an Americanism) to be there and meeting loads of indies.

Who is that cool guy in the middle? (photo credit: Cliffski)

I failed to get back to the conference to see any more talks but I can’t remember why. I think I went to check out the Day of the Devs area to look at the games. Then I ended up going to an Irish pub with Geoff Newman, who is actaully Irish, and Paul Kilduff-Taylor, who I always seem to end up having deep conversations with, plus some other indies.

Then Cliffski and I popped into a Thai restaurant to say hello to a huge bunch of indies who were finishing a meal organised by Keith Musenik. This was followed by dinner in *another* Thai restaurant with Chet Faliszek from Bossa Studios and his friend Alex. I really enjoy the food in SF, so much variety and good stuff!

Next up, we took an Uber to an indie party. Cliffski bailed immediately as it was too noisy, but I found a quieter room and caught up with old friends until I lost my voice. I walked back to the hotel with Colin and Sarah Northway, which weirdly I also remember doing last year. They must have the same “time to go” internal clock as me.

So yeah that was just Monday, it was busy as hell, but good.

Tuesday

I got breakfast at the hotel with Ichiro, Cliffski and Alexander Bruce (he made Antichamber). I had a terrible cup of tea, but the buffet was pretty good (and someone else paid, which was nice). I had one course of potatoes and eggs, then another of pancakes with syrup!

Next up was a relaxed chat session in Ichiro’s suite about RPGs. Jeff Vogel hosted it and then we mingled and talked more about RPGs. I probably could have done this all day tbh as RPG stuff is firmly ensconced in my mind since making Shadowhand.

I can’t remember what I did for lunch, it’s possible I didn’t have any. Sometimes that happens if you message all your friends and they’ve already eaten and you don’t want to eat solo.

So in the afternoon I went back to indie summit for a couple more talks. First I saw Tyler and Chris from Redhook Games talk about their parnership whilst making Darkest Dungeon. It was a funny and interesting talk and at the end they mentioned how it was like a marriage, which I found amusing because I *AM* married to my business partner, Helen, and much of what they said resonated with me.

I stayed in the same room for a talk by Zach Gauge about building games that can be understood at a glance. He’s made quite a few solitaire-sytle games for mobile and so I introduced myself to him and he’d heard of my solitaire games too.

Then it was back to Ichiro’s suite for a talk about simulation design led by the guys who made Project Highrise. I haven’t made a simulation game before (well I was part of the team that made one called My Tribe when I worked for Big Fish Games) but I think it’s a genre I might want to explore because a) I find it interesting and b) I think it can do very well on Steam if you get it right.

Luke Hodorowicz (Banished dev) had just arrived in town and so Cliff and I went to dinner with him at a decent Italian restaurant. I ordered 3 sides of chicken, mashed potato and veg. It was epic and healthy! Luke coded Banished, made the graphics and even recorded the sound effects himself by going into the woods near his home and hitting things. Impressive work!

Then I went to the Humble Party where I had a chat to the founders Jeff and John (I knew them from the indiegamer forums before they started Humble). There’s an upstairs bit with comfy sofas away from the noise below, so I went up there and had a chat to John Polson (formerly IndieGames.com editor) about Humble Originals and publishing. This was one of my business goals for GDC. Even though I wasn’t pitching anything specific I wanted to stay on John’s radar. He’s got a knack for finding great games to fund/publish and a couple of my friends are being published by Humble.

Finally I went back to the hotel and up to Ichiro’s suite to just hang out and chat with a bunch of proc gen devs who had just had a session there. I’d have liked to have gone to that session but the Humble party was a higher priority for me due to aforementioned reasons.

Proc gen devs in Ichiro’s suite.

Wednesday

In the morning I went to the top of the West Hall to check out the Indie Megabooth which is where I got my picture taken whilst wearing a ruff (see photo at top of post). Then I bumped into Keith Nemitz and tested out a prototype board game that he is making. I was very tired and feeling a bit under the weather and it was hard to follow the rules, but that made me a good playtester!

Feeling hungry I popped down to the 2nd floor to get a banana from the cafe and bumped into Anatoly Shashkin (@dosnostalgic) and we had a chat.

I had lunch at the tea room in Yerba Buena gardens with Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan who are making Cultist Simulator. The seem like very nice people. Also, this was the *first time* in 8 years of going to GDC that I had a decent cup of tea, although it cost $8, so yeah.

