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Game Developers Conference 2008

Our ramblings of the happenings at GDC 2008 in San Francisco.

Author: GDC2008

Contributors: skywisenight,Taera,Stradden_bak,Szark,

Keith's Final Blog

Posted by Szark Thursday February 28 2008 at 8:44AM
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This will be my final blog entry for this trip.  I started writing this entry while I was still in San Francisco, but seeing as the topic is “the cool stuff I saw at the show” I had to wait until the show was over to give a fair assessment.  At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

First off, things I saw that I really liked:

FPS Gaming Vest:  The picture is up on the site, and my friends have been making fun of me for a few days, but I still think the FPS Vest from TN Games is pretty cool.  The basic idea behind the FPS vest is that it gives you a little push every time you get shot.  The damage is location specific.  If you get shot in the chest, you feel it in your chest, if you get shot in the back of the head and you feel it in the back of your head.  It’s by no means the sort of thing that I would buy for myself, but it was fun.  Products like this have been around the market before, but no one has been able to create one that is practical for mass consumption.  I’ve often had a hard time figuring out where the bullets are coming from while playing FPSs and the vest solved this problem almost instantly.  It didn’t take much time at all to adapt to the new sensory input. 

Guitar Rising:  It’s just like Guitar Hero but with a real guitar.  What else can I really say.  One of the reasons I love playing the drums in Rock Band is because I feel like I’m learning more than just button pushing.  Guitar rising takes this to a new level.

MMORTS:  I had a look at several upcoming MMO RTS games.  I’m not going to comment on the individual games here, but I am going to say that I’m pleased that the MMO genre is branching out more and more every year beyond the fantasy RPG.  I have nothing against fantasy or RPGs.  I just feel that there are so many combinations of setting, genre, and style that have yet to be explored in an MMO space.  And as a fan of strategy games in general, I’m glad to see several strategy MMOs on the horizon.

Things I missed but would have liked to have seen:

Speaking of one of my favorite genres, the creator of my favorite game from the strategy genre was also on hand at GDC but I missed my chance to say hello.  I was on my way to speak to the folks at Fury, when I walked past the 2K booth and noticed Sid Meier.  He was doing an interview, and I was on my way to an interview so I just kept going.  By the time I had a chance to go back, there was no one left at the booth.  I’d even come up with a flimsy pretext for a short interview and everything.  Oh well, I really didn’t have time to be a fan while I was working.

I also missed out on the Age of Conan demonstration, and had to be satisfied with watching our videos.  All I wanted was to see a guy ride around on a mammoth, is that so wrong?

The Curse of Stargate: Murphy's Law in Action

Posted by Szark Tuesday February 26 2008 at 10:24AM
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A common occurrence at this type of event is the inevitable missed appointment.  Maybe a previous appointment runs long, maybe there’s a miscommunication, maybe you get stopped on the way by someone else who wants to arrange an impromptu demo or wants get an opinion about the current state of MMOs.  On two occasions I just couldn’t find the booth; once because the booth was tucked away, and the other time it was all me.

Like I said, these things are inevitable, and everyone expects this to happen so they stay flexible and reschedule or find some other way to meet up.  It’s usually not very hard to make things work out for the best.  The one exception on this trip was the comedy of errors surrounding all things involving us and Stargate. 

At this point I’d like to point out that I said Stargate.  Not Stargate: Worlds.  Not Stargate: SG1.  Not Stargate: Atlantis.  But anything with the words star and gate combined in its title.  If it was about Stargate, it didn’t work on the first try.  Actually, it usually didn’t work second or third try either.

We had arranged to meet Kevin Balentine from Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment in the lobby of their hotel, because we were initially planning on recording some video, which we couldn’t do on the show floor.  Initially it was just going to be Evan and myself, but Jon had freed up some time, so he decided to come along as well.  We were all enthusiastic, because we’re all fans of the series.

