The Two-Minute Convention
DAY ONE: SUNDAY 2/17
7 a.m. I take a ridiculously early morning flight out of New York's JFK airport. The one saving grace: I'm bumped up to First Class for some inexplicable miles-related reason. I play God of War: Chains of Olympus on the PSP, while doing everything in my power to appear like flying in First Class is no big deal at all to me. I spend every ounce of willpower resisting the urge to fool with the settings on the reclining seat.
11:28 a.m. I take BART from the San Francisco airport. I'm both disgusted and fascinated by the mystery of the upholstered seats and carpeting on BART. I feel like I am sitting in someone's dirty living room. An old Chinese man starts coughing on me. I'm afraid that he has given me his tuberculosis. I move to another seat, certain I am going to be sick for the week.
2:38 p.m. My hotel is on the corner of Grant and Bush, across from the Chinatown gates. I have what the woman at the front desk deems "one of our nicer rooms." I take the elevator up to the sixth floor, unlock the door, and find a room that is only marginally nicer than the upholstered BART car.
DAY TWO: MONDAY 2/18
12:38 p.m. Free lunch! The GDC lunch is remarkably competent. People in white jackets lay out the lunch boxes around noon each day. Classy. By 12:15, the Italian hoagie supply has been devastated, while the Mediterranean salads go largely untouched. The gaming press isn't known for its ability to clean up after itself, and by 12:30, the press room resembles a Staten Island landfill, with empty Diet Dr. Pepper cans and half-eaten sandwiches scattered about. A few minutes later -- no kidding -- a cockroach races across the table, approximating a speed equaled only by the fan boy I saw chasing after Ken Levine earlier that morning.
2:19 p.m. Despite the smell of body odor and spoiling sandwich meat, I love the GDC press room. We're all supposedly working, sitting in front of laptops, but mostly what we have here is all of my favorite writers in the industry sitting at one giant table. My 10th grade typing teacher once taught me that the best way to make friends is to give them chewing gum. I hand out chewing gum in the press room like a dad handing out "It's a Boy" cigars at the hospital.
4:08 p.m. Outside the Moscone Center, a rogue skateboarder plows into me on Howard Street and knocks the wind out of me. "Sorry, man," he says. His apology seems genuine. I stand there looming over him -- he's half my size and a third my age -- trying to decide how to react. His skateboarding friends give him the razzberries as they skate by. "Just be more careful," I say. The incident makes me feel very old.
DAY THREE: TUESDAY 2/19
6:02 a.m. The phone on my nightstand rings. It's my wake-up call. "Hi! This is Kathy Griffin. Time to wake up!" It's not the real Kathy Griffin, but a recorded message. Kathy Griffin's voice is not a voice you want to hear, day or night. I worry that this is a bad omen. Is my GDC cursed? My room smells vaguely of poop. Man, this entire hotel smells like poop. Rain falls against my hotel room window. The phone rings again. It's Kathy Griffin's voice, informing me a second time that it is time to wake up. Now I'm certain that this is a bad omen?
11:42 a.m. It's not even noon, and already I've heard the words "live blogging" used as a verb three times. Example: "I live blogged the keynote this morning, and now I'm off to live blog the Peter Molyneux panel." For some reason, each time I hear this, I want to lop off my ears and feed them into the nearest wood chipper.
3:44 p.m. Number of Brian Crecente hair-centric jokes made by me so far today: two. (It's done out of love and envy, Brian. Love and envy?)
4:09 p.m. Keefer and Evan Narcisse and I are waiting in a hotel lounge to meet with Warren Spector. Narcisse and I order waters, and we get the question that every waiter in San Francisco seems to be asking: sparkling or still? I get the sparkling. Narcisse gets the still. When the tab comes, Keefer gets out the Crispy credit card. "Those waters were $9!" he says.
4:49 p.m. The meeting with Spector is great. (You can listen to it here.) Spector is working on something top secret with Disney at the moment. He's not simply toeing any company line here; the man clearly suffers from a disease that's relatively common in the games business, an affliction known as Grown Men Who Clearly Love Disneyitis.
7:58 p.m. Five words that you do not want to hear at GDC: The. N-Gage. Party. Is. Starting.
9:14 p.m. I stop by the EA reception at Vessel Lounge, and then Keefer and I squeeze into a club called The Public for Sony Online's women in gaming initiative. After the event, despite the falling rain, I miraculously get a cab back to my hotel. I walk over to the nearby 24-hour Walgreen's to buy my supplies for the night: bottled water and almonds. Those are the two key ingredients to having a good GDC: water and nuts. I haul the shopping bags back to my poop-scented room.
DAY FOUR: WEDNESDAY 2/20
6:00 a.m. Kathy Griffin tells me that it's time to wake up.
