What you need to see at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference:

By Matt Sarrel
Just in case you didn’t know, this year’s GDC takes place at the Moscone Center from Monday, March 28 to Friday March 4th, 2011.  This is the most well attended (and useful) conference for game developers every year and this year a few special things are taking place that I’m really looking forward to.  In addition to private play sessions, exhibitor meetings, and parties, there are some great tutorials on the discipline-specific schedule in programming, design, art, audio, business and management, and production.

– In his first-ever major North American appearance, Access Games‘ Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro will present a talk on his work making the cult console title Deadly Premonition, explaining “his unique method of architecting games” with reference to the open world horror survival game . The in-depth talk, which will be simultaneously translated from Swery’s native Japanese, “touches upon the 7 points to check if your game’s storyline might already be dead”, also focusing on the detail and interactivity which contributed to the Deadly Premonition experience – one which I thought was essentially a cool story and concept that was poorly implemented (poor camera angles and video quality).

Another lecture that sounds good is ‘Prototype through Production: ProGuitar in Rock Band 3′, presented by Harmonix’s Jason Booth and Sylvain Dubrofsky.  The focus of this talk is how to go from concept to product, specifically “how do you go from an insane idea like ‘Lets teach non-guitarists how to play a real guitar in Rock Band 3?’ to a product in 20 months?’  They “will detail the process used to rapidly prototype this concept and evaluate ideas, through initial prototypes to user testing and final production”, revealing how the team “applied traditional game-play metaphors and techniques to the process of teaching” along the way.

Folks from Pixar are giving several talks, including, ‘Story Images and Character Arcs’, from the Bay Area animation company’s Matthew Luhn, who will discuss “how you can unlock forgotten images and memories to inspire new stories and characters”  and “why, or why not, you may need a character arc for your characters, and if so, how to create successful character arcs to compliment your stories”, using the new toys from Pixar’s Toy Story 3 to demonstrate the use of character arcs, and break down the inspiration behind the new toys.

I always find the postmortem lectures really interesting.  These go into deep detail about games that have already come out and what worked and what didn’t work as far as the project was concerned.  As someone who has run his fair share of software development projects, learning how to run a more efficient project is always key for success.  There’s a bunch of AI related lectures that I want to hit also, plus a few lectures about games and health (either health effect or games used to improve health).  That’s always been a fascinating topic for me personally as I started my career doing IT in a medical research setting, and at one point worked with publishers to donate Nintendo GBA and DS games to help kids relax while getting cancer treatment and dialysis.  It’s a great topic because it smacks all the game-haters right in the face to see the good we can do as a community.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8ZasJP4nB4&w=640&h=390]