Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2001
Here Comes Clownsex!
As up to seven of you out there are already aware of, I have been out of town for the past five days or so, attending the luxurious Game Developer Conference in San Jose, California. The GDC is what would happen if E3 had a hangover, stumbled out of bed at 2:30 am while drooling streams of fluorescent spittle, and decided to pass out inside an unbelievably expensive city. I was invited to attend the convention by the various wonderful people at nVidia who I will start alienating in just a few paragraphs, ensuring yet another company will refuse to invite me to their senior prom. Let's get on to the quick recap detailing the wonders of GDC 2001 from the perspective of a failed webmaster who cries himself to sleep every night.
DAY ONE: WEDNESDAY
Will Wright showing off an exclusive screenshot from his upcoming game, "SimNerd". Photos stolen from Gamasutra, which actually believes in factchecking articles before printing them.
All the booths were setting up shop on Wednesday, creating mass chaos on the show floor. As is required in all "professional" events, surly union members were stomping around and frowning at pieces of paper which could either be layouts of the GDC floor or directions to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken. Surly union members, by law, are only able to work a combined total of 14 minutes per day, even longer if you count the time it takes them to fish their tools out of the toilet bowl after they lean over and forget they left their toolbelt on. Labor laws in the United States used to be very lax and abusive, with bosses requiring their employees to work up to 16 hours a day without breaks or time to discuss the previous night's "Honeymooners" episode around the water cooler. Then the unions came in and decided, "hey, if these huge companies are going to make people work 16 hours a day, we should at least get some of their money for no good reason," and began to do so. The labor unions soon began to realize that they could swindle even more money if their members stopped dying from exhaustion and continued to pay dues until they died 10 years later from lead poisoning, so they began to implement a stricter work schedule for all union-based businesses. The unions have realized that the longer they keep their members alive the more money they'll get paid through dues, so unions have made it illegal to work for any period of time longer than the average feminine hygiene commercial. The only industry left that supports employees being forced to work 16 hour days is the dot-com industry, and that's only because the workers are far too obese to find a rope which won't snap when they attempt to hang themselves.
The nVidia booth was literally crawling with excitement, as various PR people and Developer Relations guys were attempting to dodge the gigantic metal poles which were being swung around by very large union workers. Since the nVidia folks were kind of enough to invite me to the conference, I asked if I could help them set up their booth, offering such useful services as standing around and staring in random directions. They seemed content to let the professionals handle most of the setup, as it's against union labor laws to touch a shipping crate or other object when a union member is within a 400-foot radius or has even thought about the object within the past 20 days. So instead of attempting to help and ultimately burn their booth down, I just hung around nVidia employees and made various utterly hilarious comments which all involved the word "ass." My old buddy Jim "Jimbo" Black was back on the floor again, fully recovered from the last QuakeCon expo, where he was forcefully subdued by a barrage of horse tranquilizers and dragged out of the showroom by mysterious governmental officials who studied him to create a superhuman race of creatures with a mixture of pure caffeine and heroin running through their bloodstream. When Jimbo first saw me, his face seemed to go into an advanced state of explosive decompression, as his eyeballs ballooned out and his jaw dropped to his lower abdomen. He began to explain how much crap he had gotten since the last time I wrote about his zany antics at QuakeCon, and how I was essentially the ghoulish specter of death to him. I assured Jimbo that I would never make fun of him again, and I certainly wouldn't point out the fact that in an average sentence, Jimbo's voice goes up and down at least seven octaves.
The night concluded that evening when Chris Donahue (nVidia developer relations guy), Brian Harvey (nVidia developer relations part 2 "Electric Boogaloo" guy), some Microsoft Direct X guy, and myself went out to eat at a fake Italian restaurant downtown. We ended up conversing about some really top secret nVidia stuff which I probably shouldn't reveal, but since I have nothing else to write about, I will anyway:
nVidia's next hardware demo will include clowns having sex in a pool while Robocop travels through time, shooting a rocket launcher at them from space.
A little backstory here to explain where the hell this tidbit of information came from: Chris Donahue is kind of like the crazy uncle who makes all the other parents extremely nervous when he shows up at their son's birthday party. He's the type of person who brings a large bowl full of punch to a funeral just so he can spike it. When he's on his deathbed and motions for his surrounding family members to come closer so they can hear his final words, chances are pretty good that he'll recite some lines from "Caddyshack" and attempt to smack them across the head. Needless to say, he's my new mentor thanks to his selfless promotion of such healthy and wondrous things as the placement of clownsex and time-travelling Robocop in hardware demos.
