Attending the 2013 Game Developers Conference

I know I haven’t contributed much lately, but I have reasons, I promise! One big one being my recent attendance to GDC! I caught up with some familiar friends, and made new ones.

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The decision to go to GDC was a last minute one. I never had made plans to go, and certainly hadn’t booked anything, but all that changed when my mentor, Sheri Rubin, offered me a chance to go just three weeks before the date. Thankfully as if by some miracle, Disney gave me the time off so last minute! I wont go into too much detail with my conversations with everyone I met, because I saw so many people, but I’ll try and give a good account on what was possibly the best week of my life.

Day 1

I boarded a flight to San Francisco on Tuesday 26th March – the day of my 21st birthday actually. It was so very fitting. I could not contain my excitement in that airplane chair as we zipped off to the west coast. California was where I knew my dreams were, and my brain simply couldn’t comprehend the thought of having all of my idols, fellow industry enthusiasts, developers and friends all within the borders of a few single streets. When my plane landed at 9pm, I rushed to grab my bags from the terminal, taxied over to my hotel, checked-in, dropped my bags, washed up, and headed straight for the first after party. That party was the IGDA-YetiZen after party at the Ruby Skye club. Unfortunately, it was a bad start to the week. By the time I got there, everyone was already well on their way to being drunk, and the loud music prevented any opportunity to mingle with new people and (heaven forbid) network. Luckily, a friend of mine (and ex-teacher at RMIT) from back home in Australia was there, and so him and I chatted the rest of the night away with catch-up stories and news updates. It was a great pleasure to see someone from home that I hadn’t seen in months!

Day 2

Day 2 had also brought in some level of intimidation, but which ended on a very pleasant note. The morning started off with a large breakfast which Sheri had hosted. It was at this breakfast that I realised how many friends my mentor actually had. From the number of people that came and went, including the length of the table, I’d take a guess at 40 or so industry professionals, all sitting around a breakfast buffet, getting ready for the day. It was there that I met Chuck McFadden, an executive producer at Intel. He answered many of my questions regarding game production and its various roles. Our conversation was an enjoyable one, and I made sure to keep his card. I also met one of Sheri’s friends, Heather Decker-Davis, a technical artist, who was incredibly friendly towards me. I was delighted to see Sheri Graner Ray at the table, who I hadn’t seen since she came to Melbourne for GCAP12 6 months ago – it felt weird to see her again, but here in America. Also finally saw Keith Fuller, a producer that I had been corresponding with over email but never met in person – he was awesome! I also spoke with the lovely Jeannie Novak, who I discovered was currently writing a book and was interested in having me contribute to it. I met two of Sheri’s other mentees, who seemed just as enthusiastic as I was about breaking into the industry. Finally, Sheri introduced me to Dan Maas, a producer on Battle.net at Blizzard. He was so patient in answering my questions regarding the various roles of a producer, and his returning questions forced me to think hard (which I appreciated). I told him of my plans to visit Irvine, Orange County in May, and we discussed other possible introductions with people from Blizzard. Dan informed me that an Australian by the name of Kim Sellentin was recruited by Blizzard over to America, and that I must speak with her. I have a lot to thank Sheri for establishing that communication.

Because of my last-minute ticket, it was only an expo pass, and almost everyone I knew that were there, including my mentor, were inside the conference talks. This forced me to roam the expo floor and GDC Play by myself, which kind of felt awkward and lonely at first, but eventually I realised was the perfect decision I could have done. If I was with a friend, I probably would have stuck close to that person, talked the whole week, and never had the opportunity to branch out and speak to others or new people. Being alone forced me to gain the confidence to approach booths and speak to the recruiters without worrying about time or the need to go elsewhere. I handed my business card to many, however a lot of the conversation was geared towards the difficulty of finding both an entry-level position AND a sponsorship for my visa. My hopes felt very low indeed, but I refuse (to this day) to take no for an answer – it just means a shift in strategy. In my bag I was carrying my copy of The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell, in the hopes that I would bump into him and could get him to sign it. I was also glad to see God of Blunder: Ale in Asgard entered into the IGF and promoted it to everyone that would listen. Pitching was fun. I ended up getting along well with a programmer in the Sony booth by the name of Federico Bianco Prevot, who I later discovered helped develop God of War: Ascension. We caught on really well for two big reasons – 1. he also came over to America by way of a visa because 2. he was Italian, and thus we shared the same nationality (my grandparents were born in Italy). Federico introduced me to a Sony recruiter named Marlina Balandra, who after hearing of my story, gave me an invitation to the Sony mixer party the following night. I was fluttering that day at my achievement so much, that I dashed back to the Intel booth to tell Chuck McFadden, who was so happy for me. He then introduced me to his own recruiter. And then, the ball started rolling.