Then there was the first misstep.  We were heading off to what we thought was the Westin but it turned out to be the Marriot.  Evan took the blame for this one, but luckily we were less than a block away from the convention centre so we went back and got directions from the convention staff.  Turns out there were several Westins in town, two of which were in close proximity to us.  So we set off once more on our quest.  We were looking for the Westin: St Francis, and when we arrived at the first Westin I said, “Here it is guys.” 

I might need new glasses because it turns out that it was the Westin: San Francisco, not the St Francis.  I took the blame for this one, and we quickly moved on.

If it had been the place we would have been on time.  When we finally made our way to the St Francis, we were about 10 or 15 minutes late.  There was no Kevin.  We tried at the desk but they said there was no one there by that name.  I made sure they spelled the name with a B, but still no luck.  We gave a few other Cheyenne Mountain names, no luck.  We gave the company name and game name, but no luck. 

Jon and I then set ourselves to searching our laptops for Kevin’s contact info.  My laptop didn’t really like the wireless options in the lobby, and there were a number of other technical hassles on the way as well.  We were looking for a cell number, but the best we could do was his email address, so I fired off an email, and we returned to the convention for our next appointments. 

Later in the evening we returned to our hotel room, and while checking my email I noticed that my email to Kevin hadn’t actually gone out.  I’m not sure why it didn’t work the first time, but I resent it, and this time it worked.  Kevin responded within 10 minutes, and 10 minutes after that we were back at the St Francis doing the interview, despite the fact that the front desk clerk had told us there was no guest by that name at the hotel. 

Kevin showed us a trailer for SGW that took us across several worlds, and included footage of some early game play, combat, and animations.  We had decided to record the interview, either to use as audio notes, or to chop up into a podcast.  We ended up talking to Kevin for over an hour.  We had the interview, and we were only an hour or so late for CCP’s event that evening.  It was time to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Or so we thought.  The next day we discovered that the interview had been cut off after 14 minutes.  We had enough for a good two part podcast, and poof, it was gone.  Don’t worry folks, we’ll bring you something on Stargate Worlds in the near future, the nature of which is still to be determined.

The final proof of Murphy’s Law came while we were at the airport.  We’d decided to watch a recent episode of Atlantis to kill some time.  The problem was, the audio didn’t work on my laptop, and the video didn’t work on Jon’s laptop.  We eventually solved these problems, to find that the final insult was that the episode wasn’t that good.  Hilarious at the end, but it was a long 40 minutes getting there. 

My final thought on this is that every time we accomplished a goal, life put up a new problem for us to solve.  Normally this would be good game design, but I just found it frustrating and annoying. 

Stargate Worlds

Posted by skywisenight Friday February 22 2008 at 3:02PM
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Last night we managed to get together with Kevin Balentine of Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment to talk about Stargate.

We were treated to an unreleased trailer of the game. In the trailer we saw 3 different worlds, Tollan, Lucia, an Ancient City whose name escapes me, and an ice planet. It's nice to know, talking to Kevin, that CME is tight with the producers of the Stargate Franchise in Vancouver and are staying true to the universe.

Kevin wanted to also make strong note that everyone knows the timeframe that the game is set in. It takes place after season seven, the demise of Anubis at the hand of the drone chair in Antarctica, and before the Ori story arc that was started at the beginning of season nine.

As a big fan of the show (more so pre season 9 SG-1), I was a bit confused over the design of the latest ancient city we were shown, and has been released. Why you might wonder, let me tell you why (and prove that I've watched this show far too much): Firstly, at the time when the ancients were dying off from the plague they architectural design style as presented on the show was a long the lines of the head sucker repository of ancient knowledge, where their tech was often set in dark stone with etched circles or utilized the stone table panels (etc). Now, we have been told on the show that this stuff was designed as such to last the test of time and fair enough, but keep in mind that Taonas and the Antarctica Outpost also have a very different style from the current Atlantis tech. So, anyway, the city of Atlantis traveled to Pegasus to seed new life in that galaxy and escape the plague and their designs, etc evolved as such to what we see on SGA.

