Mar 6, 2017

Suzy Cube at GDC 2017

#GDC #suzycube #gamedev #indiedev #madewithunity 

Well, the 2017 Game Developers Conference has come and gone and it's been a hell of a trip. I got to hear some great talks, hang with some great folks, play some great games and get some great buzz going about Suzy Cube!

Whatchoo Talkin' 'bout?

I opted for a cheaper "summits" pass this year which limited my access to talks during the later days but gave me access to some great stuff for the first couple days of the conference.

I attended a number of talks mostly on the subjects of animation and board game design.

On the animation side, I attended three fantastic talks. First was a pair of talks from Naughty Dog team members on the animation workflow and animation prototyping of Uncharted 4 given by Jeremy Yates and Almudena Soria respectively. Fantastic insight into the process of producing animations for one of the years biggest blockbusters. 

The second was a talk by one of the animator on everyone's favourite upcoming, boss-centric, platforming shooter, Cuphead! Animator Jake Clark walked us through the process of recreating that classic animation style in a video game.

And, finally, I checked out a really insightful talk on the first-person animations in Blizzard's Overwatch given by animator Matthew Boehm. I love the liberties the team takes with the structure of their characters for the sake of punchy, readable and fun animation!

As for board game design talks, I was fortunate to sit in on three talks from heavy hitters in the field. The first was a fantastic walkthrough of the challenges faced by co-designers Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau when creating the narrative driven gameplay of Pandemic Legacy

Matt and Rob during the Q&A after the talk... Someone fire the photographer...
Incidentally, I got to work with Rob about 11 years ago while I was an animator at Artech Studios. We took care of producing the DVD portion of a number of Hasbro hybrid DVD board games which Rob worked on as a designer.

The next board game design related talk I checked out was from long time podcaster Geoff Engelstein of Ludology fame. Geoff gave a fantastic talk on loss aversion and the impact of psychology on board game design. Classic Engelstein: insightful, entertaining and full of valuable takeaways.

Note to self... Stop taking pictures during Q&A the room looks empty...
And finally, I listened to Susan McKinley Ross, designer of Qwirkle flood us with tips, lessons and insights learned from designing a bevy of fun and colourful games.

Other note to self... Maybe I should just stop taking pictures... I'm clearly really bad at it...

Let's Play!

This year, I vowed to spend more time playing games than I did last year. The best part of this strategy turned out to be getting to talk to the many talented developers who were showing off their creations. You'd think a whole week would be plenty of time to see everything, but the conference is so huge that I decided to concentrate my efforts on discovering more of the indie games rather than going to see what was going on in the main expo hall where the big guns hang out.

One such indie section was conference favourite Alt.Ctrl.GDC, a collection of quirky installations which marry games and industrial design to create unique play experiences not possible with standard input devices.

These included such gems as...

Super BRIN from Studio Bruyant which involved rolling actual balls up a bowling lane style setup which seemed to transition seamlessly into the virtual space shown on screen. This was possible thanks to a custom cabinet and an Arduino driven motion camera

Super BRIN cabinet and screen.
I really dug the simple pleasure of rolling a ball into a virtual environment and watching it smash up the place.

Another innovative and hilarious game was Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death) in which a team of four players were tasked with steering a ship by each controlling one air powered thruster unsing individual plastic tubes all simultaneously blowing air. Players could control the flow of air, and the in-game thrusters, by blocking or releasing the flow from the tubes with their hands.

Players desperately trying to steer the ship through a cave.

I didn't get a chance to try this one for myself, but given the physics driven unpredictability of the ship's movement and the fact four people were forced to (try to) coordinate to effectively navigate the game's tight cave systems, it was plenty entertaining to watch.

There were a bunch of interesting, fun and quirky concepts, from a laser-harp driven music game to a facial recognition game about expressing emotions just enough for a human player to distinguish them without tipping off the scrutinizing robot oppressor. Really cool stuff!

But, the one that got the biggest reaction from me was definitely VinylOS.

Not only were the games showcased for the system played by rotating and scratching the record, but they actually used the analog signal from a timecode record itself as the input with an overhead projector providing the visuals. So cool!

Party Time

This year, thanks to a super cool guy I met during the early days of the conference, I got to attend That Party, the premier indie focused GDC shindig. Now, as cool as the venue and music were, I would really like to mention this one game they had set up in the second level play area.

Everybody was kung-fu fighting!
This is a screenshot from DOBOTONE: Videogamo Party System. At first glance, it may seem like a fairly typical collection of four player party games, albeit played using sets of little hand grip controllers akin to Jeopardy buzzers, but the real magic comes from the central console itself.

