Hey from Pillow Castle.

We’re GDC Hungover. Like, okay, not from alcohol or anything, not at all. Just — imagine you have to talk for 8 days straight. Our brains are mushy. They aren’t totally liquid yet — I’m able to type this at roughly half my normal speed — but they’re close to mush.

Why? Because GDC was awesome, that’s why. Awesome and exhausting. Our team has worked so hard for almost three months to get to this point, and it felt like the culmination of all of that happened over the course of a never-ending week of wonder.

Can you tell we aren’t jaded developers yet? (We hear that happens at GDC #3…)

Where to start…

We got into San Francisco Saturday Afternoon and took in the sights. We were stationed in the appropriately named Japantown Hotel Kabuki. It was a nice hotel a little further away from the conference than we liked, but it made up for it in amazing dollar stores and fresh sushi.

Monday was our first day at the conference. We attended lots of talks spread throughout, but the team spent a good amount of time in the IGF Track talks, which were full of inspiring indie developers talking about getting their ideas off the ground and into the hands of others. It is one thing to call yourself a game developer and go to school for it and do it in your spare time, but until you’re in a room full of a thousand other like-minded people, it really doesn’t sink in how real this thing can be. Wow. GDC.

Tuesday was more of the same. In-between talks we’ve been able to check out some awesome indie games and talk to a lot of their developers, like, straight up. Just walk up and say hello. And some of them have even heard of our game! Tomorrow we set up our IGF booth and the first day of terror begins. We don’t know what to expect exactly, but we’re excited and nervous at the same time.

Not only do we set up our booth tomorrow, but we also have to give a talk at an Intel showcase the day after. We’ve been practicing our presentation at the hotel in the evenings (apologies to the neighbors next door) and we felt pretty good about it. Little did we know what was coming…

Wednesday was just awesome. What more can we say. Person after person got to walk up to our little IGF booth, sit down, and play our game (mostly without problems!) The playtesting really paid off.

Not only were there just like, “normal” people coming to check out our game, but a lot of our favorite developers were there, too! And they wanted to play. What the hell.

There was a lot of great advice given from the likes of Chris Bell, Kyle Gray, Galactic Cafe, Lucas Pope, Alexander Bruce, Auriea Harvey, Cliff Bleszinski, and others. It was really weird to watch. And kind of scary. But the awesome kind of scary.

One thing we realized today was that our game is in a very early state for something like the IGF competition. We feel very lucky and honored to be here presenting, but a lot of the other IGF games were finished awesome products. It seemed kind of silly to be presenting next to them, but hell, it wasn’t like we were going to say no

Wednesday night was the IGF awards at the Game Developer’s Choice Awards. The team got to sit at a super swanky table full of super swanky people award show style. Xiao got to take a picture with Alexander Bruce. It was pretty awesome. And he’s a normal guy who seemed substantially awkward – YES! Just like us.

The bad news, I guess: We didn’t win “Best Student Game” — that went to the stupendously awesome game Risk of Rain, as it should have. I will admit, there was briefly a moment (around when we discovered an awkward typo on our IGF signage that read “winner”) where we thought we might have a shot at this thing. But that was hubris. And maybe some alcohol. Either way, we got to see our game up on the big screen! We got to drink a lot of wine! And we attended the first of many (we hope) awards shows for Museum in the future…

Thursday was a tired day, but we had to be even more on top of our game than we were on Wednesday. The crowd seemed twice as hungry to check out games, and many people wanted to experience the game after seeing it during the IGF awards ceremony the night before.

On top of that, we had to bust out early to give a presentation at the Intel University Showcase across the street. This showcase was put together by Intel to show what top game programs were doing with their technology — it was billed as a “grudge match” of sorts, and the winner would receive $10,000 of hardware for their school.

We went into it thinking our game was gonna blow the the whole thing away. Wooops.

Turns out there are programs out there (NOT NAMING NAMES) that spend a year or more working on games with up to 60 person teams. That’s pretty intense in comparison to the work the ETC (read: our team) does. The games that were being presented were near Triple A quality, and while they might not have been “cutting edge” by indie standards, they were all incredible games that seemed polished to a level of completeness that we could not come close to.

Couple that with NONE of the A/V equipment working during the showcase (Intel was yelling at the Hotel, the Hotel was yelling at the A/V company, the A/V company was plugging and unplugging things, etc.) The whole showcase, unfortunately for us, turned into a little bit of a farce, but we presented the game all the same and the audience seemed to enjoy it. We got to see some other great students games, and it gave us context for what the ETC is and where student projects should target in the future (more EGW, less Intel Showcase).

Friday. Last day of the conference. We were all pretty tired, but there were a few more very important missions to accomplish. Firstly: The Experimental Gameplay Workshop is the closing session of GDC, so Albert had to be MIA from 1:00pm onward to prepare for his presentation. Meanwhile, IGN had been teasing us with a video playthrough that they finally nailed down in the morning, which meant Allen had to go across town ALSO around 1:00PM to record the playthrough at IGN’s offices (which was awesome, BTW.)

Everyone planned to meet back at the EGW conference at 2:00PM to watch Albert close down the GDC conference… with one slight problem: we left behind some gear at the booth thinking that we would have ample opportunity to return to it after EGW. We were wrong.

The team got to see 20 incredibly inspirational games one right after the other, and Albert gave a great presentation of some of the advanced Museum of Simulation Technology ideas to over 1400 game developers from around the world. How freaking cool is that? We all collapsed in a heave of relaxation after the event ended and headed back to our booth to collect our stuff and call it an event.

Cue Metal Gear Solid “Alert” exclamation point: our stuff was gone! All of it! Including Allen’s famous green coat you’ve probably never seen him without. What the hell, right? Right. The team talked to a lot of really annoyed and unhelpful people who just wanted to go home, and eventually they convinced us that we too just wanted to go home. We had a successful event. Fuck the coat and cables. Beds were waiting.

We had one more day to relax in Japantown before boarding our flight back to freezing, snowy Pittsburgh. We’d like to say we spent it recapping the event and strategizing for the future, but mostly we were too tired to talk. The planning could come later.

People had said that GDC would take a lot out of us, but we had no idea what we were in for. It’s been a long semester, already, and the team is running very low on energy and motivation – not for lack of trying, but for lack of time sleeping. Once we get back to Pittsburgh we have about a month of school requirements to take care of and then we will be able to relax a little.

Starting with our halves presentation. Hrm… Monday sounds like a good day to worry about that…

-Pillow Castle