GDC 2011 reflections

Last week was very inspiring for me. I managed to attend five day’s worth of GDC talks and caught up with some old friends. The conference was huge as usual with record attendance of 19000 game industry professionals and students.

I won’t list all the talks I went to since there are just too many of them. Here are some general impressions from my own vantage point:

Classic gaming is getting more attention

I saw several postmortems of classic games,  including Pacman, Marble Madness, Doom and Pitfall.  I might even get to do one of these next year for Crystal Castles.  There was a lot of moaning and groaning about punchcards,  having to learn opcodes for the 6502,  and other very obsolete tech stuff.  Makes me wonder what we’ll laugh about in 20 years.  Will C++, Windows and PCs be relics of the past?

Wither Casual Games?

Just a couple of years ago we heard a lot about casual games.  This year not so much.  The concept of casual gaming seems to have been replaced by social gaming.  It wouldn’t surprise me if in a couple of years we see another shift in the industry as the public gets bored with it all and looks for something else.  Me,  I’m still a big believer in hard-core games, big games that take a while to digest.  At one of the talks it was mentioned that we designers should aim for making hobbies.  A real hobby keeps your interest for months or even decades,  not just five minutes.

Indies hitting the big-time

There were several great success stories about indies such as myself (only slightly younger) hitting the big-time.  Minecraft, Cave Story, Super Meat Boy all started with one or two developers doing it all.  It warms my heart to see that this has finally happened after a decade of game development having been dominated by large teams at big companies.

Where’s the 3D?

Yes,  there were some 3D demos,  and they looked pretty good.  By 3D I mean the stereoscopic 3D where you wear glasses,  or not for the Nintendo 3DS.  Still,  I was somewhat underwhelmed.  These 3D fads have come and gone every ten years or so ever since the fifties.  It still feels like a fad to me.  Then again,  a whole lot of people said that video games were a fad way back in 1983.  They were very wrong.


Unity had a big booth and a tutorial day.   The tutorial talks were very popular and filled up.  I did see one Unity talk given by EA about their experience with using Unity for Tiger Woods online.  The strange thing about that product is that the physics for the golf ball and the geometry of the golf courses are all handled by the servers,  with Unity basically just doing the display.


I’m really glad I went.  Innovation , creativity  and hard work are the keys to success.  It pays to research the industry,  to learn from you peers, and to make sure that your innovative idea hasn’t been done already.

About Franz Lanzinger

Franz Lanzinger is a classic video game developer with video game credits for Atari's coin-op Crystal Castles, Tengen Ms. Pacman, SNES Rampart, and the Gubble series. He has a degree in mathematics, wrote "Classic Game Design", a book about how to make classic video games, and is a professional pianist, accompanist and piano teacher.
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