GDC17 — Your Homework

Make no mistake—this is a selfish post.

Though I am about to try to use what wisdom I have to get you to make a brand new contribution to the global game audio conversation, much of me’s doing it because I want to read what you write. It’s the end of another year’s GDC, and I have to be honest: I’m not sure I learned enough to really nail the usual recap. So, I’m hoping for some help.

If you attended GDC this year and you saw even one talk, I want to challenge you to write something about it and share your perspective.

Here’s an approach to help you take something that you saw and get down to the bottom of what you understood.

Full warning: it will take some work. Good stuff always does.

What Happened vs. What Was
You can watch a talk on the Vault and read the same bullet points as everyone else. Those are never the point of the presentation.

It’s kinda like sound, actually: what you hear in a sequence (the layers, the recording techniques used, the sound sources, the mix) are not what the designer wants you to focus on—it’s the emotion they spark on the other side.

Facts and figures are impersonal, but your take on the narrative is uniquely yours!

To find that narrative, especially if you haven’t really started thinking critically about the talk until now, you may need to do some exploration. And I’m going to drop another heavy-handed sound metaphor here: what you come out of this exercise with will be sort of like your sound palette. The editing comes after. This part is fun.

Best case, let’s say you took some notes. More likely, your brain’s still barely caging the remaining quips and impressions which have survived the weeklong fatigue. Those are now gasping as they swim to the surface, where they will escape forever. Don’t wait for long after GDC to do this. Strike, iron, hot.

Lay those all out on a notepad or in a doc and look at them. Unpack everything you know and leave it there. You’re neutral right now; your voice is going to enter the picture as you continue to work. Start scribbling in the margins.

Remember, you’re not looking to write the article yet, you are just trying to find patterns.

Now you want to start asking questions:

  • What’s the speaker’s background?
  • What titles have they worked on, how long have they been doing it?
  • What was the size of those titles, what do you know about the companies that produced them?Where they’re located? What their teams are like?
  • What else do you know about that studio’s relationship with game audio?

How was the tone of the talk?

  • Was it preachy? Cold and clinical? Fun? Demonstrative?
  • What made it feel this way—is it because the speaker was nervous? Maybe the title’s talk was so dry and technical that you couldn’t help but see the talk the same way.
  • If the speaker had taken a different approach, how do you think the talk would have landed? Maybe it was an advocacy talk, and instead of righteous fury, they went all, “we’ve all dealt with this before, so let’s hug about it and try to be better.”

How about the environment itself: was the room full, nearly empty, somewhat average?

  • Do you think that would have made a difference in how you thought about it? Did you find yourself looking around at the crowd size and feeling it was almost a part of the presentation itself? Why?
  • Could’ve been that the tone of the talk shifted as time went on—started one way, ended another. Why do you think that happened and how did it affect the message?
  • Realize that anyone who didn’t see it when you did it going to have to watch it on a computer screen or television and maybe along. They’ll also not see the size of the crowd. Do you think it’ll play differently?

What did the speaker say? How did they say it? Were they reporting numbers, simply allowing statistics to speak for themselves. Maybe they were explaining processes that only they understood thanks to firsthand experience. Were they imploring the crowd to do something differently, exploring the possibilities of an idea they had, asking their audience what they had seen themselves?
If the speaker’s done something, learned something—where did they put those learnings into action?

  • Do you think there was anything about their environment that made that easier or harder than it could’ve been somewhere else?
  • What if they had to do it on a different platform or brought it to a different audience: how do you think they might’ve tried?
  • If you had their problem in your life right now, where would you begin to solve it?

Take a look at yourself, now. Where are you? What have you done and what are you trying to do?

What’s the thing that drove you to this talk in the first place? Make sure to define this.

Do you think you found it? If you did, what form did it take; if not, where did you hope it would have been? Think about the larger context of GDC and everything else you saw—did you find it there? Did you find it in both places? Why do you think it showed up? If you’ve been to GDC more than once, is that thing new? If it is, why do you think it’s appearing now; and if it isn’t, why do you think it’s shown up again? Could it have happened outside of GDC? How would it, and why?

Creative Assembly

That seems like a lot, but you should find your own most interesting questions pretty quickly. Those are the ones you should explore the most. Follow those all the way down and feel free to short-sell those that don’t speak to you. You will hopefully end up with lots of raw material.

Take a step back and look at everything you’ve written, see if an arc starts to take shape. You’re looking for (or looking at) the narrative as you’ve seen it. There’s bound to be some overlap with the experiences of others who were there, but fuck em. By this point, you’ve made so much personal exploration that you’ve lots of material none of us would find anywhere else.

Tips for creating the final product:

1) Don’t stress the intro. If you’re like me, you get hung up trying to be really clever in those first few paragraphs and spend most of your time there. You can do that part later.

2) Identify the core of your story. Having a spline through all this good stuff you generated in that exploration phase is going to keep the reader engaged, and you can break up really long sections with small references / tie-ins to that core to convince them that you know what you’re doing. And, if you have your through line written down, you do.

3) Just start writing. Copy and paste into place, feel free to snip around and leave sentences feeling kind of loose for now. Don’t worry about sections until you begin to see them. But start sorting as soon as those invisible lines begin to appear.

4) Read it all aloud. You’ll catch a lot of unnecessary stuff this way, plus a few mangled run on sentences you accidentally glued together in the edit.

5) Repeat as necessary. Think of it like a mix and strip away the parts that don’t add anything, or shift the focus away from what you want to say. You’re almost done.

6) Intro / ending

Alright, time to catch that plane. Final thoughts:

Resist the urge to simplify and be bold with your impressions. Trust your audience to make their own. Send the cycle forwards.

And #GameAudio / #GameAudioGDC that business when you’re through!

See you on the other side!

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