GDC 2008: The Hollywood of the Game Industry


I’m sailing down through the clouds over the San Francisco Bay, and my first thought isn’t about how great it is to be back in town for GDC, it’s “Oh God, I hope we don’t die.”

After two hours stranded on the runway in Chicago, and another five in the air, all I want is to feel solid ground beneath my feet one more time before the heavenly above reclaims me, but looking out the window of the plane, and seeing nothing but gray, I’m not sure I’ll get the chance.

Jamil Moledina called San Francisco “the Hollywood of the game industry,” and I can understand why. The town, although beautiful in its own right, suffers from the same sort of identity crisis keeping the great cities of Boston and Philadelphia from feeling good about themselves.

I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment, either. I’d call San Francisco the San Francisco of the game industry and leave it at that. It’s a city all its own. One look at it brings to mind Raymond Chandler, Rolling Stone, the last great decade of rock and a million other images seared into the collective subconscious. San Francisco is a great city. Greater than Hollywood. And games, these days, are just one part of that.

Last year’s GDC cemented the city as the new destination for the game industry, and GDC itself as, pardon the throwback, the new E3. And the city, with its rolling hills, with a stop sign at the top, Alcatraz out in the bay, the hundred-year-old bridge rising up from the drift of fog coming in from the Pacific, postcard perfect from any angle, seems the perfect place for a game convention. The perfect place for a game. The perfect place.

But I haven’t seen the city yet this trip. I haven’t seen anything – just gray. I’m suddenly wondering if we wouldn’t have been safer back on the runway at O’Hare. The engines whine, the flaps – I can see the flaps – make some kind of motion, and the gray turns to darker gray and I realize I’m looking at the water. And then there’s land, and then we’re on it, wheels thumping, reverse thrusters roaring and touchdown, at last.

The cab ride in is like a walk down memory lane. Candlestick Point, South San Francisco, the Mission District. The skyline looms in fog like giant trees and the bay twinkles somehow, refracting sunlight that doesn’t seem to be there, perhaps from memory. San Francisco is a magical city, GDC the event of the year.

We pass Ubisoft’s building on the way to the hotel, and then countless other technology and game company offices. And then we start seeing our tribe, the slightly bewildered-looking geeks, backpacks in disarray, GDC badges around their necks, holding maps in front of their faces like freshmen on the first day of school.

I’m out of the cab just long enough to confirm that yes, it’s raining in the city by the bay. Whether or not her legs go all the way to there, remains to be seen. We’re too late to get any business done today, the second official day of GDC, but just in time to hit the party circuit – and hit it hard. At this point I’m just glad to be alive, but getting a few beers in me is never a bad thing, unless you ask my doctor, and really, why would you do that?

The cab drivers in this city seem to be under the impression I give a crap about their problems. The first, at the airport, wanted to dictate to us how many people were getting in his van, and how many bags we could each bring. Crowing in our faces like some taxi-borne Napoleon. The second, ferrying me from one hotel to the next reminded me I could have walked the four blocks, then bemoaned the fact the next cab in line was being loaded up to go to the airport. Later in the evening, a third suggests it’s my problem he can’t read street addresses. “Folsom is a one-way street,” he says, as if this means something. Don’t these louts know they live in the Hollywood of games?

And so I end my first day at GDC sodden, tired, running on two hours sleep and having spent almost ten hours in airplanes. But it’s San Francisco, so I can’t stay mad long. I had a Dungeness crab sandwich for dinner, for crying out loud.

The Moscone Center beckons from beyond the sunrise like some game designer Valhalla. Tomorrow I get my first real look at what GDC 2008 has to offer. Microsoft is first at bat with the Wednesday keynote. I hear rumors they have interesting things to say.

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