GDC 2008: Hot or not ?

February 26, 2008

So what was cool at the GDC and what wasn’t? The following is just my opinion as a gameplay developer, general game dev fan, and gamer, on the sessions I saw so it may be not representative of the whole event. I’m not gonna summarize the techniques and talks I’ve seen but it’s more like a sum-up of a few lectures so you can check (or not) at the video recordings or powerpoint presentations you’re interested in, if they are online somewhere.

I saw 16 sessions during these 3 days, which are:

  • Storytelling in Bioshock: Empowering Players to Care about Your Stupid Story
  • Rules of Engagement: Blizzard’s Approach to Multiplayer Game Design
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: How LucasArts is Building a Game, a Development Team and a Technology Pipeline… At the Same Time
  • Structure VS. Style (Chris Hecker)
  • Pollinating the Universe: User-generated Content in Spore
  • Uncharted Animation: An In-depth Look at the Character Animation Workflow and Pipeline
  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Post-Mortem: Amazing Feats of Daring
  • Adventures in Data Compilation and Scripting for Uncharted: Drale’s Fortune
  • Beyond Printf: Debugging Graphics Through Tools
  • Prototype: Open World, Open Mind, Next Generation Thinking
  • Truer Impostors
  • Crysis Next Gen Effects
  • Practical Light and Color
  • Interactive Actors That Express Emotion (Ken Perlin)
  • Natural Motion: Runtime Character Animation with Morpheme
  • The Next 20 Years of Gaming (Ray Kurzweil’s keynote)

I was expecting a lot from the programming track, and actually the best sessions were the ones about game design! The programming ones were either too technical and short or not deep enough. I’m sure it’s very difficult to make a good lecture for the right audience, anyway I was a bit disappointed of the ones I attended to.

However, the most interesting (in the programming category) was maybe the one about the Next Gen effects in Crysis, and curiously I wasn’t expecting that much from this one! It was cool because by describing many steps of their effects, they kind of explained ‘why it is beautiful‘, especially by giving their secrets to make the water (procedural animation, caustics, light beams, shore, physics), the frozen things, and the different motion blurs (object motion blur, camera motion blur). I was surprised how their techniques for these motion blurs were simple (using depth and velocity masks). They did lack a little of time to cover everything but the slides (with shader codes) should be available online soon.

A nice surprise was the one called Truer Impostors. It was all about a new student’s technique for rendering lot of detail with a high frame-rate. I won’t explain it in here, his paper is a much better source for that, but just as an apetizer: his demo was a scene with 250 000 animated birds in the sky running at 30 fps on a 7800GT. It was a 20 mins lecture so a bit too short for such a technical subject. There are good chances his technique replaces all the other ways he talked about (parallax mapping, relief mapping, true impostors) in future games.

The most impressive live demos I’ve seen were the ones of Prototype and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Prototype was REALLY spectacular with features like: climbing over all the buildings, cars, dynamic objects, a really huge and detailed city, and globally very cinematic and violent combat scenes (very good camera). After at least 10 minutes of explosive playing, I was asking myself: yeah but what’s gonna be the gameplay? I mean ok you kill everybody, you run away from monsters, you steal tanks and helicopters, you climb over everything and you make crazy jumps from the top of skyscrapers, but then what? The basic gameplay is to recover your memory by stealing the one of others, that’s good for 10 mins but what is it besides that? I hope there’s a deeper (macro) gameplay after that.

SW: The Force Unleashed was cool, because what we saw in the trailers is true and well working. I mean the simulation-based gameplay is not a lie, the combination of standard physics things, (all kind of) realistic breakable objects, and the AI/physics-based character animation (Euphoria technology) is awesome. But nothing new actually. I thought they would explain more technically how did they manage to get these 3 technologies working together, but they talked more about their whole production philosophy (new team, hiring, the name of their engines, ‘yeah it was hard but now it’s working’), beh .. ok then.

storytelling in bioshock

The best lecture I saw was: Storytelling in Bioshock: Empowering Players to Care about Your Stupid Story. I won’t explain anything because it would need a full post for it, but to make it simple, they had awesome game design ideas to make the player like the game for both hardcore story fans and the rest of the world that doesn’t care about the story and wants to finish the game 🙂

I’m starting to get bored of writing all this, but some ideas for the last sessions:

  • Craziest lectures: Structure vs. Style, The next 20 years of gaming.
  • A bit boring: Amazing Feats of Daring: An Uncharted Postmortem, Adventures in Data Compilation and Scripting for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
  • I liked a lot: Interactive Actors That Express Emotion (Perlin), NaturalMotion: Runtime Character Animation with Morpheme, and part of the Practical Light and Color.
  • Momentum vs. Animation was canceled (or delayed of very late), too bad, great title.
  • We should really try morpheme and it’s API, Actor Machine (Perlin), FX Composer 2’s shader debugger.
  • I would have liked to see Uncharted Animation: An In-depth Look at the Character Animation Workflow and Pipeline.

I’m not talking about what I saw in the expo hall, that’s already a big post 🙂

If you’re reading this and were to the GDC, let me know your opinion!


  1. Thanks a lot for your report !

    I’m looking forward for your next posts about the presentations. At least the links for the slides when they are available.

  2. I really liked the Bioshock session you mentioned as well, though it sounds like I didn’t take away as much as you did. Another session I really liked was the Q&A with Sid Meier, it was fun and enjoyable to witness the banter of these two industry legends.

    I found the Harmonix Phase session to be entertaining, but that could be just because I’m a huge Harmonix fanboy. The Portal Postmortem was entertaining and had some funny moments, even if the ‘tips and tricks’ they gave out were all ‘101 game design’ kind of stuff.

    I didn’t check out too much new stuff at the expo, I played the new smash bros. game a bit and checked out the Guitar Rising game, those were both really cool.

  3. I didn’t see the Portal Post-mortel (I wasn’t even at GDC !) but even if it was “Game-design 101” I’m sure we can still learn some stuff from the makers of the Game of the year, such a refreshing game 😉

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