Talk a Good Game: The Best Talks and Presentations from GDC

A continuous fountain of knowledge, the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) is an organization that seeks to disperse and pollinate knowledge throughout the video game industry in all possible facets, from art and design to marketing and economics.

They do that through their yearly event where esteemed professionals host talks, workshops, lectures, and presentations, their Expo event to show off new technology, and their networking events where people can meet, greet and mingle.

It really is just a fantastic place.

Thankfully, almost all of their talks are recorded and uploaded to their YouTube channel, and it’s some choice picks we’re looking at today. So if you feel like learning something cool about the latest video games, check this out.

You Don’t Need a F***ing Publisher – Nigel Lowrie

Starting with an unorthodox, almost rebel of a talk, Nigel Lowrie of Devolver Digital rips into the infrastructure of the video game industry as he seeks to inspire independent developers everywhere with the titular message.

Speaking from his own personal experiences, Lowrie clears the fog for people looking to get into the industry and develop their own game (potentially single-handedly) by clarifying what certain terms and agreements mean, what is expected of you when signing with a publisher, and why a game can be made without cutting these kinds of deals.

Espousing passionate words and looking to ignite the spark of courage in many yet-to-be game developers out there, Lowrie bellows an auditory middle finger to the publishing industry, with his presentation coming across as rigorously heartfelt and burgeoningly genuine.

Heart of a Gamer – Satoru Iwata

 

Second only to the Mario Man himself, Shigeru Miyamoto, and among the Nintendo Mount Rushmore alumni with other esteemed people like the late Gunpei Yokoi and Koji Kondo, the former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata talks about what it truly means to be a fan of video games.

Iwata proudly and poignantly starts his talk with, “On my business card, I’m a Corporate Executive. In my mind, I’m a Game Developer. In my heart, I am a Gamer”.

He talks about how his own love for gaming blossomed from creating his first video game, rudimentary and crude though it was; as he watched his friends play it amongst themselves, he felt truly proud and found a “source of energy” from this creative endeavor.

Rather than focusing on business, metrics, analytics, or any of that kind of stuff, Iwata radiates pure joy as he reminisces about his university days and how he just wanted to make things people enjoyed and loved and saw video games as the most accessible and efficient way to do that.

Less is More: Designing Awesome AI for Games – Kimberly Voll

A fascinating subject that has become more relevant (and will become even more relevant as we continually progress), developer Kimberly Voll goes into the subjects of video game AI, scripting, how elements interact with each other, and how that can both harm and enhance the player’s experience.

Voll eschews the notion of making the most complex AI you can, and opting to take the perspective of the player and how they view and interact with that artificial intelligence in that precise moment is the paramount and key factor you need to address if you are to succeed.

She also gives a peek behind the curtain of human psychology and our general brain activity, how we notice patterns of repetition (however slight), and how our brains are in tune with things that appear almost human but are not quite natural in their behavior.

How to Make and Self-Publish a Game in 12 Months – Matthew Viglione

Telling the story that could have easily been the subject of an independent documentary film, SomaSim Founder Matt Viglione recounts how he quit his job, took his savings, and began the journey to develop and self-publish his video game within the span of a year.

Viglione drives home the need to prepare as vigorously as possible. He explains how you need to plan out a deadline and a schedule and stick to it (and how to create such a time map) and the elements involved in marketing and publishing, something that may be alien or that alludes to the scope of most developers, programmers, or general creatives.

Practical Creativity – Raph Koster

In a world where media, particularly when it comes to film and video games, is full of sequels, reboots, and imitations, having actionable advice and steps that anyone can take to being more creative is worth its weight in gold. And that’s exactly what MMO Designer Raph Koster talks about during his presentation from 2014.

Defining “Creativity” as best as possible, Koster covers a litany of topics in his talk, including how not all innovation is good, the hierarchy and family of games, breaking down video games into smaller, mechanical-based games, and how mixed game genres or using anomalies can be used to create “new” games.

Classic Game Postmortem: Fallout – Tim Cain

A subgenre within GDC Talks, Classic Game Postmortems pick apart well-known games from days gone by like Deus Ex and Original Sin and examine a particular element or elements from them to show what areas they excelled in and how that can be emulated.

Coming from Obsidian Entertainment’s Tim Cain, who was part of the development team on the original Fallout, the audience gets a first-person, inside perspective on the very inception of the game to immediate post-release reflection.

Covering the materials that influenced the games, from books to movies to board games, to the physical and technical challenges like not being able to acquire licenses to publish on Windows and Mac, Cain speaks from the heart about his phenomenal team that pulled together to create the initial game in the now renowned series.

This Talk is About Tutorials, Press A to Skip – Nicolae Berbece

As much as a Tutorial can feel like a necessary evil within a video game, they don’t all have to be bad, as Nicolae Berbece from Those Awesome Guys’ explains in his talk from GDC Europe back in 2016.

Looking to avoid the cardinal sin of “hand-holding” as developers want to overly protect a player and railroad their experience that they may as well play the game for them, Berbece goes through the dos and do-not-ever-dos of how to introduce a player to the mechanics and world of your video game.

In comparison to most talks, Berbece’s is fairly concise, but that by no means makes it any less valuable. He does go at quite the pace, but he reduces the information down to the precise core of the knowledge that he wants to impart, and for that reason, the talk is a succinct twenty-five minutes.

Games Subscriptions: Is the Netflix of Games Inevitable? – Piers Harding-Rolls

A very pertinent and relevant talk (and the most recent talk on this list) regarding the state of the industry, Games Analyst Piers Harding-Rolls looks at the evolution of gaming economics and how they stand at the precipice of a new model in this generation.

Taking cues from services like Xbox Game Pass Account and PlayStation Now, Harding-Rolls gets down and dirty with the hard analytic data around gaming finances, from microtransactions, exclusivity deals, Free2Play, marketing, and in-game content to look at the pros and cons of what the shift to “Games as a Service” could bring to gamers and developers alike.

The Impossible Quest: Getting a Job in Games – Various

For many people reading this, being part of an industry which they derive so much joy from would be an absolute dream come true. With the industry being oceanically deep and wide, there’s a whole host of jobs that need doing, from designing environments and sound effects to creating social media marketing campaigns.

And yet, there isn’t really a hard and fast way to get started in the video game industry, let alone choosing a field of study that will lead to a potential career in the field.

A collated selection of talks from a full gamut of people within the industry, they talk about how to break into the scene, what subjects to study in higher education to help gain a foothold in the field, and how to create a portfolio that game companies want to see.

1999 GDC Keynote – Shigeru Miyamoto

If there’s anybody’s advice you should take within the video game industry, it is definitely that of the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto.

Valiantly opening with an impressively well-spoken English introduction, Miyamoto gives droplets of audio gold dust as he regales the audience with tales of his experience in the video game industry and how he will always strive to make video games, above all else, fun.

He talks about the development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, widely regarded as one of the best if not the best video game of all time, and the valuable cues he took from creating that game.

He also discusses his view of the future of the industry at that time and his aim of taking the “charm” of video games to people “outside the industry”, a precursor comment to the Nintendo Wii in particular, but largely of Nintendo’s vision from the mid-2000s onwards.

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