An Amateur's Guide to Crashing GDC: Part 2

(In case you missed it, here's part 1.) 

Conventional wisdom dictates that if you're heading out of town for an event, you probably want to pick up a pass ahead of time to attend the event in question. Then again, conventional wisdom doesn't really care if you're currently striking out on your own into the terrifying realm of independent development and don't have a lot of cash to throw around.

Fortunately, the skills I honed by worming my way into countless shows without a badge at SXSW over the years seem to be paying off, and this GDC-on-a-shoestring-budget trip has been a wild success. We've been to parties, coffee shops, "unconferences" and everything in-between. Here's how that all went down.

Roflpillar is a game about being a caterpillar. You don’t have to roll around on the floor laughing while you play, but it’s pretty much an inevitability.

Roflpillar is a game about being a caterpillar. You don’t have to roll around on the floor laughing while you play, but it’s pretty much an inevitability.

That Venus Patrol/Wild Rumpus Party

The one event we paid for in advance was That Venus Patrol/Wild Rumpus Party. I wasn't super familiar with Wild Rumpus ahead of time, but Venus Patrol is the brainchild of Austin's own Brandon Boyer, and anything Venus Patrol-related seemed guaranteed to be worth our time.

I won't dive into exhaustive detail about all the games because descriptions wouldn't do them justice, but I think it's safe to say that the star of the show was Nidhogg. A competitive fencing/platforming game, Nidhogg is a relentless challenge where victory comes only after an exhaustive tug-of-war between you and your opponent. It captures the dynamics of fencing without actually really being a fencing simulator, and that's a pretty cool accomplishment.

Somewhere on the internet, there'll soon be an animated .gif of me playing Roflpillar. Please look forward to that.

This was also the first time I ever had a chance to try out the Oculus Rift for myself. Sitting in a dark corner next to the bar on a tiny bench was a lone game developer with a laptop named Aaron Lemke. His company, Unello Design, focuses on creating virtual reality experiences. (If you have an Oculus dev kit, you should hop over to his site and check out the demos yourself.)

The demo I experienced played with spatial sound and visualization of music in a 3D space, and I walked away feeling inspired by the experiences this new tech makes possible.

I also took some selfies at the Interstellar Selfie Station because of course that's what you should do when you come across the Interstellar Selfie Station.

Lost Levels

I wish all conferences took place outside in a park and were over in four hours and everyone there was awesome to each other. Lost Levels automatically wins the Best Conference Ever award for all time.

I wish all conferences took place outside in a park and were over in four hours and everyone there was awesome to each other. Lost Levels automatically wins the Best Conference Ever award for all time.

Lost Levels was the main reason I decided to fly out to San Francisco without a GDC pass. It was completely worth it.

Billed as an inclusive, hate-free unconference featuring minutes-long presentations by anyone who wants to give one, it somehow wound up being the most effectively run and worthwhile gaming convention I've ever been to.

Some of my favorite talks include Taylor Morris' call to action on self-publishing and ebooks, Murry Lancashire's short speech about the weird elements of humor that make games so much better (like Metal Slug's sparse, wonky voiceover lines and the realization that Jetpack Joyride's Barry Steakfries is kind of an asshole) and  Zoe Quinn's authoritative and speculative history of Jeff Goldblum's role in videogames.

When I go to the average convention — like PAX, for example — I can walk around anywhere without much fear of being harassed because of how I appear to people. But I care a lot about how people treat people who are different from them, and I've always felt really conflicted about the fact that games and their makers can be such thoughtful, caring and idealistic people but "gamers" generally seem like virulent, bigoted loudmouths. Scum of the earth, essentially. Lost Levels set the hard-and-fast rule of being welcoming and inclusive, and if you break that rule you can get the fuck out. I want to see every other gaming event adopt that rule. I've never felt safer and happier to be among other people who love games. I wish Lost Levels could just move somewhere cheaper than San Francisco and start a commune and we could all just hang out all the time.

But then it was over, and I met up with some old friends to meet some new friends and that was that.

We also meandered over to an event called Spatial Stories, but all the food and beer was gone by the time we got there. We saw a couple cool VR and AR games, but our stomachs won out in the end and so we hopped the train back to our neighborhood to rest up for the remainder of our trip.

Now it's Friday morning and our mission is to find something really cool to do today. So that's what's happening!