So, my point is as such, considering the lore of the show, the style of this city in the game just doesn't seem to match that of the show. One could argue that Pegasus ancients returned to earth 10,000 years ago and what not, but as I understand this city far predated that. Maybe there will be extra lore added in the game to cover that, who know. We will have to wait and see, and I have again proved that I have seen these episodes too many times and maybe I need to go outside and get some sun.

Other than that very little nit pick, that game seems to be coming along nicely, they seem to be pretty honest with what they show. There were a few times in our recap of the video that Kevin mentioned to us spots where the developers didn't want stuff to be shown or mentioned. Now, take this in mind that just because it's rough now, doesn't mean it's not on it way to polish. It's just nice to see actual in-game captures with their flaws and all.

Laura's Second Entry

Posted by Taera Thursday February 21 2008 at 5:10PM
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Ok, so I missed yesterday's entry - the show is so exciting, its hard to remember to sit down and convince my internet that yes, it IS connected, please let me access the website ;)

Yesterday morning I went with Keith to the Building Social Enviornments in EVE's Space Stations session; he explained it in detail below, and some of the information will be in my EVE article (coming Soontm).  After that was over I had some free time to wander the floors.

GDC isn't quite as large as E3 was, but it's a lot larger than Austin's AGC; there are two show floors: the west (for careers) and the north (for...uh...stuff besides careers?).  I saw some cool things on both floors...for example, in the west hall I found Bioware, L5, and lots of little companies with cool gadgets (see some of Skywise's pictures).  Playstation also had a little area in the west hall, with a big sign for Heavenly Sword next to a demo booth.  Sadly they didn't actually have Heavenly Sword at the show...dirf.

In the north hall I got to meet Pierre-Yves from the Chronicles of Spellborn...after several dev chats and lots of emails, it was really cool to put a name to a face!  I also visited the CCP booth (mostly EVE, but many WoD devs walking around) and Logitech.  For any lefties who are wondering, there really AREN'T any left handed gaming mice :(

After my wandering I got to meet up with industry legend Dave Perry to discuss 2Moons, 9Dragons, and Top Secret...there is (or will be) a video posted of that interview.  Then I caught up with the Bloodymare people in west hall...see that article here.

After the show I was pretty tired so I skipped the party, and opted for some Chinese food while I wrote up my articles :)

I'll write about today's activities later on; we still have a meeting with Turbine and then the infamous CCP party.  I'm not sure what, exactly, they're doing this year, but I'm told "there will be leather".


BTW - totally off topic, but I keep seeing men in kilts.  Is this a San Fran thing?

Keith's Second Blog: Wot I Done Yesterday

Posted by Szark Thursday February 21 2008 at 4:39PM
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I now present the second portion of my blog from yesterday.  My initial plan was to write a short paragraph about each of my main appointments, but when I sat down to write, my one paragraph on EVE turned into several.  What follows is an account of my day after leaving the EVE seminar.  It’s not all inclusive, but includes most of the topics that I’ll probably be writing about over the next week or so.

My next stop was the press room where I spent a few hours hastily doing my day job.  I still haven’t had time to get through all of my daily e-mail.  Notable GDC news that went up today was about the deal between SOE and Vivox.  It was especially notable because Vivox was my next appointment down on the show floor.  I’ll write more on this later, but I was pleased to see that they’ve continued to improve their services in a number of ways since I last spoke to them in Austin, which is good as they’ll be expanding their MMO portfolio significantly when they begin providing their services for SOE’s line of games.

Then it was off to the Nordic Games Pavilion to take a look at Dreamlords from Lockpick Entertainment.  I’m intrigued by the potential of Dreamlords, as my favorite games have almost always come from the RPG and Strategy genres.  RPGs are an easy choice to make into massively multiplayer games, but strategy MMOs are a little more of a rarity.  Again, I won’t say much about Dreamlords now, as I’ll be writing a longer article on it later.

After that I sat down for a bit, but only long enough to write the first paragraph of this blog.  Then it was off to talk Online Marketing and Public Relations (OMPR) booth to talk to the guys who are bringing Lunia to North America, and then to Lee Hammock to get an update on what’s new in Fallen Earth since Austin.  I always like talking to Lee because he knows his game well enough that he can answer your questions in detail before you even ask him the question.

