This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ken Levine, creator of System Shock 2, BioShock, Thief and just about every other game you should've played in the past 10 years. He'd finished a talk earlier in the week on storytelling, and was gracious enough to chat about life with Take 2 (he'll never be a joiner), his take on compelling narrative and how World of Warcraft may improve your virility.
"Being creative is easy," Hocking said. "The courage to create something that challenges people ... that's hard." He said he was talking to a friend, a programmer, about games who said to him "Dude ... it's code. We can do anything."
Stationed in the Intel Lounge, three floors and another half mile away from Team Humidor's home base, was a gentleman named Rahul Lakhote, CEO of Flight Motion Simulators, and he was showing off the coolest gaming chair ever.
He calls it the Dreamflyer, and it's as close as you get to an F-16 cockpit into your living room.
I know I'm not the only one who thought it: If someone were to make a Guitar Hero that used a real guitar, I'd only leave my house for gigs after I turned myself into the next Steve Vai. Lo and behold, I ask and GDC delivers.
"If we were an independent developer," said Haden Blackman, LucasArts Project Lead, "any one of those risks would have raised huge doubts to a publisher." But not to Lucas, who basically said, and I paraphrase: "Eh, go for it."
In a more interesting world, Ray Kurzweil, GDC's guest keynote speaker for Thursday, would be the God Emperor of everything, ruling the universe form the comfort of his throne on the spice planet, predicting the future, then pulling the strings to bring about vast evolutionary changes. Sadly, we don't live in that world.
Inside (like everywhere else) Yahtzee, Zero Punctuation and The Escapist were the talk of the engagement. A clip of the GDC Awards video was playing on one of several TVs, and everyone wanted to meet the man behind the voice-over and the silly, animated characters over the yellow background. This never stops being odd to observe, but I was glad to see Yahtzee warming up to the idea of being famous. Being dug by chicks helps.
"I've worked at Cartoon Network for eight years," said Chris Waldron, FusionFall's executive producer, "and this game has been my dream for quite a while now.
You probably haven't heard of these fellows, and you've surely never heard of their games. But they don't care. They aren't doing it for you. Occasionally one of them will break out and sell out and make it big, but for the most part these people are artists. They make games that push boundaries and uphold themes and all of that kind of crap that makes you want to tell them to get a life - and a job.
Host Jason Rubin's delivery was drier than an off-year pinot, but he gets points for trying. "I'm entering the Billy Crystal stage of my career," he said, upon taking the stage, and then spent the next hour proving his point. I try hard not to be disrespectful, but man, when you're upstaged at your own show by a voiced-over cartoon, it's maybe time to reconsider.
We were back stage at G4's stage area, just off in the left corner of the Lobby of Moscone North, waiting for somebody to get something set up so somebody else could start rolling film on Adam Sessler interviewing Yahtzee. Yahztee had been through makeup already (which took all of 30 seconds, apparently he has very good skin) and some strange guy had run a microphone up the back of his shirt, and now we were waiting.
"I pissed off a lot of people on the project because my storytelling came in late, " said Ken Levine, towards the end of his GDC lecture, referring to rumors, apparently true, he'd alienated a large portion of the 2K staff who worked with him on the critically and commercially successful BioShock. "I think it's important for a writer to ... let the game inform the story."
"As the new guy there's an expectation I'll come out with a new tattoo," said Schappert, referring to Peter Moore's habit of showing his guns off on stage at Microsoft Keynotes. "Sadly I have no tats."
It's been a long road for Silicon Knights' Too Human. A disappointing showing at E3 led to delays, which led to suggestions the game was being dropped, which led to a lawsuit against Epic Games, makers of the Unreal Engine, licensors of the technology Silicon Knights was trying to use to make their game.
Silicon Knights v. Epic Games hits the courthouse soon, and the game, Too Human, might not be too far behind.
I'm sailing down through the clouds over the San Francisco Bay, and my first thought isn't about how great it is to be back in town for GDC, it's "Oh God, I hope we don't die."
After two hours stranded on the runway in Chicago, and another five in the air, all I want is to feel solid ground beneath my feet one more time before the heavenly above reclaims me, but looking out the window of the plane, and seeing nothing but gray, I'm not sure I'll get the chance.