The Moments: Homefront, WoW, Super Meat Boy and the Game Developers Conference

It was all the common words I could think of: awesome, deep, exciting, thrilling even. Cliches, yes. But they were also words that resonated.

If you eschewed most of the game demos as I did (heck, you’ll see them all at E3), the 25th Game Developers Conference in San Francisco was the most important to date — if you knew where to look. And to think this all began in Atari developer Chris Crawford’s San Jose living room! (This year, the conference boasted 19,000 people.)

Yes, there were dozens games to be seen by invitation only. I went to just two demos and spent most of my time at panel discussions and sessions. These many talks combine in the mind to create a kind of Disneyland for thinkers.

Writer Brandon Boyer riffed on the import of imagination to game making during the excellent Microtalk session. He made a potent analogy to David Foster Wallace, the briliant writer of Infinite Jest.

David Jaffe, the always loquacious developer of the Twisted Metal series, called for an end to long load times and hubris-filled logos that appear before games. He asked for a sleep mode in consoles so you don’t have to reboot after take a break. Dare to dream.

Nina H. Fefferman, an epidemiologist from Rutgers, talked energetically about how tracking a potent virus in World of Warcraft helped her in her research for real-life answers to disease.

Jayne Gackenbach, a thoughtful researcher from Grant MacEwan University, waxed on about how core gamers deal with nightmares. Especially salient was her study of military personnel and how they deal with stirring dreams. In some respects, it appeared that ardent gamers can deal more easily with nightmares than those who don’t gamer. NYGCC member Stu Horvath has a complete wrap up at Unwinnable.

And though MTV’s Russ Frushtick has written about this before, it was sad to encounter the roller coaster of emotions the Super Meat Boy guys had to endure during the creation of their game. One had a chronic illness and felt he was going to die from the constant stress.

Graeme Devine stressed simplicity and asked developers to think about the gamer’s experience first. The brilliant veteran who’s made games since he was a teen and who’s just left Apple to make games again, is a huge proponent of iPad games as game changers.

Donald Mustard gave conference goers a history of Chair Entertainment and a post mortem of Infinity Blade, the compelling sword fighting game that took the iPod Touch and iPad by storm recently. Mustard wouldn’t talk about Chair’s next game, however.

Homefront was everywhere outside the conference. There was a food truck with a Korean theme serving free food to attendees. There were posters at bus stops and in the subways. Sadly, THQ and GameStop released balloons bearing the Homefront logo, much to the consternation of San Franciscans, who thought they would pollute the Bay. It was indeed a flub, and posters began to be defaced. The situation probably won’t hurt Homefront sales, however.

These are just mere, short notes from a conference I’m still thinking about and will think about for the rest of the year. It was that important. Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. This salient conference had both.

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