GDC 2014: Lots of Fun, With a Little Bit of Learning.

25 Mar 2014

by Dave Tibbetts (Senior Developer)

GDC 2014 was my first time ever attending GDC, even though prior to SteelSeries, I had been in the game industry making games for 13 years. I had always wanted to go, but it just never worked out for me.

I really think my previous employers were afraid I would find a sweeter job at some other company, so they never sent me. :-) Joking aside, if you are unhappy with your current job in the game industry, GDC is an incredible place to network and find that dream job. GDC is not, however, the greatest place to learn about game development in its entirety. My former colleagues say previous years were better, but GDC 2014, for me, didn’t educate me in ways I thought it would.

I’m not saying you won’t learn anything at GDC, but as all of the talks are, at most, 60 minutes long, it’s difficult to digest all of the information thrown at you, let alone retain it in some fashion to be useful. I’m also more of a hands-on learner, so the way in which the talks were run made me feel empty once they were over. I was inspired by the talk, but I had no time to try out what I learned as I was always checking what talk I wanted to go to next. Looking back at the schedule, I definitely could have planned the talks I attended better, but might’ve missed out on the talks that I enjoyed.

The talk Working with the Latest Oculus Rift Hardware and Software which was, again, 60 minutes long was presented by 2 speakers, so the time was split between the two. The first speaker kept it pretty high level and had talking points about what makes a great VR experience. The second speaker got a little into the technical. The technical bit touched on refresh rates, in Hz, frame rate in FPS, and a bunch of different numbers about what is the best. It would’ve been nice to have him explain a little more in detail why 72Hz or 75 Hz was chosen for the latest dev kit and why 120 fps is what they are pushing towards. I can understand you want your FPS synced with your refresh (VSYNC) as to avoid screen tearing, especially in VR. I would have preferred the technical portion touch more on how to achieve the higher refresh and frame rates they are suggesting, rather than the blanket statement that it is needed for a good VR experience.

I remember tales about GDCs of olde that spoke of amazing, informative, educational talks. Talks that showed you how to best order your draw calls in a renderer or why you should even attempt to make AI that cheats. Maybe it was just the allure of GDC that made me imagine it was this mecca of game development tips and tricks that was absolutely critical to my career. Going to GDC this year, I had feelings of my own personal Paris Syndrome. I had waited so long and held GDC to such high expectations, I was a little disappointed in the experience. DISCLAIMER: I’m no longer making games professionally, since I found hardware to be more of my thing. This doesn’t mean I still don’t love making games in my free time. It’s great fun, if not just for learning new technology or a small project to make someone chuckle.

Another talk I attended that was only 25 minutes long, Practical Unit Tests, was actually very practical. An appetizer, if you will, that left me craving more, but I understood what the rest of the meal would be like if there were one. This one I took notes for, since I am a big fan of unit tests and functional tests.

Overall, my experience at GDC this year was amazingly fun, and I did learn a little bit. Every talk I attended was inspiring. Except for the asm.js talk, that one was plain silly. I was motivated more than I’ve been in a long time to just go out and make fun games. I just wish there were more hands on, getting your hands dirty, talks with cool technology like AMD’s Mantle, PowerVR’s Compute SDK, or Linux Game Development (I missed Steam Dev Days). I look forward to going again next year. My biggest advice to future me: Be more organized. Do more research on the talks, like where they are located, and how they relate to each other. Make some mini goals as to what you will do with the information at the end each day. Evernote it, apply it, or game-jam it.