But amidst all these great new opportunities and friends I was making, there was still one group of friends I had been dying to see the most, and one studio who’s t-shirts I was searching the crowd for with eagle eyes. Obsidian Entertainment. I knew Chris Avellone was there, who I hadn’t seen in months, and I knew that because I was being an epic pain in the ass and texting him non stop asking him to hang out, but alas, he was so busy with meetings that he could not. He asked if I would be around for the week and promised to meet up, which I held him to. Nevertheless, I scanned the crowd for others that belonged to the Studio of Awesome.

(I think by now we can tell where I want to work)

That night I went out the the Women In Games and Bally Technologies after party at the Cartoon Art Museum with Sheri, her firends, and her other mentees. We ended up arriving late. We were run down and tired from the day. To my surprise Federico from Sony was there and we continued on with our conversation. I also met a gentleman named Antoine Peltier, audio director and manager at Game On Audio. He told me about his work in the games audio industry, which I was very interested to hear. As soon as the party ended, I called it a night.

Day 3

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The third day was slower – by then I had become accustomed to where everything was, I had visitied all the booths, looked at all the games that were playable, and so instead found myself sitting at the large tables outside the conference rooms in the Moscone Center. It was there that I started conversing with Sarah Smith, strategic advisor at Playwala. She told me that I needed to play one of Brenda Romero’s latest games, called Train, which just so happened to be set up right behind me with Brenda and John Romero supervising. I stood in queue with two gentleman (who I ended up making friends with – names are Eric Leuschner and Samuel Tobin) and promised Sarah I would email her about my experience. I wont go into details here on what Train exactly is – because I think everyone needs to play it, and they request no pre-judgement or information for the full imapct of the game – but I will say that it changed my perception of game mechanics as I knew them. The meaning behind the game blew me away. Out of the three players, who all had different strategies, I played aggressively, and I did feel the full force of the twist. Rightly so. I was privileged to talk with Brenda for half an hour with the other three gents about our experience with her game, and I congratulated her on the masterpiece. I walked away with much to think about (for the rest of the week). Afterward, I went to have lunch at a coffee shop and to meet the same ex-RMIT teacher from Tuesday night – who’s name is Craig Duturbure – and a colleague he was having lunch with. That colleague’s name was Alex Hutchinson, who also happened to be the Creative Director of Assassin’s Creed 3. It was definitely a fangirl moment for me, and I tried to remain professional and friendly whilst also squeezing in fangirl questions. Alex seemed cheerful, and we also managed to take a photo. I then found myself

The Thursday night was the most jam-packed for after-parties. First I attended the Double Fine launch of their new art book for Brutal Legend, again at the Cartoon Art Museum. I stood in line for 40 minutes to get mine signed by the art dev team, and had my round 2 photo with Tim Schafer. Another face I hadn’t seen in months – so weird! He signed my book with a reference joke to when we first met. It was awesome. After the entire thing was signed I went straight over to the Sony mixer at the Press Club. I saw Federico and Marlina again, both who I talked with at length (Marlina asked me to send her my resume). I also met some more members of the Sony Santa Monica Team, including Steve Caterson, Senior Producer on God of Wars 1 – 3. His patience with my questions was admirable, and even though the intimidation was undoubtedly there, I certainly felt respect and inspiration towards him. After all introductions were in place and everyone started to relax, I took advantage of the open bar, responsibly of course. I didn’t want to be stupid in front of my idols. But I did just turn 21, so I thought I was overdue to celebrate it. It was incredible to be surrounded by the exact people that, once upon a time, I would stay up between 11pm and 7am watching live streams of at E3 when I was in Australia. I caught along really well with some folks from the Sony Bend studio, including Ronald Allen, Senior Staff Game Designer, and as the party started to wrap up, they offered me to come along with them to wherever the group was heading afterwards. I obliged. It was on our way to the W Hotel that I bumped into 3 people on the sidewalk I had never met before, but which somehow I knew instantly – three guys wearing Obsidian t-shirts. Finally! Although being only slight tipsy it was possibly THE WORST TIME I could have seen them. I can’t even remember what we spoke about except to say that Chris had one more day to see me and no thank you I will not go to your after party (I think my reasoning was that I’d rather enjoy their company not in the state I was). I was astonished to find out from them that another friend, Matt Singh, was in town too. Gah! I told them I would see them in May, and we went our separate ways. The rest of the night was spent with a very large crowd at the W Hotel, but in which I sat in a lounge area with the entire remaining Sony group finishing off the free tab. There I spoke with Gerald Harrison, senior Manager Production, Wenceslao Villanueva, Associate Game Designer, and Rob Hernandez from Gazillion. After about 3am even this bar kicked us out.

