The GDC Experience of an AMC Tech Artist

Andrei Dănescu, AMC Tech Artist, went to Game Developers Conference 2019. He’s back with industry stories filtered through his sense of curiosity and passions. 

Reason for travel?


What’s a GDC?

Game Developers Conference, it’s an annual event where studios and developers gather to share …

Approved. Next in line!

The US Visa officer is not much of a gamer, I think.

Game Developers Conference San Francisco 2019 is one beast of an event, bringing together over 29.000 industry professionals (new record), 550 exhibitors and over 780 lectures, panels, tutorials and workshops on everything about games. This year was held on March 18-22.
It is geared towards how games are made and what services tech companies and studios offer to help produce them, rather than what is the hot new IP coming up from id or EA. For that, there’s PAX, E3 and other conferences. But rest assured there is no shortage of entertainment, because the annual IGF (Independent Games Festival) and GDC Awards, as well as the IGF Floor are proud jewels in the conference’s treasure trove. For the first couple of days you get access to sponsored talks and big announcements from industry giants like Epic, Unity, Nvidia, Sony and Microsoft, and depending on the pass type, full-day workshops and tutorials.

Then comes the third day, and before the grand opening, the Expo Floor gates can barely hold back the masses gathered to set foot in the land of booths, exclusive presentations and hands-on demos with the latest tech. And of course the swag… I understand now why they let you take two bags on intercontinental flights to US.

GDC, Day 1

Day one finds me pushing through the jet lag towards Moscone South Hall to get my badge. Walking, of course. I want to acclimate to the supersize way of doing things in America, whether it’s buildings, streets, cars, food servings or conferences.

After the required formalities, I set off to see the talks by Autodesk (Max & Maya 2019 improvements/new features), Amazon (voice controlled games, Lumberyard, back-end services) and HTC Vive (new VR tech and realtime body tracking)

It’s like going back to university, where you have this giant room with almost 200 people and some person is sharing knowledge and is trying to get you excited for what he’s talking about. Only now it’s about games and game engines and not quantum mechanics or numerical methods. Much easier task for the speaker.

By the time the last talk is finished for the day, I realize I’ve eaten precisely two bagels and drank 2L of coffee. No bueno, must conserve strength for the whole week. So I go to scavenge some dinner and then directly to sleep so I can recharge for tomorrow.

GDC, Day 2

Day two, jet lag’s a bit better now. Today Google announces something big, so I rush to the South Hall only to find people sitting on the floor with smartphones/laptops and watching the livestream. Weird people, don’t they know they can just walk into room 155 around the cor… aaaaand it’s full. I scooch over to some Norwegian folks watching the presentation on their laptop and witness the announcement of Stadia, a streaming platform that according to Google will “change gaming as we know it”. Time will tell.

To my disappointment, the same situation occurs with the talks from Substance … rooms are full. But I get to perform the most important activity at GDC while waiting in line, which is networking. Meet an artist here, talk to some dev there, exchange knowledge and opinions (preferably also business cards) and the day doesn’t feel so wasted anymore.

I did catch one of the Unity tech talks and saw their new Shader Graph in action. I also got a peek at the workflow Jonathan Benainous used for his amazing art pieces made in Substance Designer. Cool.

GDC, Day 3

Day three. “Release the Kraken!” I hear a volunteer yell as the nervous security people open the stairway access and jump to the side of the human wave streaming down into the expo floor. It was a marathon. It challenged me both physically (I walked 15 km, rarely sitting down) and mentally, because I had to filter the onslaught of information and try and separate a huge area I’ve never seen before into manageable chunks.

Unity, Unreal, Intel, Sony, Nvidia, Google, Twitch and many more had huge booths with PCs or consoles running the latest games and tech demos. I spent most of my time wandering through these small “ecosystems” with their own layout and theme.

Epic’s vibe was more casual with the business talks happening at the second floor (yes they had a multistorey booth… unreal, right?) while the ground level had physics engine tech demos, live micro-talks, T-Shirts & popcorn. Lovely!

Unity was a bit more tech-oriented with discussion corners everywhere on various features of their engine, displaying their own tech demos on a huge screen, but also showcasing some of the more successful games made on their platform (i.e. Subnautica)

Substance had a tall red pillar in the center of their (comparatively) small booth that you could see from afar, like an objective marker in a game. Quite the objective it was indeed, since I had a chance for a hands-on demo with Alchemist and Painter’s newest features from the man himself – Wes McDermott, integrations product manager for the Substance suite.

I tried to talk with as many people as I could and learn about what will be hot this year in terms of tech and tools, but you just can’t cover everything in a day…Time for sleep.

GDC, Day 4

Day four – another marathon. Checked off a few remaining items from yesterday and gently stepped out of the shadow of the giants nested in the main areas of the Expo, and into IGF territory.

Every single one of the devs in the indies zone had something amazing to show you, and they all wanted you to just “stay a while and listen”, play their game and give them feedback. I was blown away by the creativity of the people in the innovative controller section. Their “tech” featured bathroom plungers, a paper-eating robot, a couch, a table made from mirror parts, a custom wooden actuator for a 2D platformer and so many more wacky designs you could spend a week playing with each one.

There was also a retro area complete with CRT TVs for the full nostalgia blast, a music/visual/writing corner where you could express your creativity or show off your skills and leave your business card. And a full VR/AR area.

Time flew by and I couldn’t even feel the pain in my feet anymore. I only felt joy and gratitude for being so lucky to find a place in this industry that is full of innovation and talented individuals.

Last Day of GDC 2019

Last day is a half day for GDC since it closes early. I attend some talks in the morning and take one last stroll through the expo. All the people at the booths seem more energized than ever, probably because it is their last chance to show off their products/games to the public. I manage to collect a decent amount of loot for my fellow artists back at AMC (Sorry guys, only one bottle opener with Substance’s mascot, and I’m keeping it so you don’t have to fight over it ! … I’m thoughtful like that) and head for the airport.

I board the plane and as it takes off I look at my notebook where I scribbled some thoughts from all the talks and the things I’ve seen, wondering how I will relay my experience back home. Maybe I’ll start with some witty exposition and tell them about the ants in my hotel room, then show them some pictures from the conference and how I spent most of the time waiting in line for different things. Maybe rant about the food being too pricey and how you kind of default to bagels & the free coffee, because all you need is games right?

But I’m sure I’ll find a way to piece all these things together. I close my notebook and inflate my pillow I bought from the airport. It lets out the air with a sad whizz. It’s punctured. I look at the passenger to the left and notice he is profoundly asleep. He left his GDC badge around his neck and I know he won’t wake up soon because he is exhausted, like me. So I smile, lean on his pillow (he has a premium velvety one) and fall asleep dreaming about making gorgeous art for my beloved games.

Andrei Dănescu, AMC Tech Artist