GDC 2009: Vlogging the show floor

CryEngine 3, WarioWare: Snapped, DSi, the N-Gage (!), and lots of people in a hurry filled San Francisco's Moscone Center for this year's game-maker insider summit.

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SAN FRANCISCO--For years, the 2009 Game Developers Conference was the smarter little brother to the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The event was designed to bring together the often-unbelievably intelligent and artistic people who make games to exchange ideas and best practices to further hone their craft. It was never meant for public consumption but rather was tailor-made to the industry's cognoscenti and illuminati.

The E3/GDC dichotomy changed in late 2006, however, when the Entertainment Software Association announced it was scaling down E3 from a 60,000-person neon spectacle to a 5,000-person insider trade summit. A few months earlier, GDC organizer CMP Media (now called Think Services) announced that its last show's attendance had topped 18,000 people and that it was permanently relocating to San Francisco's Moscone Center because it had simply outgrown San Jose's convention center.

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Though E3 2009 is being touted as a 40,000-strong return to the past, for now, GDC is the biggest game-industry event in the US. (The largest public event is the Penny Arcade Expo, with more than 58,000 tickets sold.) It remains, however, geared toward game professionals. Therefore, the show floor isn't nearly as flashy as that of E3 or the Consumer Electronics Show. However, there still were a good number of things to see on the show floor--hence this virtual tour of the GDC venue.

NORTH HALL
The Moscone Center's North Hall is where all the main exhibits are, with a variety of hardware, games, and other technologies on display. Upon entering, the first thing a visitor encounters is Microsoft's gamers' lounge, which had a number of PC and Xbox 360 games on display.

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Also on hand was the sleek new Xbox 360 dev kit, which will be released this summer. It boasts 1GB of RAM--twice that of civilian 360--and a sexy metallic blue and black finish. Instead of being green, the ring of light on the console is blue, and since it boasts the new "Jasper" circuitry inside, it won't get the Red Ring of Death.

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After taking the escalator to the basement--sorry, lower level...

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Attendees enter the main show floor. The first thing they will encounter is the N-Gage booth--yes, the N-Gage. Nokia is still trying to flog this very dead horse, which has been rebranded as a smartphone development platform rather than a plastic taco, which requires a toolkit and an engineering degree to change its games.

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To help out, Nokia hired about a half-dozen startlingly fit spokesmodels, stuffed them into impossibly tight Logan's Run-esque white spandex body stockings, and perched them atop patent leather platform heels only a pole dancer could love. Despite their uncomfortable getups, they looked bored to tears, since other than the occasional ogler, the N-Gage booth was almost completely abandoned at all times.

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Nintendo, too, had spokesmodels, albeit in far more tasteful and modest getups. But it wasn't their attractive smiles that had droves of people packing the Big N's booth.

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There, the main draw was the hardware on display. There was a wall of Wiis running Punch-Out and several other games.

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More importantly, visitors could hold, touch, and play the DSi handheld, which his US stores on April 5.

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All the DSis--which were attached to either a table or the wrist of a spokesmodel--were running the camera-enabled party game WarioWare: Snapped. Despite the humiliation suffered by a demonstrator during Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's keynote address...

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...One unlucky GameSpot correspondent had to try it himself. The results were no less embarrassing:

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Across the aisle was Sony's booth, which had a row of PlayStation 3s playing currently available games, such as Little Big Planet.

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The line of PSPs featured several unreleased games, including Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, due out later this year. Toward the rear, Sony was showing off a technical demo of Phyre Engine, the new free middleware the company is giving out to help promote PS3 development.

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A few feet away from the Sony booth was that of German developer Crytek. The developer of the slick PC shooters Crysis and the original Far Cry was touting its just-announced CryEngine 3 middleware, which can also run on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. To lure prospective customers, the company had a two-minute demo clip showing the engine running on both consoles--and this video doesn't do the impressive footage justice.

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Behind Crytek's booth was the Independent Games Festival area, where attendees could play both the winners and losers of the previous night's Independent Games Awards.

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Those included Excellence in Game Design winner Musiac Box, a combination music and puzzle game:

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And Student Showcase winner Tag! The Power of Paint, which has players spraypaint strips that launch them from rooftop to rooftop, Mirror's Edge-style.

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SOUTH HALL
Across Howard Street is the Moscone Center's South Hall. Its central Esplanade Room is where all the big events are held, including Satoru Iwata's and Hideo Kojima's keynote addresses and the Game Developers Conference Awards. To see extensive video footage of those events, click on the link stories above. The clip below conveys a sense of the Esplanade Room's vastness.

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WEST HALL
Though it is where the majority of knowledge is disseminated via GDC's dizzying array of sessions, the West Hall was pretty low on spectacle. Its most notable feature was the throngs of people bustling about, going from session to session, pausing only to pounce on the tables of free lunches put out each midday.

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Thrilling, eh? However, for those attending GDC to try to get a job, the West Hall held the most important place at the expo--the recruiting fair. Inside yet another massive room on the ground floor, a range of developers and publishers with internal studios were taking applications.

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Besides the cash-flush Activision Blizzard, which wooed potential employees with a Guitar Hero stage:

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Curiously, companies that had recently seen massive layoffs--like THQ and Sony Computer Entertainment--were also actively recruiting at GDC. Hopefully by the time GDC 2010 rolls around next March, they'll be in better straits.

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