After a short break lunch and writing (I was typing with one hand and eating with the other) I was off to meet the rest of the MMORPG crew over at the Turbine booth.  We didn’t do interviews here, those are scheduled for tomorrow.  It was more of a meet and greet, make introductions kind of thing.  We talked about Turbine’s line of games, and the industry in general, and about future content for the site.  That’s pretty much what the rest of the night was like at various different locations.  Jon and I spend quite a bit time at a gathering at Triplepoint’s (formerly Kohnke) new offices, which was a nice change of pace from the various events at bars around the convention.  At Triplepoint you could actually have conversations without shouting, so it was nice.

Like I said, I saw a number of other things that didn’t make it into this entry.  I need to save something for articles and future blogs.

Keith's First Blog: EVE Social Environments

Posted by Szark Wednesday February 20 2008 at 8:25PM
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Ah, the first blog entry.  Jon twisted my arm hard enough and thus I’m forced to write.  I meant to fire one of these off yesterday, but seeing as the floor hadn’t opened yet, and my meetings with convention attendees consisted mostly of introductions and card exchanges, I didn’t really have much to say.  I suppose I could have complained about the flight (2 hours on the tarmac because there’s a storm half a continent away!) but I could only sustain that for a few sentences.  I could comment on my impressions of San Francisco’s lovely architecture, or the crappy internet connection at the hotel, but you’re not reading this to hear me complain (or maybe you are, who am I to tell you why you’re reading this?) 

Babbling aside, my plan here is to tell you what I’ve been doing all day.  I started off my day by attending a presentation by Torfi Olafsson from CCP, called Building Social Environments in EVE’s Space Stations, which ended up being an elaboration on the information that was released at fan fest.  Basically we were given a peek at what the station interiors, avatars, and costumes will look like, as well as a peek at the behind the scenes process behind their creation.  The costumes look good.  CCP hired a designer with real life fashion design credentials to create the clothing, and the presenter showed a flow chart of the design process which was fairly complicated, so they do have a lot of quality control and fine tuning for everything before it goes in.  Players who are looking for a high degree of customization may initially be disappointed, as there will be limited outfit models, tops and bottoms only so no custom sleeves or boots, and no colour sliders.  Limited is probably a bad choice of words, finite fits better.  And the lack of a colour slider is made up for by the fact that you can not only change the colors, you can change the fabric, and the difference in fabrics was noticeable, at least in the demo.  So I lied, those looking for customization won’t be disappointed at all.  Their reasoning for the design choice is simple, they wanted to maintain immersion, and make sure that everything fit into the eve universe.  Whenever the CCP folk want to make this point they put up a picture of Sean Connery in his, um, “outfit” from Zardos.  Funny? Yes.  What I wanted to see first thing in the morning? No.  That’s why they hired real fashion designers.  And that was way more than I wanted to say about that as I think most of that has been said before.  

The rest of the presentation focused on what exactly people will be doing in the new environment.  True to CCP’s philosophy of keeping things in player hands, pretty much everything will be in the player’s control, or more accurately, in the hands of other players.  CCP provides the setting and the tools, but it’s all just empty space until the players show up.  So far planned activities include clothing and plastic surgery shops, bars, a few mini games that will resemble texas hold’em and go, and of course, corporate headquarters.  We were shown an example of corporate headquarters, and the evolution which led them from concept art, to a 3d model, to a fully textured conference room with a guy walking around it.  It was the same one from fanfest, but it led into a brief segment covering the challenges of outsourcing some of the work on the environments.

The design documents were very detailed by necessity of the outsourcing as one of the considerations when working in a global business is that people in other cultures may not have seen the same media as you.  By that I mean, I could say to most artists in the gaming business to make an interior that looks like a cross between Bladerunner and Aliens and they would know exactly what I mean.  If you grew up on another continent you might know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you’ll make a little grey being on ice skates, or a reptiloid in running shoes with a sword.

