I was lucky enough to attend this year’s 2013 Game Developers Conference as an IGDA Scholar! What started as answering a couple short questions on how I participate in the game community, and what my career goals were, ended up becoming the most eventful, busy, and memorable week of my life.
The scholarship included an All-Access Pass to the conference, scheduled tours with local companies in San Francisco (Three Rings Design and Double Fine Productions), and a pairing with a mentor in the industry to guide me throughout the week (Dren McDonald!).
So, along with the other 19 Scholars from around the world (ranging from Australia to Scotland to Chile to San Francisco), I embarked on a very unique career opportunity.
As seven days is a lot to recap, I’ll cover the highlights of the week, even though there were a lot!
- The conference is traditionally held in San Francisco, a nice convenience for a Southern California native. So after 8 hours of driving with two of my friends, we arrived at the famous city, parked the car for the whole week since we wouldn’t be needing it, and set out on foot for the hostel.
- After we checked in and got settled, we booked it off to the Moscone Center, where pass pick-up was still available for the next 5 minutes. After jogging to the wrong part of the Moscone, we sprinted over to the correct side, got our passes, and then I rushed off to meet up with the other Scholars!
- Finding the others in the food court wasn’t that hard, as we had all added each other on Facebook in the months leading up to GDC. We got our debriefing from Luke Dicken, Heather Decker-Davis, and Molly Maloney, the heads of the IGDA Scholarship program this year, mingled with each other for a bit, and then we were left to ourselves, as our organizers had other places to be that night. Confused for a moment, we didn’t want to turn in for the night as it was only 8pm or so. So, in true GDC fashion, we headed off for drinks!
- By the end of the night, the Scholars got to know each other a little more, and we were all excited for the events about to start. Wrapping up the night, my phone died, and I was left to navigate my way back to the hostel with no directions. It was quite a rush trying to get back at 1 in the morning, and avoiding the Tenderloin, which my hostel bordered!
- Monday morning started early, as I couldn’t stay asleep. I was too excited thinking about the day to come! After meeting some new, international, friends over breakfast in the hostel, I headed off to the Moscone Center to meet up with the Scholars for our first studio tour!
- The tour of Three Rings was awesome, given to us by the CEO himself. In the conference room, he told us the history of the company and ran a little Q&A. We were then shown the main office, and then a phone booth. In fact, it was a TARDIS from the Doctor Who series. We then walked through the TARDIS and ended up in a whole other wing of the office! Here there was more desks, meeting areas, a full bar, and a hidden room behind a bookcase!
- Right after the tour we headed off to a Scholars/Mentors lunch, where each pair would finally meet in person. Funny enough, my mentor and I had already met at last year's GDC! It was a pleasure to have Dren McDonald, a sound designer, composer, and the Director of Development for the Game Audio Network Guild, as my mentor for the week! Thanks Dren!
- After the lunch, I hung out with Dren as we went to see some of the Game Narrative Summit talks, one given by Warren Spector! Then, we ran into a friend of Dren's, and he introduced me. Turns out it was John Romero, creator of DOOM! We talked for a bit, and I'm happy to say that he found my last name entertaining, especially for a sound guy :)
- We saw a few more talks, chatted over coffee, ran into more friends of his, and then decided to meet up with the rest of the game audio crowd.
- A quick aside: If you're reading this, you know how often I use Twitter, and how the #gameaudio hashtag is used across the whole game audio community. This is a community that I’ve grown attached to, and really enjoy chatting with! Because we're all spread out across the world though, we don't see each other in person a lot. In fact, GDC is the most probable place where we will see each other next. Therefore, I was really interested in meeting up with the guys I've been talking to for the past year, and people I've interviewed for the Sonic Backgrounds interview series on Creating Sound. Heck, even meeting the Creating Sound team in person was on my to-do list!
- We checked Twitter and saw that audio guys were beginning to meet for drinks, so we headed off to meet them! I finally met Alex Saba (from Canada!), and a new friend, Chris Trevino, that knew who I was just from my Twitter activity. Here starts the craziness that is networking through Twitter. I had never met Chris before, but when I introduced myself “Hi I'm Bryan,” he responded with “Oh, you're Bryan Ploof!”
- Humbled and surprised, this was not the only time this happened during the week-long conference. From people I've talked to many times, to some who I've only interacted with once, people knew who I was, either from my face, last name, or my interview series! So crazy!
- Drinks then led to dinner, and then even more drinks :) Met so many audio people this night, that I felt right at home. I'm normally the sole audio guy where I'm from!
- One particular highlight of the night, and goes to show that you never know who you'll run into during GDC, was Ann Kroeber, the famous film sound designer! Such a nice lady!