We attended the nVidia / DirectX party that night, which provided me with enough free gin to forget that I was wedged inside a room full of people who were shouting over a band so they could discuss anti-aliasing. Eventually the geek factor hit critical levels and everybody was thrown out of the bar, recreating the scene from "Ghostbusters" when the ghost containment unit was shut down and the place exploded, sending a shower of otherworldly specters across the unprepared city. Only instead of minions from Hell's gates flying throughout the streets, they were minions from Bill Gates. Ha ha! That's funny because it's a play on words and it compares Bill Gates to the Devil! I'm just having a little fun at Microsoft's expense, so thank you for playing along. Ha ha!
The GDC or a backpack fashion show? You make the call. On second thought, don't.
DAY TWO: THURSDAY
With everything set up and ready to go, the doors to the GDC were opened and a horrendous mass of people rushed in like a tidal wave, all chanting "WHERE'S THE FREE STUFF?" in the same tone of voice as many of the zombies from Resident Evil. Everything that wasn't completely bolted down or welded to a metal fixture was scooped up and placed into their loot bags. Although 99% of the people just swarmed in and started grabbing handfuls of everything, a few people made half-assed attempts at being interested in the product nVidia is promoting.
GDC ATTENDEE: "So what's that Gee-Forced 3 thing?"
nVIDIA PERSON: "The GeForce 3 is the most powerful graphics accelerator in the history of-"
GDC ATTENDEE: "Can I have a shirt?"
The nVidia folks held steady at their stations, showing off the incredible power of the GeForce 3 in their intensely amazing demos which blew my mind and redefined everything I knew about computer graphics. Also, the GeForce 3 cured my penile dysfunction problem and brought hope into my otherwise bleak and meaningless life. These incredible feats were accomplished through the "walking lizard" and "Zoltar" demos, which featured a walking lizard and guy named "Zoltar" (respectively). Despite the fact that Jimbo "Jimbo McJim Jimbo-bo" Black had seen the walking lizard traverse nearly 6,000 miles already, he was still able to maintain a youthful exuberance when describing the demo.
ME: "Hey Jimbo, aren't you sick of that goddamn lizard yet? I mean, you've been watching him walk on that same branch since 1948."
JIMBO BLACK: "HE JUST TURNED INVISIBLE!!! OH MY GOD!!! DID YOU SEE THAT?!?" (waving his arms as if he's trying to signal a touchdown for a football game being played over 15,000 miles away)
ME: "But Jimbo, he was just invisible a few seconds ago."
ZOLTAR THE MAGNIFICENT: "WOOOOOOWWWWWAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
The Zoltar demo periodically emitted horrible broken analogue synth noises every 10 seconds, drowning out all surrounding conversations and causing many windows to shatter. I believe that Zoltar was jealous of all the attention Jimbo Black gave the walking lizard, and that was his only way to fight back. Luckily Jimbo seemed to be unfazed by it, as he continued to extoll the glories of the walking lizard to the people who surrounded his station, many of which apparently weren't visible to me.
I ended up spending a lot of time in the Epic booth, as it was too small for Jason Hall to fit into, thus allowing me ample protection until he realized he could bust through the makeshift walls ala the Koolaid Man on steroids. I shot the shit with Cliffy B. and Tim Sweeney, neither of whom immediately attempted to stab me. As much crap as I give them on this website, the guys at Epic are really good people with a great sense of humor. I'd imagine they're required to have one to work there, as Mark Rein apparently chews five-pound wads of raw Paxil for breakfast every day. The guy was bouncing all over the place like the balls from Commander Keen, running back and forth and burning more calories than I have total in the last seven years. The Epic fellers gave me a sneak peek at their Unreal Warfare tech demo, which I can't talk about or else Cliffy will send me photos of the outfit he wore to the developer awards conference. Imagine twelve trucks carrying plate glass windows colliding at 12:00 noon on a street made from diamonds and mirrors during the sunniest day in Califonia's history, and you'll have a subdued idea of how bright and morally offensive Cliffy's suit was. Brian Burke actually made some comment about it to me, but I couldn't understand what he was saying due to his Texas drawl. I think he mentioned the phrase "drainage canal."
DAY THREE: FRIDAY
More demo showing. My boredom had developed into a physical entity at this point, and it had began to beat me over the skull with a manhole cover. Since I was in no way directly involved with the GDC and had already worn tracks in the carpeting from lapping all the booths, I ended up sitting around in my hotel room for much of the day. I was also highly self conscious at that point, as whenever the kind people at nVidia would introduce me to some high-ranking guy at another company, the result was very humiliating.
nVIDIA PERSON: (talking to MICROSOFT PERSON) "Let me introduce you to Rich Kyanka."
ME: "Hello, I'm Rich Kyanka."
MICROSOFT PERSON: (extending to shake my hand) "Hello, I'm MICROSOFT PERSON and I am very smart and rich and have a job which decides the fate of millions of people every hour. What do you do?"
