Coming to the end of an impossibly winding and scenic road, there's a nature preserve encompassing 960 acres of wild Texas hill country. It's called Canyon of the Eagles, because in the winter, bald eagles nest there.
Up the hill and well past the gate are the lodge, administration building, dining hall and a dozen cabins. The buildings are set on a bluff, which overlooks Lake Buchanan on three sides.
This is Project Horseshoe.
If it is an unusual setting for a game industry trade event, it is because Project Horseshoe is unusual. Unlike other conferences, attendance is invite only, and its numbers are always limited to somewhere between 30 and 50 people each year.
And that creates a completely different dynamic. The cabins are spare - no televisions here. It naturally follows that attendees don't use cell phones the way they do at other conferences. They do have them, but breaks don't turn into mass teleconferences.
These people, after all, are here to change the world.
George Sanger, Linda Law and Teresa Avallone - the same people who have been doing Project BBQ for years - started Project Horseshoe last year. But BBQ is about innovations in game audio, and Horseshoe is about solving game design's toughest problems.
Sanger, who was given the IGDA Award for Community Contribution this year, is a veteran of the industry and a colorful fellow - most biographies mention that he's tall, wears sometimes outrageous western wear and has an endless supply of stories. What they fail to mention is the stories are true and as practical as they are whimsical. For example, Sanger decided to purchase a 1958 Rolls Royce as the family car after comparing it to the cost of a Volkswagen.
A lot of people in the videogame industry are smart, and Sanger does have a keen mind beneath the feathered cowboy hat. But he's also got a genuine enough heart that when he stands in front of 29 people to deliver a pep talk, they can accept it at face value.
In many ways, Project Horseshoe is about face value. Within just minutes of arriving, people are inside the lodge drinking iced tea and talking as animatedly as if they were old friends.