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The Best and Worst of GDC

March 10, 2012

by David Baszucki


After a big week at the 2012 Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, I thought I would share some of the collective wisdom of team ROBLOX. Here are our picks for thumbs-up and thumbs-down from the show.

Thumbs Up


Ultra-fast tree modeler for AAA games. It’s awesome to see someone in person, pulling branches out of a trunk, like magic. Gives us ideas for advanced stamper parts in ROBLOX. Such as a tree that you insert with 3 clicks: 1) Click where you want the tree to go, 2) Click how tall you want it, 3) Click how wide you want it.

A fantastic booth with eye-popping videos clearly showed the brand and the game. They also had seated game stations with headphones and networked play. Great hands-on, interactive, exciting booth.

Spirit Camera for the Nintendo 3DS

One of the few games we’ve seen to build a meaningful gameplay experience centered around augmented reality. We liked that it was a horror game since immersion is the most important facet of the genre.

9 Minute Coding Challenge

It was pushing the envelope to call anything that was created during these 9 minutes a “game”, but still interesting to watch people stitch together sprites using Javascript and call it a game.

Mobile gaming talk at the Autodesk booth.

A mobile gaming CEO talked about the transition from a console game to mobile, and the factors that affect a good game on mobile: screen size, touch based interface, mechanics designed around these factors. Essentially, ports are bad idea to mobile, should be thought from ground up.

Runtime CPU Performance Spike Detection

A good talk that was refreshingly heavy on technical details.


Great session on TBB Flow Graph. They also showed wide range of products such as SSDs, mobile (tablet/phone) chips, and ultrabooks with integrated graphic cards. These technologies will soon be much cheaper and into the mainstream. This seems to be the future of gaming, smaller devices which can put out impressive graphics, but yet use minimal power.

Throne of swords to promote Game of Thrones

Everyone wants to sit on a throne of iron swords fused together by dragon breath.

Sony Vita demo

It was pretty amazing to see how far AR technology has gotten. They are able to detect what they call “textures”, instead of special markers. This “texture” seems like it can be any distinguishable feature on a surface.

Showcase games in the Unity booth

A good showing of the power of their engine. They also had contact information to the actual devs who made those games. Their tutorial session felt good as well.

D-Box Pro Motion FX racing simulator cockpit @ NVIDIA Booth

Force feedback for the whole body, resulting in dramatically improved realism for racing sims. The multi-monitor setup is also a must-have for looking through the turn and checking your clearance during overtaking maneuvers. The only thing missing was the smell of burning brake pads (though I hear there was a company at GDC that could address that!).

IGF booths

Lots of people with single player platformers. Lots of 2D-gameplay on 3D objects. Lots of games that use a look that completes the feel of the game and complements the direct gameplay elements. Beautiful framerates on everything presented.


They are currently producing an indie game that I had pre-ordered called Overgrowth. It was great to see that they had put together a multiplayer version for GDC. The version was very polished.

The talk from Riot Games about scalability

It was invigorating to see scalability challenges similar to those at ROBLOX. One interesting point was how they tackle variability in their gaming servers by decomposing their work items into more atomic and predictable workloads.

“Pick and Roll: When Game Design and Learning Collide” talk

Great talk showing the power of video games, especially video game development, in education. Games are the perfect medium to foster problem solving, analytically thinking, and creativity.

Ragdoll talks from the physics tutorial day

Erin Catto from Blizzard gave a well prepared talk on passive ragdoll in Diablo3. A lot of effects like cloth, pony tail hair, explosion, death, and dismembering were ragdoll. Stephen from EA gave an interesting talk on powered ragdolls used in Fight Night 4 and FIFA 12.


While walking around the expo area we were stopped many times by people who played ROBLOX (or had friends who played) and asked for our booth location.

Thumbs down


The staff at the booth were unable to answer any of our questions

Media guy at ROBLOX booth looking for blood

Upon hearing that we have more male than female players, the media guy asked something along the lines of ‘So you’re saying boys are more creative than girls?’. No – we’re saying we have more male than female players – DAH.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Gameplay talk

The speaker apologized for the boss fights, and hammered on how designing before implementing is important.

Motion capture guy break dancing

We get what motion capture is and appreciate a lot of the incredible mo-cap performers that were on stage. But after three days, seeing some guy breakdancing wore thin. It seemed lame in comparison to some of the game demos.

Booth Zombies (next door)

Populating your booth with people in red face paint and fake rotting flesh might get you noticed, but it didn’t make people want to stop and chat.

Research In Motion

They had this huge booth but nothing to show. They had several RIM Playbooks, but who wants those. They should have had a smaller booth which would not have looked so bad.

Giving away free Blackberry tablets to anyone who walks by doesn’t exude success.

the9 game zone

The booth was completely deserted with only the banners and fliers around.

Practical physically correct lighting talk

Awesome content, bad presentation. Three of us had different idea of what the presenter was doing.

German Pavilion

No reps at any of the booths. Germany just subsidized some game developer’s California vacation.

“Getting Out of the Garage…” talk

Really didn’t talk at all about “Managing teams, Legal Fees, Cloud Servers” or the “97 other things to manage growth”.

Thumbs Up and Down at the same time

Virtual Piggy

Up – Nice concept and idea for an online wallet for kids that parents control.

Down – 6 employees in the otherwise empty booth. I stood right outside the booth for 30 seconds wearing my ROBLOX CEO badge watching their demo and no one approached me.

Nintendo booth

Up – Multiplayer game for Nintendo’s 3DS called Kid Icarus(3V3 6 players at a time). We liked the focus on multiplayer mode for typically solo consoles.

Down – Lack of other interesting stuff they were showing.


Up – The game demos for in-browser gaming from Google were fun, and the staff was very knowledgeable about implementation details, and responsive to questions.

Down – People at the booth weren’t knowledgeable about business metrics. We wanted to know how much traffic they get daily, or monthly, to determine if it’s something that is worthwhile for ROBLOX. They had no idea.


Up – Alchemy.  Porting a 3D C++ game over to Flash “somewhat seamlessly”. Gorgeous 3D demos of games in Unreal engine running in the browser in Flash, playable if you asked nicely. People there were very knowledgeable.

Down – Green foam “We’re number 1” hands as swag? For real? Who wants that? GDC is now decorated with your trash.