ME: "I, uh, run a website and don't get paid."
MICROSOFT PERSON: "I... see." (retracting hand as fast as possible and wiping off any contagious germs I might have spread to him)
ME: "I also work for eFront."
MICROSOFT PERSON: "Oh. Don't you guys sponsor Fucked Company or something? I see your company name in there every day."
nVIDIA PERSON: "He runs Something Awful! This is Lowtax! He writes Jeff K.!"
MICROSOFT PERSON: "Jeff who?"
ME: "I once had a promising future in the garbage removal industry."
The inside of the GDC. Where's my free shit, goddammit?
One of these days I'll end up working for a company which won't elicit unbridled laughter in people when its name is merely mentioned in public. Let me also take this moment to say that the GeForce 3 has unprecedented visual effects and sizzling frame rates, injecting life into the previously artificial world of computer-generated graphics. And if anybody from Microsoft is reading this, I'd also like to say that even though I know nothing about the X-Box, it looks pretty neat too and probably won't have any problems outperforming the Nintendo VirtualBoy.
The X-Box / nVidia party took place Friday night in a retro 1970's disco hall, which strangely enough, played 1980's music. The computer goons, instead of standing around and trying to figure out how to signal "alpha blending" in sign language to each other, were now standing around and pretending to dance. While the continual exposure to "murder simulation" video games has sharpened our visual reflexes, I must admit that our audio reflexes have dulled dramatically. This becomes very apparent when you throw a computer geek on a dance floor and start playing any song with a beat heavier than the soundtrack from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." Scientists have found that it takes roughly 10 minutes for the sound of a kick drum to register in a computer gamer's mind, so watching them "get down" in a dance club is the equivalent of viewing a shoebox full of epileptic puppies being tossed onto an electrical grid.
DAY FOUR: SATURDAY
The lizard was still walking across the branch. Jimbo "Jim Bow" Black was still expressing utter disbelief and amazement when the lizard turned invisible and blended in with the environment. Since he previously worked for Apple, I guess he has a lot of experience acting excited when exposed to the same thing over and over. Ha ha! That joke is funny because some people claim Apple has been producing the same stuff over and over! Oh, rack up another spark of hilarity for the Computer Humor Patrol!
The GDC began to shut down around 4:00 pm, and the surly union goons rumbled onto the floor, dismantling many exhibits and load bearing structures with large hydraulic vehicles. I made myself scarce and watched "Midway" on TNT, a movie which detailed how the US beat the Japanese during the Battle of Midway by using lots of stock footage and John Wayne, whose secret weapon was gritting his teeth and acting as if he just ingested an entire fighter plane through his anal cavity. I met yet another X-Box programmer, one of those guys who had been programming computers before they were even invented by Al Gore. He had the stereotypical 1970's-era programmer look to him, with the thick glasses, hair shooting in every random direction, and a fuzzy beard / mustache which covered 99% of his face. I made the accident of interjecting what I mistakenly call "humor" into my conversation with him, which led to painful consequences:
VERY OLD MICROSOFT PROGRAMMER: "I'm currently working on optimizing the (something something something) code for the (something something) (thing) that enhances the (something something something) and (something) the (other thing)."
nVIDIA PERSON: "You know, some day soon we'll cross that line that makes our computer games look exactly like reality."
ME: "I think the problem is that reality doesn't look enough like our computer games! I mean, look at the walls in here!" (pointing to plaster walls) "They're not horribly shiny or anything! In every FPS I've played, the walls use environmental mapping up the ass! This piece of shit isn't reflective at all! I want walls that throw off infinite lens flares whenever I get within a 30-mile radius of them! I want to be blinded by shiny metal every time I walk to the bathroom!"
(VERY long and uncomfortable pause)
VERY OLD MICROSOFT PROGRAMMER: "Who the hell is this moron?"
Of course I couldn't reveal who I am or what I did, as I was far too ashamed to admit it twice in the same week.
DAY FIVE: SUNDAY
Woke up early and arrived at the San Jose airport, which is just one of the worst airports I've ever been to. If the homeless could build and maintain their own airport, it would look just like San Jose's. Luckily for me, I was just there to grab a shuttle to the San Francisco airport, which is much nicer and has much less trash stapled to the walls. As soon as I got home, I began catching up with my 950+ email messages and started to hammer on the update you're reading right now. Oh, what an exciting five days it has been! The cool thing about running a website and not getting paid for it is that you can leave town for days and make JUST AS MUCH money as you did if you were to stay and work all day! Now how many people out there can do that, eh? I would guess not very many, and the ones who can probably won't admit it.
So that wraps up this year's GDC. Look for my next big report after E3, where hopefully I will be writing from the perspective of somebody working for a company he's not ashamed to admit in public.