What would happen if you took almost 200 people with an active interest in game development and provided a great location and an informal structure to self-organize around?
I had the opportunity to attend the third iteration of this quickly growing game development unconference. Organized by Darius Kazemi and Scott Macmillan it is likely the best bang for buck currently out there in the game development industry. Cost to attend was only $40 and included a great t-shirt, breakfast, and lunch! The best value of course was getting so many incredible professionals together to share their knowledge and experience on a wide range of game development topics.
The basic concept was that the morning started out with all the attendees in a large conference room and the moderators helped to gather possible topics for sessions onto a board at the front of the room. People raised their hands and called out the type of talk or topic they would either like to lead or that they hope someone else might lead. This first pass existed to provide everyone in the room a basic idea of what possible subjects people might be interested in.
Once this process completed the group adjourned to the accompanying hallway to allow people to write the potential talk titles on a secondary white board. Attendees then showed their support for multiple talks by taking a dry erase marker and leaving a tick mark to cast a vote next to topics of interest. The moderators culled the popular topics onto a third and final board–the “big board” which was to act as the final schedule for the conference.
Topics I saw posted ranged from Level Editor Technology Demos, Women and Sexuality in Games, Interactive Fiction via Inform7, Combat Level Design, Serious Games That Are Fun, Prototyping Games, Indie Game Marketing, How to Approach the Press and Media, and countless more. I was pretty amazed by how many subjects were represented.
The morning session basically filled out the conference schedule up until lunch. The afternoon slots were left free so that popular topics spawned by the earlier sessions could be explored later on in the day. The types of session styles varied as well. There were the more traditional lecture style with a single person or team speaking about a topic and there were round-table discussions that were far more inclusive. The unconference culture was encouraging people to vote with their feet. If you didn’t feel the topic ended up being of use or interest you should get up and leave to find something else. Session speakers were cautioned to not feel offended if people moved about as they tried to find the right topic.
For the most part I think the conference logistics worked out pretty well given how many people were attending. There were some obvious growing pains going on and simple personal space constraints making voting and placing topics on the secondary white board quite difficult at times. This can all be addressed pretty easily next year by just having a second or third staging board for proposed topics. Growing pains are a good kind of problem to have.
I think the other thing that caught me off guard was that I was in a bit too much of a receptive mode for an unconference. Some of this could be attributed to lack of sleep but I think it hadn’t really sunk in how DIY this conference was.
I should have proposed some talks of my own but instead I was relying more on the posting of others. This wasn’t so bad in that I did find sessions of interest and round tables where I got to share my knowledge but I am going to be more prepared next year to propose some of my own sessions.
I found that the Flash game and business topics were not represented very well at all and it was only my own fault for not bringing some of my experience to the table. I found out later that there was actually a good bit of interest in what I might have shared. I look forward to giving back more next year!
Some of my favorite highlights from GameLoop were getting to check out Retro Affect’s current level editor from their game Snapshot. I also attended a useful session by Pete Jones from Retro Affect on automating the 2d animation pipeline using PhotoShop. After the conference a good time was had when 40 plus game developers headed over to the Cambridge Brewing Company for some rowdy beer drinking and food. Once we wrapped up dinner it was time for board games and chatting over at MIT’s GAMBIT game lab. Gambit is used as a game development internship program for MIT and it is even rumored to have been designed to withstand a zombie attack!
All told GameLoop was definitely a win. I met a lot of really cool game developers on Saturday and look forward to strengthening those contacts in the future. Boston has an incredible game development scene going on and I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface. Come on GameLoop 2011!