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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Austin GDC Overview

Quite an amazing event. I had been waiting for four years to go there; of all the gaming conferences it is the one that most emphasizes the issues of writing and storytelling in games. After years of eagerly scanning the conference listings and following the articles and blogs that resulted, I came at last to the game writers' Mecca and saw it for myself.

All expectations were surpassed.

1. The People
I had the good fortune to meet a lot of incredible people and get involved in great discussions on how we should do what we do and where it may go in the future. These included the legendary Susan O'Connor (BioShock), my old comrade in arms Richard Dansky (the Splinter Cell series and everything else Clancy plus tons of other Ubi games), Marc Laidlaw (the Half-Life series), Andy Walsh (the latest Prince of Persia, Medieval 2: Total War), Wendy DeSpain (IGDA Game Writers' SIG chair), John Gonzalez (EndWar), Rhianna Pratchett (Overlord, Heavenly Sword), Sande Chen (The Witcher), Lee Sheldon (of many game and Hollywood credits plus the author of an excellent book on game writing), Bob Bates (20 years of success in game design and writing plus a game design book), Dave Grossman (TellTale Games), Jess Lebow (Pirates of the Burning Sea, Guild Wars), Ryan Galletta (Need for Speed, Company of Heroes), Haris Orkin (Call of Juarez 1 and 2), Stephen E. Dinehart, and etc. etc. If I forgot you, I apologize.
In addition there were a great number of passionate up-and-comers like Drew McGee (who also did a great job handling the local logistics), Ron Toland, Cory Barnett, Soraya Hajji, and more.
Outside of the pure game writing sphere I also met some great characters who handle other parts of the game development process, in particular Lev and Tim from Blindlight who are involved in the VO end of things and handle everything from procuring stars to the dialog direction and audio recording.

And, over and above it all, Bruce Sterling gave this talk.

2. The Content
Buzzwords like 'interactive storytelling' and 'non-linear narrative' tended to fall thick and fast. Occasionally they made sense. There is a very interesting dichotomy developing in the game writing sphere between those who wish to push writing towards an automated system that provides something computer-generated and non-linear, and those who believe that the hand of a storyteller is needed or else we will end up with interesting toys that lack any sense of story.
I will blog -- time permitting -- over the next few days on the sessions that I attended.

3. The Place
Austin claims to be the live music capital of the US, and judging from the number of live bands (many) that were heard playing every single night of the week I have no reason to doubt it. The weather was great, everything was easily reachable on foot, and the food was everything that I wanted. The convention center was properly cavernous and CMP's management of it was efficient and professional. The sole mishap was the fact that the IGDA Game Writers' SIG table suddenly disappeared between Monday and Tuesday, leaving a number of confused writers wandering about while Drew and Wendy hounded the organizers.
In speaking of "The Place", however, a special mention must be made of the Ginger Man. This is a bar with (by my count) 60 or so beers on tap. It is a high-ceilinged, relaxed place with friendly staff and a great little back garden that for four nights echoed to the sound of writerly laughter, verbal abuse, arguments, and polemics. The cabal of game writers spent a lot of time there, all of which was superlative. Imagine that -- a conference of intelligent and passionate people carrying on discussing topics of both professional and personal interest. For four days. With excellent beer. In easy walking distance from my hotel.

These are the things that make life worth living.


Glad we had a chance to talk, Jeff! - Sande
Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

December 2011

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