Monday, March 9, 2015

GDC 2015 dispatches / minutiae

Here are some thoughts I thought during GDC 2015.
  • Virtual reality: I didn't get to try Valve's fancy new thing that requires everyone to clear out a mini-holodeck in their apartment, but I was pleasantly surprised by Google Cardboard. I tried it once before, and disliked it, but I tried it again and now I think it's not bad as a VR solution. I appreciate the transparency and "honesty of materials" -- it is basically a cardboard box that holds a phone to your face, it doesn't try to pretend to be something else, while still delivering on the all-important affordance of VR headset as elaborate blindfold.
  • Phony war: The big technical news of free engine access for Unity 5, Unreal 4, and Source 2 were inflated non-announcements. They've been practically giving away Unity and Unreal for a while now; 90% of Unity feature-set is free, and Unreal only required you to subscribe for a month and then you could cancel it and keep it... and the details and workflow for Source 2 aren't public yet, other than a requirement to offer first look rights to Valve or something? So again I think there's no real story here, other than positioning these engines as the new "big three" versus Unreal, CryEngine, and idTech trinities of yore. 
  • Generations: This year, quite a few NYU students attended GDC for the first time, and I felt some modicum of responsibility. For better or worse, a lot of young people invest GDC week with a lot of emotions, and it's really important that community elders (ugh, am I one of those? let's hope not) are there to help nurture their spirits. Things like the annual Wild Rumpus party or Lost Levels or Richard Lemarchand's GDC Feet tour are about articulating and performing considerate attitudes toward games and play, to imagine this culture as something shared and owned by everyone. A lot of teaching game development is about emotional education -- to deal with people saying difficult things about your work, the ability to absorb success or absorb your disappointment and not let it crush you... so please, I beg you, think of the children!
  • Biz-culture: In contrast to what I just said in the previous bullet, I also sensed an increasingly fractured community. There's a steadily widening gulf between a games space deeply concerned with sales figures and how to negotiate with platform holders, and a games space striving to reject the existing market system and formulate alternatives. We are increasingly talking past each other, so I think a lot of "indie love" politics is about plastering over these divides and avoiding difficult arguments that we probably can't avoid forever. Films like GameLoading are about doing the work of uniting disparate artistic approaches and communities as a movement, but sometimes it smells more like a possibly empty "Radio for Change" gesture, and I wonder when the coalitions will start dissolving and we all realize we actually don't have much in common. But maybe being a family means pretending everything is going to be ok? Let's do it for the kids.