The Four Year Drought Ends: GDC 2018

General / 29 March 2018

In the sad, stupid way that life works, it’s appropriate that I got sick after this year’s GDC. In the past, I’ve returned from the conference with, at most, a sniffle. I have a pretty excellent immune system and usually figure it’s strong enough to get me through most germ infested conventions. I haven’t been wrong. That’s the way it goes though. You’re not wrong until you are. I was wrong this time. I think it was less the crowds and more about my choices surrounding those crowds that led me to my current diminished state.

  1. My flight out of Philly was delayed significantly due to weather, so by the time I got in (2AM Pacific) I opted to sleep at the airport until it made sense for me to get to the city. I slept MAYBE two total hours of the 4 I was there. What a way to start a day.
  2. I chose to stay in a hostel. It was nice! But it was dorm living. Dorms have issues. In this case, it was the hard mattress and sleeping on the top bunk.
  3. I walked everywhere, and on Thursday that might not have been the best choice. Thursday was wet, cold, and windy. I did not dress 100% appropriately for the weather that day. I’m convinced this is what did me in.
  4. Drinking never helps the immune system.
  5. I was under-fed, again mostly on Thursday.

This led to exhaustion, which is what I thought my leg and back pain was on Friday as I drug myself to the airport early in the morning. But nope. That was the onset of a brutal sinus infection and fever that laid me out for an entire weekend plus. I’ve been on antibiotics since mid-day Monday and I’m feeling much better, but I’m still less than 100%. I want to go to the gym, but my body is definitely saying no. It’s killing my progress and I feel my body just slowly atrophying.

Was GDC worth it? Yea. Absolutely. But maybe next time I should behave like a 30 year old and not a college kid.

Finding Meaning

I had a few reasons to go to GDC this year, but the main reason I honed in on leading up to the conference was pretty concrete: find out how other studios used contractors like me. I wanted to make connections and see if mid to large studios used remote artists or temporary, highly skilled and specialized contractors to ship games, much like Bluepoint used myself and a handful of other artists to ship Shadow of The Colossus. As I started talking to the indie studios that surrounded the Epic Games booth, the two HR representatives from Sony that I met with, and others who I met through different events or mutual friends, I came to a sobering realization: I couldn’t define myself. For a sole proprietor who’s looking for contracts, that’s a very bad look.

The struggle I had most often looked like this:

“Hi I’m Dan”

“Hi Dan, I’m so and so”

Talk a bit about what so and so does, what my past experience is

“So Dan, are you looking for a job?”

“Well, umm…err, yes and no…it’s difficult to explain”

Proceed to word vomit what, at it’s core, is “yes but not on-site but also not quite right now”.

It is difficult to explain. Most people, even in an industry like gaming which moves quickly to adapt to new technologies and working methodologies, still stand by the old view of being employed by someone somewhere as the end goal. That is not what I have done for the last several years. While I worked on-site at Bluepoint, in practice it is no different than my current work on the VR Early Access game Shadowcore or my past ‘gun for hire’ work on LawBreakers or Defiance. I am creating content for use in YOUR game under a contract where the content I make IS YOURS. I am not YOUR employee.

I’m being intentional with my phrasing above-the new tax laws have some limitations as it relates to who claims the new Pass Through Taxation benefits and I’m attempting to clarify that I manufacture (create) content. 

Because the previous paragraph is often considered a “stop gap” solution for new graduates or people between jobs, it’s never really considered a true employment end goal. My friends, that is where I failed. I lost sight of what I’m trying to do-to be a contractor who works remotely or, for the right price, on-site, to ship a game. You don’t have to worry about me stressing out about being hired, or about benefits, or anything like that. I’m here to ship your game, be paid appropriately, and then peace out when the contract ends. Instead of trying to distill that down to a sentence, I was distracted by shiny lights, friends in great jobs, and my past desires.

Expanding on this point, specifically those past desires, would dovetail this into a blog that should be it’s own. Suffice to say, my inability to share effectively what I was looking for professionally at the conference is complex and personal.