Anyway, when I start talking about reptiles and greys, that usually means it’s time to quite while I’m ahead.  Of course one must actually be ahead to quite while they’re ahead, and one is rarely ahead while talking about the cohorts of little green men.  So I’ll just quit before I stray further off topic.

Laura's first entry

Posted by Taera Tuesday February 19 2008 at 12:01PM
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(It's the San Francisco Treat)

While the GDC show floor hasn't opened yet, and our conference activities have been pretty boring (fetching badges, confirming appointments, etc), the city has provided more than enough entertainment for our little gang.  So far, I've seen:

A lady dancing in the window a Jack-in-the-Box; a man trying to sell Jon magazines and a certain type of green, leafy plant; a woman under citizen's arrest for stealing jewelry; and a homeless man with a sign saying "Please help / Family kidnapped by ninjas"

We've got a Sony party tonight, and the show floor opens tomorrow; more from me then!

Jon's First Entry

Posted by Stradden_bak Tuesday February 19 2008 at 9:34AM
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Well, it's that time of year again. Back home, the snow is flying with more frequency and the wind is blowing just a little bit colder as winter winds herself down in some kind of tantrum a two year old would find embarrassing. Fortunately for me, that's something that my friends and family are going to have to worry about for the next week because I'm in California for the 2008 Game Developer's Conference. 

Okay sure, that was a long lead-up to my first blog post, but I was feeling vindictive and poetic all at the same time. Seriously though, three of us left Halifax on Evan (our Art Director) and myself. The trip down was frustrating as the flight was booked to lay over in Chicago. Unfortunately for us, weather in Chicago was bad enough that instead of taking off, our plane taxied away from the gate and sat motionless for two hours. We missed our connecting flight and had to re-schedule.

Now, I know what you're thinking... Jon's using his blog to talk about the weather. Well, yes. but it's not because of the delay. I wanted to tell you about something I saw while we were in the air (and not the episode of Ugly Betty they played).

 Have you ever seen anything that was so familiar and yet at the same time completely foreign? For me, it was a lightning storm that was happening in the distance beside us in the air. It's one thing to see a lightning storm from the ground, but it's another matter entirely to see one in the air.

As we watched from the window of the plane, the clouds in the distance would flash brilliantly. Because it was dark, the flashes lit the entire cloud formation, dark on the inside, but a brilliant yellow-white on the outside. You know how when your girlfriend breaks up with you and people say "every cloud has a silver lining" and you want to punch them in the face? Well, as it turns out, clouds do have silver linings after all. Not because the lightning storm appeared on a trip that had been annoying me, but because I saw an honest to God silver lining. Just thought I'd share.

Yesterday, the first official day of the conference, I arrived for my meeting with Funcom to talk about Age of Conan. Now, I have to admit to not being in the beta for this game, but every time I see a demo, I like it more and more. First of all, the game itself is just stunning to look at. The quality of the graphics and what I can only assume is some first rate art direction (and artists) really make the game pop. Gameplay-wise, they have a few features that really set it apart from the pack in terms of innovation and implementation. I'm especially impressed with the game's mounted combat. Between the animations and the actual mechanics of the mounts, I think that I could really dig playing a cavalryman in the Age of Conan.

Well, that's it for me. Expect more poetic waxing in the days to come .

Getting ready

Posted by skywisenight Saturday February 16 2008 at 7:22PM
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Hi all, we just set up this blog so the four of us going to GDC this year representing can share our impressions, thoughts, and sleep deprived ramblings about this years event.

Covering the event will be Managing Editor, Jon Wood. He's the big cheese of the week.. in person that it is... no disrespect of our gracious overlords. Supporting Jon in his posse are News Editor Keith Cross, Community Manager Laura Genender, and photo/video/tech slave Evan Wilkinson.

Tomorrow is flying day, so not much happening then, but come Monday all the good stuff starts!

We are all excited to be going and can't wait to get there and start bringing you guys the scoop!