Add caption
It's hard to tell in the darkness of the club, but the console is equipped with a set of dials and other controls which can be manipulated by another player, who isn't actually playing the game against the others, to mess with a variety of settings while the other players duke it out. Depending on the game being played, the dials can affect anything from the scale of the on-screen elements to the speed of the game to the strength and, even, direction of gravity! A true party game experience!

Getting Board of Me Yet?

As in previous years, the good folks from Shut Up & Sit Down had set up a board gaming area where attendees could pop in, sit down and enjoy a variety of games including Junk Art from fellow Canadian designers Sen-Foong Lim and Jay Cormier.

A box full of artful junk or junky art?
I also got to sit down for a few games myself including a quick round of push-your-luck cave diving game, Diamant from Bruno Faidutti and Alan R. Moon.
My secretly full treasure box!
The game is simple to play and quite a bit of fun. Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy themselves as we faced traps and our own greed venturing deep into the gem filled cavern!

I also played a game of Hidden Hitler which, despite the distasteful subject matter, turned out to be a fun social deduction game in the same vein as games like Werewolf or The Resistance.

It's during this game that I met a young designer and sat in for a few games of Gank!, his "dungeon crawl with a traitor element". 

If you are reading this, I'm sorry I forgot your name! Please get in touch with me so I can edit this blog post!

I had a lot of fun discussing the design with him and the other players. I got to flex a muscle that's been atrophying since my move to Venezuela away from my old Ottawa designer group. (I miss you guys)

And the Award Goes To...

As mentioned in a previous update, the entire reason I was able to go to GDC this year was that Suzy Cube had been chosen as a finalist to the IndiePlus mobile game design competition. I want to take this opportunity to, once again, thank them for the nomination and for paying my flight to San Francisco!

My wife convinced me to go, even though it meant canceling a vacation we had planned, and I'm glad she did! I got to meet all of the other finalists, and the party to announce the winners was something else... Like ball pit and a sloth... something else!

DJ Booth and bar at the IndiePlus party.
Sadly, Suzy did not walk away with a prize, which is fine given the quality of the other finalists.

Top 10 finalists.
The runner up honours went to Old Man's Journey and Bring You Home with top prize going to the weird and wonderful Mushroom 11. Though I didn't get to leave with a swanky trophy, I was convinced to leave with the Suzy Cube poster... A nice bouncer thought that wasn't cool... The organizers sorted things out and I got to keep the poster!

Said poster...
In other news, a friend convinced me to join him for Pocket Gamer's Big Indie Pitch event. He had me look into applying to pitch ahead of flying up to San Francisco but the slots were all full. When I got there, though, they were cool enough to give me a spot on the waitlist. And, what do you know! I got to participate!

The format for the Big Indie Pitch was an interesting one. They had five tables set up each seating anywhere from one to five judges. We, the contestants, then had to sit at each table for five minutes and "pitch" our game. That is, we had to briefly describe the game, show it off and answer any questions the judges might have about the game.

So... After not knowing whether or not I would even be participating, how did things go for Suzy? Well, we took second place!

4 hours prior to this moment I wasn't even a contestant!
Needless to say, I was pretty stoked!

Let me Have a Look at You...

Seeing how this entire GDC trip came together at the last second, lots of folks were all booked up for meetings. Thankfully, the nice guys at Touch Arcade were cool enough to make some time for Suzy. Much like last year, we sat down for a quick chat about the game while recording some over-the-shoulder footage.

They were also cool enough to give her an accompanying write-up on the site, which you can check out for more of their thoughts on the game.

Good Folks and Good Friends

Last but not least, I would be remissed if I didn't mention the best part about going to GDC, the people. I got to meet some really cool devs like Stefan Johansson and the Ottawa power couple, Mike and Jillian Mood as well as getting to hang out with old pals like Ben Kane, Jonah Davidson, Jason Nuyens and Allen Pestaluky. I was also fortunate enough to get to meet some heavy hitters like the crazy guys from Noodlecake (who goaded me into "stealing" my poster from the party), Josh from Crescent Moon Games as well as all those cool board game speakers I mentioned above. 

I'm leaving out a bunch of folks, of course, as the week was just bursting with handshakes and fun conversations about games and game design! If I didn't mention you here, it's not because I've forgotten you, there are just so many words one can write in a day! 

Speaking of which, what about little Suzy!?

The State of Suzy

As you may have guessed, I haven't worked on the game during GDC and now that I'm back, I'm going to need to put aside progress for a few days while I put together a video for the folks at Pocket Gamer to accompany an upcoming write-up on the Indie Pitch winners. I thought I would make progress on it today but between this blog post and catching up on emails I've not even started capturing footage yet!!

So, off I go to give you all a nice, fresh, direct feed look at Suzy. You can look forward to my usual end-of-week progress report this Friday. 

See you soon!

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