Day 4

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Day 4 was possibly the best. And that had nothing to do with the hangover I woke up with. I was worried that the things I had set out to do would never get achieved by the final day, and yet somehow it all did at once. As if by luck, my hangover led me to find the nearest bacon-and-egg serving cafe (known as The Grove), and as I was standing in line, who else was standing behind me in cue but Jesse Schell! I introduced myself immediately, told him of how his work in his book had influenced me to take up the Disney International Program at Walt Disney World (where he had worked on DisneyQuest) and how I had been carrying his book around for the past 3 days in the hopes that he could sign it. And so he did. The day had barely even started and already it was made. But that was just the beginning. Right as I left Jesse Schell did I end up eating my breakfast with Keith Fuller, who was also at the cafe, and we spoke for quite some time about producer-y stuff. He signed his own book for me, and I squee-d. It was incredible to think of the friendships I had made with people I only really had met once. We said our goodbyes, and I headed back to drop some stuff off at my room. To my utter shock, as I was leaving the room, the door closed to the side of me and out steps Jesse Schell – he was in the room next to me the whole DAMN time! GDC did not cease to amaze me even on this final day. I asked Jesse for a photo and he agreed with a thumbs up. I then back at the large tables outside the convention rooms, where Train was being played by others again. There I chatted for a decent time with John Romero about my thoughts on the game, and how it had made a profound effect on me. He was so delighted with what I had to say, that he turned on his camera, said ‘we are doing a documentary’ and filmed me as I kept talking. It was out of this world. John Romero interviewing me?! That kind of stuff just didn’t happen when I was back in Australia. I also got a photo with him.

And then my phone buzzed. Matt Singh: “Meet me at the Thirsty Bear”.  And so I did. Matt was there, ordering lunch with two other guys from Obsidian – I swear of all the new people I had met from Obsidian, I somehow felt like I had known them for ages. I don’t know how many times I had to thank them all for their genuine kindness and willingness to treat me like an old friend. Matt saw my journal entries I had been doing on criticising various video games I was playing, and told me I should go digital – yay! I was sad when Chris told me at first he couldn’t come, but was then surprised beyond belief when he made a random appearance. NOW my day was made. The deja vu of all these faces that I hadn’t seen in months just kept hitting me. I was in my element. It was four of us sitting around the table at the bar, chatting, and I think at that point I realised how lonely I had been over in Florida and how much I really did want to work at Obsidian. Not only did these guys make great games that I admired, but they were some of the funniest and nicest guys I’ve met, and the most I could relate to. Of all the studios I could possibly work for, I felt like I belonged to this one.

Chris walked me back to the Moscone center with the group, and told me to seek out the Recruiting Coordinator Jim Rivers. From there we parted and I roamed the expo floor again with Matt Singh and Jon Burke. After a lap, the guys had to attend a talk, and so I went off and caught up with Jim exactly where Chris said he would be. After seeing Jim briefly, we arranged to have a proper discussion later that night. Those plans ended up at a Chinese Restaurant, where Jim introduced me to yet ANOTHER Obsidian designer, Matt Maclean. We talked about the various things they did in the studio, and Jim offered his advice on the steps I should take towards a working visa and an entry level-position. The night ended on good terms, and I enjoyed hearing all of the stories. I think I’m really going to miss everyone I met from Obsidian Entertainment that week most of all.

Day 5

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On the final day, I had one last breakfast with Federico at The Grove, and then we caught a taxi together to the Golden Gate Bridge. There we snapped hundreds of photos of the bridge and Alcatraz, viewed the museum, and talked by a bench. It was a pleasant end to what was a great week. We took a taxi back, I checked out, grabbed my bags, and went to the airport.

But it didn’t end there.

After checking in my suitcase, I went to sit by my gate, already feeling the weight of post-GDC depression, and fondly going over all of my business cards. The stack made me proud. My flight got delayed by two hours, and realised I had no wireless connection to the airport’s free internet where I was sitting, so I moved. And then, as if by miracle again, two gentleman sat next to me in my new spot. One of those I recognised from GDC, Alex Moro, and he recognised me too. He introduced his friend, who turned out to be to be Van Aguilar, who did an internship at Obsidian! Him and Alex stayed with me for the following two hours, walked me to my gate, and bought me a birthday present! Seriously, Obsidian had a profound effect on me that week without even trying!

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