If GDC 2018 did one thing, it’s solidify the notion that I need to re-identify with the greater meaning of what I do and to distill that down into a single, pitch-able sentence. Without that, I’m a deer in headlights.


One of the best things about GDC is being able to re-connect with old friends. The past years I went, I used it as a chance to chat up old Sony Bend co-workers. This year, with that team working on Days Gone, I focused on meeting some other cool people.

I’ve been working with the team since 2014 as a writer, and as of the past year+ I’ve been a member of their Slack Group. So, they kind of sort of like me.  I have met Greg before, but to kick off GDC I got to finally meet Tanner Kalstrom and Arvin Moses. I spent a good portion of Wednesday hanging out with them and we briefly went to Unity’s party before sulking off to a corner bar to drink and chill with Dan from Allegorithmic and to talk shop. I had a lot of fun with the group and it was great to finally meet the majority of the core team in person.

Thursday I re-connected with Anthony Garcellano. We met back in 2012 or so as he was looking to break in to the industry proper while I was looking to get a job post Sony. Anthony is now at Hardsuit Labs in Seattle and is doing well. He’s a super connected dude who’s one of the nicest guys around. If you need a guy who posts silly selfies, he’s your man.

After YEARS of knowing him via Twitter, Facebook, and Polycount, I finally got to meet Rogelio Delgado in person! Rogelio is another super awesome dude and a great artist. Our paths have never directly crossed in person, but out on the internet we’ve always been in touch. He started at WB in Boston after I left, and then TOOK MAH JERB at Funcom in North Carolina. We were both in the running for an art job there in 2014, and he got it. After Rogelio was laid off down there, I hooked him up with an HR rep for Bungie and sent him my examples of what NOT to do on their art test and he’s been kicking ass ever since at all manners of high end AAA studios. He and I hung out at the ArtStation Party where we randomly met up with some former coworkers from WB Turbine of all places.

Thursday was a great example of what happens when you just venture out on your own and work your personal little network. I met some internet friends in real life, met their amazingly talented friends, and had a great time.

Highlights of The Show

  • Houdini: I initially wasn’t going to spend any time at Houdini demos but SHIT am I glad I did. Houdini looks like it’s ready for game prime time. I know it’s been used in some specific circumstances before, but what I saw…I would love to dig into it more. It’s on my list of software to check out ASAP.
  • Epic Steals the Show: Epic had two booths setup on the show floor, one for Unreal Engine and one for Fortnite and indie games using Unreal. It was AWESOME. After 1pm, Epic also gave out some pretty awesome beers. The real party, as Chance put it when I was introduced by Tanner, was on the show floor.
    • In addition, the Real Time Ray Tracing demos by Nvidia and Epic were outstanding. They aren’t going to be in games for the next several years (they ran on 4 Volta Cards in Parallel) but the future isn’t that far away…
  • Crypto is everywhere and it’s dumb still.
  • Unity 2018 looks great…in a vacuum. It’s still behind Unreal in terms of rendering features and usability. BUT, the new lightmap baking looks outstanding.
  • Everyone has a Marketplace. Sketchfab has a Beta, Artstation is running a closed Alpha, Unreal, Unity, you name it everyone is selling something. And I’ve been slowly trying to get in that game. Now it’s time I dive in.

Final Take Away

When I went to GDC in 2014, it was to find out if Freelance was the way of the future. It was. Tools became cheap, the industry was in a weird funk, and the indie revolution was in high gear. 2018 is a different world. It’s the world of the marketplace and indie saturation. It’s the world of more tech than you could possibly imagine but no time to use it. And its the world where AAA studios can be a choosy as ever as talent continues to flood the market. I’ve survived by being flexible enough to change gears as needed, yet sturdy enough to never quit on my goals no matter how rough it can be. I’ve been slower to shift gears since I got back from Austin, for some good reasons. Life happens (even if some people pretend it doesn’t). Now I think it’s time to get back up to speed.