- Another fun fact about this night was that it was the first time DesigningSound.org and CreatingSound.com were represented under the same roof!
- Tuesday morning I woke up early to explore the city, and then headed off to meet the Scholars for our second studio tour: Double Fine Productions! The tour of Double Fine was awesome, with so much concept art, fan letters, and more posted on the walls. It was also funny to walk around an office that seemed familiar from all the Kickstarter videos! We listened to talks from a technical director, lead programmer, designer, and Mr. Tim Schafer himself! It was a very cool morning!
- Then, after a brief lunch with the Scholars, I went around to see as many talks as I could. Had to make use of that All-Access Pass after all! So, even though the main conference hadn't started yet (seriously!), I went to more of the Narrative Summit, and one Indie Game Summit talk. It was very cool to go to talks that were out of my area of comfort!
- Tuesday night was a game audio dinner that had been planned before the week began. Was not expecting it to have such a huge turnout! Met so many more audio people that night (even Stephen Schnapps, who happened to be at the same hostel as me)!
- And as you may guess, dinner led to drinks :) At a bar called Foley's nonetheless! A perfect place for an audio guy hangout! Except for the dueling pianos that started playing, making it so that we couldn't hear each other speak... We ended up moving outside to the streets of San Francisco, where we talked between the intermittent jackhammers instead. So many more Twitter-familiar faces and new friends that night!
- Once we got to Wednesday, I'll admit, I was dragging a bit. Three days of hanging out with people, and we were just finally getting to Day 1 of the official conference! To top off the morning, my wall socket had died in the middle of the night, so my phone only had a quarter-charge!
- Heading off to the Flash Forward, where all speakers give a 1 minute pitch of their talk, I quickly charged my phone in my friend's laptop. I wasn't about to attempt a day of GDC without my phone!
- From here, the day moved along quickly, starting with Hideo Kojima unveiling Metal Gear Solid V (and seeing a stunning talk on the photorealistic FOX Engine), to the Sound Design Demo Derby (which proved to be a very educational experience!), and more audio talks!
- After all the talks was the IASig (Interactive Audio Special Interest Group) Mixer, where I met even more audio guys. I was stunned, meeting more and more audio-focused people every night! I'm so used to the audio community being so small, that it was heart-warming to see so many people!
- Thursday is when my days started to meld together, as I was in a confused trance of “How long I have I been in San Francisco?” Every time I checked Facebook it seemed like the world before GDC was ages ago.
- After some great audio talks in the morning, I headed over to the IGDA Town Hall meeting, and then the Expo floor after that. I finally met up with Sonic Backgrounds interviewee Stosh Tzuyinski, and went to the RAD Game Tools and FMOD booths to catch up with friends I made last year.
- Thursday night was the 11th Annual GANG Awards, which I got to help set up! Met even more audio people, and saw Journey's Austin Wintory take home quite a bit of awards!
- After the awards was the GANG Awards after-party, which brought back fun memories of last year. The party was awesome, besides the fact that I forgot to buy a raffle ticket...and there were some amazing prizes. Next year!
- The week truly had become a blur by Friday, and the hostel was starting to feel like home.
- I kicked off the morning by going to a talk in the Design Track, and it blew my mind. The talk was on the UI of the whole Dead Space series, and it was amazing to see the Lead UI Designer talk about how and what they did to create the user interface. The part that blew my (and the rest of the audience's) mind, was the fact that all of Dead Space's UI was particle effects, and not static images!!
- After lunch and the IASig Town Hall meeting, I saw more audio talks, one of which was on FractOSC and its use of PureData!
- By the time 5pm rolled around, the talks had all officially ended, some people had already started heading home, and it was time to do the final meet up with the Scholars. We took our official group picture, and said goodbye to some of the group who had to head out. The rest of us that weren't leaving until the next day hung out for a bit, and then I left to meet up with Dren, for a great mentor/mentee wrap-up over some tea!
- I then headed out to meet up with the rest of the Scholars, who were hanging out at their hostel playing card games. We spent the rest of the night doing so, chatting, laughing, and making programming jokes. When the night came to a close, we said our goodbyes, and called the week a wrap.
- Saturday morning I took advantage of my last day in the city, and went to the Embarcadero to take pictures. I watched a street musician jam out to an awesome bucket/pot drumset, walked through a farmer's market, and snapped a nice Instragram of the Bay Bridge to wrap it all up.
- After a 9 hour drive back down the state, I made it home, and collapsed in my chair, exhausted, but happy with the whole week :)
A huge thank you to the IGDA Scholarship program, Luke Dicken, Heather Decker-Davis, Molly Maloney, Sheri Rubin, Dren McDonald, and everybody else who made this amazing opportunity possible! It was such a great week, and I look forward to seeing everybody again in the future!