6:01 a.m. Kathy tells me a second time that it's time to wake up. Goddamn this hotel.
6:04 a.m. I open the blinds. Surprise -- more rain. There's a strange moat-like trough outside my window that has filled up with rain in the night. I notice something slowly sailing by my window. After a few moments of peering at it, I realize it's a chicken bone. To make matters worse, the chicken bone gets lodged on something, and appears to be marooned right outside my window. I wonder if I should ask the concierge to take care of the chicken bone for me. Goddamn this hotel to hell, man.
10:28 a.m. Keefer and I sit through a Mass Effect PC demo in a stuffy conference room at Le Meridien Hotel. They show a surprisingly adult sex scene from the game. The lights are dim. Sitting next to Keefer during this moment reminds me of the unfortunate time I watched the movie "Indecent Proposal" with my parents.
11:09 a.m. Our next meeting is with Gas Powered Games. Keefer and I are supposed to meet a representative from the company back at the Moscone West Press Center. When no one shows, I ring the PR contact, Steve Bauman, on my cell. "You're looking for a bearded guy with a huge laptop and a monkey or a brain on his T-shirt," Steve tells me. I don't say anything for a second. Then Steve says exactly what I'm thinking: "Wait. I just described 98-percent of the people who attend GDC, didn't I?"
1:12 p.m. After a circuitous, "Spinal Tap"-like journey through the bowels of the St. Regis Hotel in search of Capcom's demo room, Keefer, Narcisse, analyst Billy Pidgeon and I finally figure out where the suite is located. In the elevator, I man the button panel. "Next stop, hats, coats and ladies' lingerie," I say. "Jones!" Keefer says, "You made that joke already!" I look at Keefer. He's right. I did make that joke already. "Well, if you spend 14 hours a day with me," I say, "you're bound to get some repeats."
1:39 p.m. We're all starving, and we're counting on Capcom to have some food, but all they have is leftover pizza slices. We get yelled at by a film crew from G4 for wandering into their shot. Film crews were out in record number this year at GDC, hogging up practically every meeting we went to with their cameras, entourages of interns and hot lights. I don't mind them, really. Wait. I do mind them. Here's what I mind: Their self-important WE-ARE-FILMING-OVER-HERE-PEOPLE attitude is annoying. You're not shooting "Lawrence of Arabia" or even "You Got Served 2," you douchebags. You're trying to get the developer of the new Street Fighter to say something silly. Rule number one in the world: Know your place!
3:44 p.m. I wander the convention halls. Like a rude person butting their way to the head of the line, the Sony PlayStation booth is front and center as you walk into the hall. You can't miss it. Behind it, obscured by the billboard-sized Sony TV screen showing PlayStation 3 footage, is the Nintendo booth. This is pretty much the epicenter of the show hall. I notice that the more steps away from these two booths I take, the smaller and more obscure the booths and products get. I encounter a tier of ongoing demos for motion-capture suits featuring skinny men and women in black leotards with tiny red lights all over them. Then there are tech demos for three-dimensional cameras. Next: A series of technical publishers have set up a miniature bookstore. Finally, at the very edges of the hall and the industry are the dudes in ties sitting on stools in six-foot by four-foot booths pimping flash drives or whatever, drinking milkshakes and waiting for someone, anyone, to talk to them.
6:20 p.m. Keefer, Narcisse and I attend the Independent Games Festival Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards ceremonies. It's great to see the eclectic IGF nominees like Audio Surf, Foamzilla, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom coupled with the bigger, more polished Choice Award offerings like Portal, BioShock and Super Mario Galaxy. This two-hour celebration of excellence, complete with awards honoring Ralph Baer and Sid Meier (both in attendance!) is the palate cleansing of which the medium has been in dire need since last year's poisoned Spike Awards.
8:49 p.m. I stop at the Walgreen's for almonds and water, then head back to the hotel. I find myself riding in the elevator with a fellow badge-wearer. He looks at my badge. I look at this badge. "How's your show going?" I ask. "Not bad. Yours?" he says. "So far, so good," I say. We both get off on the seventh floor. As he unlocks his room two doors down from mine, he says, "Time to drop off the laptops and then go party!" I make a cursory acknowledgement of his comment with something like, "Oh, yeah!" then disappear into my room, hoping to never see this man again.
9:39 p.m. I realize that once again I forgot to eat dinner. This is a chronic problem at GDC. Dinner hour comes and goes, and I forget all about it, thinking I'll just grab something at the next meeting. I sit in my room, trying to connect to the slow-as-molasses hotel Wi-Fi -- the Wi-Fi bandwidth, as it is at any conference that attracts tech people, is completely hogged up. I munch handfuls of almonds, trying to not smell the poop smell.
DAY FIVE: THURSDAY 2/21
6:00 a.m. Kathy.
