The conference, which took place on 22nd – 26th March this year in the San Jose Convention Center, presents sessions and tutorials in seven tracks (Visual Arts, Production, Business & Legal, Game Design, Audio, Programming, and the IGDA track) – along with a number of satellite events, which this year for the first time, featured Game Connection – a matchmaking event for publishers and developers modelled on similar events held in Europe and Asia. During Game Connection it was estimated that 80 independent game developers and 60 publishers met during 2,200 meetings over the course of the three days.

Other satellite events included GDC Mobile, the IGDA Business Summit, the Serious Games Summit, and the usual expo and jobs fair. The 4th Independent Games Festival and the 6th Game Developers Choice awards were also held in the nearby San Jose Civic Auditorium.

Oh, and there’s lots of parties!

Passion and Process

The theme of this year’s GDC was ‘Evolve’ – highlighting the current industry movement towards middleware and more robust, scalable production and development processes. Another theme was the increasing predominance of licensed titles and sequels. Dave Perry, president of Shiny Entertainment and native of Belfast covered all these themes in his Production Track keynote, ‘Through Collaboration: Escalating Demands on the Producer’– noting that of the top 10 best-selling titles in the US last year only one was not a sequel, and all of them were based on licenses.

The theme was continued in the IGDA Business Summit and the Serious Games Summit – the latter being a two-day workshop to discuss alternative sources of revenue and non-entertainment games in a number of fields including education, training and public policy.

In another session, ‘Building Big Licensed Games with Big Teams’, we were reminded that only a few years ago developers with strong artistic and technical skills could manage major projects using just experience and instinct. With 3 to 8 people on a 12 month project, the number of variables and relationships was low enough that a single individual could (possibly) still keep it all in his/her head and make it all work.

But times have changed.

Now that we have teams of 25 to 75 people working on major games, and budgets ranging from $3 – $40 million, the requirement for the process to be well-organized has transcended all other considerations. Even excellent individual project management skills cannot obviate the need for detailed procedures and formal development processes. It’s the only way to make so many pieces fall into place… and to do it again and again until that all-important Gold Master milestone.

But how do we manage to integrate these organizational processes and procedures into our industry without stamping out the passion and creativity that drives it? This is perhaps the biggest non-technical challenge we’re currently facing as we turn into the next generation hardware cycle.


Irish game developers get down to facing the non technical challenges. Left to right: Mark & Pete of Torc with Tony of Intel.


Some highlights of GDC this year…

·legendary engine programmer, John Carmack of id Software, in the programming keynote entitled ‘A Candid Look at the Issues and Rewards of Bleeding Edge Engine Development’

·John Gaeta, Visual Effects Supervisior on the three Matrix films gave an excellent Visual Arts Keynote

·Epic’s impressive early build of the next gen Unreal engine

·Sony, who described the PSP as a wireless, multi-function, mobile device – “like having a PS2 in the palm of your hand“ – unveiled a stunning software demo (running on an emulator only, unfortunately) of the Digital Eclipse title Death, Jr. The developer claimed that not only was the PSP more powerful than the PlayStation 2, with a larger number of built-in effects, but that it was also easier to develop for. It was also revealed that a total of eighty-one developers are currently working on PSP titles. Sony plans to show a prototype of the PSP at this year’s E3, and to release the product in Japan within the 2004 calendar year. The US and European releases will occur before the end of the 2004 fiscal year

Some announcements this year

·Microsoft unveiled a new development framework named XNA, which will be used across all future game platforms, including the next generation Xbox, PCs and mobile devices. The company claims that XNA will allow developers to combat rising production costs and increasing hardware complexity.

·According to rumour the next-generation Xbox will actually be unveiled this summer, presumably at the X04 press event. The rumours follow comments from Peter Moore, suggesting that "It’s too early in the cycle of Xbox to be talking about its successor" – when questioned as to whether the new Xbox machine will be shown at this year’s E3.

·Nokia’s Kirsi Kotilainen hinted at a major redesign of the N-Gage, details of which are expected to be announced a major press conference for 14th April in London. Kotilainen indicated that the next iteration of the hardware would have its speaker and earpiece mounted on the face of the device and that users would no longer have to unplug the battery to install new game cartridges. No surprises there then.

There’s That ‘I’ Word Again!

Many of the themes covered in the General Interest Keynote, “Encouraging Innovation in Game Development – ‘What is innovation?’”, given by Andrew House of Sony Computer Entertainment America, will be familiar to readers of the Myth of Innovation thread on
·Why do we seek new experiences, the latest software, the newest gadgets?
·Why should game playing be any different?
·Should game developers care about innovation?

His conclusion? As game development costs rise, taking a risk with the design of your game becomes an increasingly difficult decision to make. By reproducing the gameplay of a previously-successful title, so common wisdom goes, you can maximize the chances that your title will also be a success. But new and exciting experiences are what keep game players interested. Creating something unique is absolutely fundamental if you are to truly maximize your possibility for success.

And the Winner Is…

Warren Spector of Ion Storm announced Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as Game of the Year at the Fourth Annual Game Developers Choice Awards. As expected, both Prince of Persia and Call of Duty also did well.

On the same night and at the same venue Mind Control Software won the Independent Games Festival’s (IGF) Web/Downloadable award for its rapid turn-based strategy game, Oasis. The team at Mind Control included Mark LeBlanc and Sean Barrett, both of whom worked previously at Looking Glass Studios. Mistaril – based in Dublin’s Digital Hub – was one of the ten shortlisted developers in the same category.
As many predicted, the team from S2 Games Grand Prize won the IGF Open award for its game Savage: The Battle For Newerth.

The Irish Are Coming

And, of course, as many regulars will no doubt know, this year’s GDC saw the greatest concentration of Irish attendees to date.


You know them by now..DemonWare

DemonWare had the whole team over for the launch of version 1.0 of their multiplayer networking code, BitDemon. Havok announced its forthcoming support for Sony’s PSP console, and used it’s stand to showcase the many clients for it’s game dynamics middleware. Steve Collins, Havok’s CTO, also gave a talk on the AMD stand. Nephin Games was over for GDC Mobile, and both Kapooki and Upstart Games attended Games Connection.

But the most ubiquitous Irish developer at GDC this year had to be Torc Interactive. Not only were Demonware using Torc’s Instinct engine to showcase their netcode, but both Havok and AMD also used a playable demo provided by the Donegal developers. Many ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s could be heard at the AMD stand in particular…


Torc Demo on AMD stand

Next Year

So that’s it for another year. While many thought this GDC was quieter than previous years, the organisers have announced that the annual event will be held in San Francisco from next year, citing a lack of hotel space as the reason for the move of location. Hopefully GDC next year will see more Irish developers in a position to showcase their wares.

Author’s Bio

Tony Kelly is Senior Producer in Intel’s IT Innovation Centre, chair of the IGDA Ireland committee and more importantly, Person of the Year for 2004.

Related Links

Torc Interactive
Havok –
Demonware –
Kapooki –
Upstart Games –
Mistaril –

Microsoft XNA – xna/
NGage 2? – article2/0,2053,1553861,,2053,1553861,00.asp
Main GDC site –
Gamasutra’s GDC diaries – gdc2004/