Furthermore, Paul Kilduff-Taylor ate my smoked duck sandwich leaving me with his avocado atrocity. I don’t know how that guy can run a studio when he can’t even eat the right flipping sandwich. Perhaps his TARDIS-like brain isn’t concerned with earthly matters?

Indie speed-dating (networking)

After lunch I spent most of the day in various sessions in Ichiro’s suite. I even ran an indie speed dating session where indies paired up and chatted to each other for 5 minutes about what they’ve done and about how they might be interested in collaborating on projects in the future. There was also a session about funding and I chatted to Ron Theis who is involved with Indiefund.

Then there was an interesting session about Exercise and Mental Health in which Ian Stocker (Escape Goat and more) evangelised about the effectiveness of cold showers. Though I came up with the idea for Shadowhand’s turn-based combat in a hot bath, so I think I’ll leave him to his cold showers.

Dinner was pizza in an Italian restaurant with Cliffski, Paul, and Brian. Brian retold a story from his youth that literally caused me physical pain due to laughing so much when he told it to me the night before. Then Brian and I went to the Darkest Dungeon 5 year anniversary party in a bar’s dingy basement which seemed appropriate.

Finally I ended up in Ichiro’s suite again and tested out someone’s game prototype and gave them some feedback and ideas. I also discovered that Ichiro had a special hot drinking water tap in his kitchenette and so I managed to make a decent cup of tea with my own tea bags that I brought to GDC from England. This was a highlight of GDC for me.

Thursday

I took Ichrio to breakfast (at the expensive hotel buffet) to say thanks for organising his cool thing all week. Then I checked out of my hotel and was almost late for a meeting with Erik Johnson (to further discuss Steam sales stats) because the woman checking me out told me that “Provinciano” was a really popular show in the Philippines and she was showing me photos of the actors but I didn’t know how to politely extract myself from the situation.

I bumped into Xalavier Nelson, writer and friend, at the Metreon food court.

Then went to lunch with Cliffski and Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy fame. We just went to the Buckhorn Grill in the Metreon food court and Tommy got me a chicken burger that was pretty good. It was super busy though and we were lucky to find a seat.

Next up was an important session at Ichiro’s about about Steam. First we formulated a bunch of questions that we wanted to ask Valve and then Tom Giardino (from Valve) showed up and we hammered him with questions. He was very helpful and it was informative. On the way back to the conference we asked him more questions and I herded him and various indies around a human shit on a crosswalk, such are the delights of SF.

At the IGF pavillion with @StarlightSkyes (Photo credit: @StarlightSkyes)

I didn’t have much time left so I dashed down to the Expo floor for the first time that week and beelined for the IGF pavillion. This is a great place to meet devs who are exhibiting games but also just to bump into devs (and press) randomly. I managed to meet lots of old Vancouver friends including Matt Thorson and Noel Berry (who had won the IGF audience award for Celeste the night before), and Alex Holowka who won the grand prize for Night in the Woods. That’s actually his second IGF win because he won it with Aquaria a long time ago.

I also met some Shadowhand fans. I met quite a lot during the week, which was really nice. Also several people recognised me from my 2016 GDC talk and they stopped me to tell me how useful they found it.

I bumped into some ex-Vancouver friends at the IGF pavillion.

Then I went back to Ichiro’s for one final session about basically being old and grumpy. Sadly I had to head to the airport mid way through the session. So I made my goodbyes and jumped on the BART.

Btw, I met lots more people who aren’t mentioned here, so sorry if I missed you out, but this post was getting a bit long to mention everyone!

Heading Home

Annoying, I was invited to a bunch of cool things on Friday but I had to miss them due to flying back on Thursday. Oh well.

The flight back was hell. It was cramped and I couldn’t sleep and I had a weird medical episode on the way back which resulted in me lying on the floor to stop from fainting. Then after landing it took a further 6 hours to get home via bus, train and car. I *really* hate that journey and at the time it’s almost enough to put me off going to GDC again, but by the time the tickets go on sale, the pain has faded and I end up going again.

This last week I’ve been getting over jet lag and doing a bit of work here and there and reflecting on my GDC trip. It was great fun seeing everyone again and making new friends, plus I met my business goals of speaking to various people that might be able to help money come my way later on.

Anyway, good times but very tiring as well. I definitely want to go again, but I wish I could afford to fly business class. So yeah, here’s to making some hit games soon!

GDC Verdict: Recommended

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