6:01 a.m. Kathy Part 2.
6:33 a.m. Rain: Still falling. Chicken bone status: Still there. Goddamn this hotel. Again.
10:42 a.m. In the hotel lobby, there's a bowl of green apples. I grab one, pull up my coat collar, then walk outside and begin my daily trek to the Moscone. I decide that walking down the street on a rainy San Francisco morning eating a green apple while en route to a LEGO Batman meeting is not the worst way to live.
12:10 p.m. I'm sitting in a very, very, very small room on the 23rd floor of the W Hotel with two German reporters. The three of us watch the LEGO Joker give a LEGO enemy an electric shock with a joy buzzer weapon of some kind. The two German reporters laugh hysterically, practically slapping their knees. "NOW THAT IS THE KIND OF HUMOR WE LIKE," one of them exclaims.
3:12 p.m. I spend most of the afternoon in the PlayStation Blogger Lounge on the second floor of the W, though I am officially blogging nothing. I enjoy the gratis bottles of sparkling/still water, granola bars and Pepsi, along with the free Wi-Fi.
5:20 p.m. I stop by the X-Play/G4 party, which conveniently happens to be in the room next door to the PlayStation Blogger Lounge. Fellow Crispyite Harold Goldberg and I sit at the bar and drink seltzers, like two old women on a cruise. The place gets absurdly crowded. It's also Suite Night, the night when several game companies sponsor a series of suites in the hotel, so every Jocko in the world is crammed into the hotel stairwells, hoping to score a free bottle of warm Budweiser. "Man, I'm getting too old for this shit," I say to Harold as we squeeze through the crowds.
8:19 p.m. I head upstairs to Sierra's Prototype demo. I'm tired, but this is basically the last night of GDC; everyone heads home on Friday. I'm hoping to find food, but all they have are hot dogs, being served from a bona fide hot dog cart. The game is set in New York, and the party has a New York theme. Thus, the hot dogs. The hell with the hot dogs.
8:44 p.m. I run into some people who went out to the LucasArts event at the Presidio. Their response: It was a long way to go for very little.
9:01 p.m. I run into some people coming from the Will Wright event. Reactions range from "He's a genius" to "I had no idea what he was talking about" to "He didn't say a damn thing about Spore, damn it all."
10:12 p.m. Another Walgreen's visit. Another rainy night spent eating almonds alone in my smelly hotel room. I'm out of pants. Laundry is really starting to pile up. I'm ready to go home.
DAY SIX: FRIDAY 2/22
2:52 p.m. Number of times panelist/speaker Geoff Keighley checks his Blackberry messages during N'Gai Croal's terrific "Game Makers Take on the Press" panel: four. An intervention for Blackberry addiction may be needed.
4:02 p.m. I feel sad. Sounds sappy, but I always feel sad the last day of GDC. I wander the show floor one final time, combing the hall, looking for ? what? Something I might have overlooked? A gadget? A story? A person to connect with? Some of the booths are already shut down, monitors gone dark, banners being rolled up. Everyone seems to be dragging around big suitcases, heading for the taxi line. It's like the final day of summer camp, parents due shortly, cabins on the lake being boarded up for the winter months. There's a party's-over quality in the air.
4:19 p.m. A janitor runs a noisy vacuum at the far end of one of the Moscone West hallways. I walk out the hall's front doors, feeling like something's wrong. I make sure I have my bag, my room key, my cell, my laptop. Everything seems to be in place, yet I can't shake this feeling. The rain has finally stopped. A bit of sun pokes through the Bay Area clouds. Strangers seem to be giving me funny looks. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a storefront window, and I finally figure out what's wrong.
I realize that this year's GDC is ending the way all conventions and conferences end: with me wandering some faraway city, a bit dazed and overtired and lost, suddenly realizing that I'm the only person within a 15-block radius with a plastic badge/nametag lanyard hanging around his neck.
I laugh at my faux pas -- man, why do I always do this, damn it all? -- and take it off. I stuff it into my bag, then join the pack of badge-less pedestrians hurrying across Market Street, trying to beat the light.
**Want more? Grab a plate and sample the Crispy Gamer post-GDC Bibliography Buffet. So tasty!:
LEGO Batman preview
by Harold Goldberg; Fable 2 preview
and coverage of the Ray Kurtzweil keynote
by David Thomas; previews of LEGO Indiana Jones, Fracture, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Too Human, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures and Mass Effect (PC), all by unflinching, unfailing Gus Mastrapa; Hail to the Chimp preview by Ryan Davis; Street Fighter IV preview by Alex Navarro; Demigod preview by John Keefer.
Ears hungry? Try the live-from-the-show GDC Blazing Prattles podcast, hosted by Evan Narcisse.