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Tales from the Game Developers Conference...

Dave and Laurie had the opportunity to attend the 2002 Game Developer's Conference in San Jose.  What was meant to be an educational opportunity turned into a wonderful experience and a chance to meet many people from many areas of the industry.  At times, it was to put a face with a name from GameDev.  Other times, new people were met who are now names to communicate or even work with from around the country for the next year.  All in all, despite leaving sunny San Jose to land in the teeth of a raging winter storm, the trip was pleasant, eventful, educational, fun, and a success!

Dave was able to go out for the first two days of the conference and attend a pair of all day tutorials: "Effective Project Management" and "AI Behavior Representation Techniques for Computer Games".  The project management tutorial featured Randy Angle, currently the CEO/President of Pronto Games, and William Dwyer, Producer at Stormfront Studios for the upcoming "Lord of the Rings" title.  It was a fantastically engaging day with lots to offer regarding the early product life cycle and how to approach each phase.

The AI tutorial, by John Laird and Michael van Lent was exceptional in its detailed approach to various AI techniques that are available to game designers.  These included Finite State Machines (FSMs), Decision Trees, Neural Networks, Genetic Algorithms, Rule-based Systems, Planning Systems and John Laird's own AI language, SOAR.  They tried to use the same situation of an action game to tie all the different concepts together so that the listener could compare and contrast the different approaches.  All in all, it was a very educational experience by two very brilliant men.

Laurie joined him for the final three days of the conference so that she could attend many of the numerous sessions on the Business & Legal track.  Some of the sessions that Dave and Laurie attended were by hosted by various figures in the game development community.  American McGee gave a post-mortem on his recent title "Alice" that was refreshing in its candor and wisdom.  They also attended a session entitled "Big Huge Games: A year (or two) in the life of a startup" which featured Brian Reynolds - maker of Civilization II and Alpha Centauri - and his partner, Tim Train.  It was a fantastic session describing how they set up their shop from the company culture to the pay scale.

AI was the theme of the GDC for Dave, who went on to participate at six different AI roundtables over the course of the next three days.  Three of them were led by "the three AI guys"... Steven "Ferretman" Woodcock (host of GameAI.com), Neil Kirby, and Eric Dybsand.  The other three, entitled "AI in Strategy Games" were moderated by Denis Papp, Lead Software Engineer at Timegate Studios (makers of "Kohan").  Many other notables from a variety of companies attended most, if not all of the sessions, such as Bob Scott of Stainless Steel Studios (makers of "Empire Earth"), Christopher Port of Red Storm Entertainment (makers of "Rainbow 6" and "Rogue Spear").

Dave also had the opportunity to spend some time with various members of the GameDev community.  He was fully expecting to run into Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora - Staff Writer and Newsletter Editor for GameDev who was attending the AI tutorial as well.  Drew introduced Dave to the faces behind the names of Dave "Myopic Rhino" Astle and Ernest "TANSTAAFL" Pazera.

Just when the brains were about to burst out Dave's and Laurie's respective heads like a bad aneurism, the week came to a close at the annual AI Programmers Dinner hosted by "the 3 AI guys".  There were upwards of 40-50 people there this year.  Strangely, after getting his fill of AI for the week and closing it off with a dinner of AI folks, Dave could not help having AI techniques invade one of his dreams at the hotel that Saturday night.  (This is serious, folks!)

All in all, there were many new friends and potential business contacts made - many of them falling into both categories!  Dave and Laurie are looking forward to working/playing with many of them in the future... and definitely seeing them again at next year's Game Developer's Conference!

Dave outside the 2002 GDC
Dave outside the 2002 GDC


Dave pondering the AI tutorial
(photo by Drew Sikora - courtesy of gamedev.net)


The "3 AI guys"
Steve Woodcock, Neil Kirby
and Eric Dybsand


Dave mugging with
Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora


One of the Blizzard programmers (center) at an AI roundtable
(photo by Drew Sikora - courtesy of gamedev.net)


Dennis Papp demonstrating how
good AI can make your hand
move really, really fast!
(photo by Drew Sikora - courtesy of gamedev.net)


AI Programmers Dinner
(more pictures here)


New friends
Jeromy Walsh and Lindsay

 


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