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GDC 2017 - Student Experience Blog

This year the School of Interactive Games and Media funded 14 undergraduate and graduate Game Design & Development students to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, California. Of the 14 students, 5 graduate students attended Train Jam, a cross country game jam on a train from Chicago to San Francisco in anticipation of GDC. 

While at GDC the students had the opportunity to meet and learn from game industry professionals through conference sessions, networking events, and time on the Expo Floor. In addition, IGM Professor Ian Schreiber coordinated a Playtest session where students could showcase their own creations and playtest new games from others.

Below are five interpretations of the GDC student experience, with advice for those who choose to attend in the future.


Jeannette Forbes – Prioritizing Your Time at GDC

There’s always something interesting happening, and you’re always missing it.  At the Game Developer’s Conference, no matter where you are or what you’re doing (unless it’s cloning yourself), there’s always another event you could be at, a new VR headset to try on, or a ground-breaking talk to attend.  Prioritizing your time during the conference is vital.  With that in mind, consider managing your time using these five tips.

  1. Know why you’re here.

While securing employment might be your long-term goal, this conference is not a job search, and you can turn off potential employers by coming on too strong, or by focusing on a job instead of (way more interesting) topics that you’re actually passionate about.  If they’re hiring and you make a good impression, they’ll let you know.

  1. People like to talk.

If you’re interested in motion capture, find your way to a mo-cap booth and engage!  If you have questions or want advice on Unreal or Unity, it’s worth your time to seek out their booths and find one of their software engineers.  Regardless of if you’re a student or an industry veteran, people like to talk about their interests and it’s a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and skills to those who might be hiring.

  1. People really like to talk.

On the flip side, it’s important to remember that companies are marketing themselves as well.  While the booths at GDC are a great chance to try out an Oculus, talk to a SkookumScript developer, or check out the latest indie games, don’t get trapped by marketing speeches or product demos.  If the conversation is one-sided or obviously scripted, feel free to walk away.

  1. Don’t stop networking.

It’s important to remember that the booths aren’t the only spot to meet new faces.  Talks are great way of narrowing down conference attendees into a roomful of people interested in the same topics you are.  The city surrounding the conference is also crawling with attendees; sometimes meeting new people is as easy as discussing Dark Souls within earshot of other conference-goers.

  1. Have all the fun.

With everything said and done, GDC is just one week.  While your health is priority number one, it’s also important to capitalize on prime networking events, from late night Epic parties to early morning Microsoft parties to midday booth crawls and round panels.  In just one day you can connect with companies you’ve never heard of, learn industry-only tips, and talk one-on-one with lead designers, developers and animators at your dream companies.  Don’t shy away from grabbing opportunities as they’re presented, and make every moment count!


Michael Cooper – Reflections from GDC 2017

GDC is a large event. That I knew coming in. But, it did not sink in until the day the show floor opened. With over 25,000 attendees and hundreds of companies, GDC takes over a whole block of San Francisco. The show floor is large yet dense with activity. Bright lights, screens, poster board, and tech surround you everywhere you go. I would not say I was overwhelmed, but I was amazed.

Unlike events like E3 or Comic Con, GDC is industry facing. The exhibitors were there to meet and sell to other game industry professionals. Many unique kinds of products and services were being promoted to the attendees. And, they all seemed interested in talking to me. The first few hours, I simply went column by column talking to everyone I could. I wanted as wide a picture of the industry as possible, and I would focus in on a few companies later. As I went to what feels like a hundred exhibits, I learned a lot about the industry and collected many business cards.

The companies Epic Games and Unity were there to sell the ease, convenience, and power of their game engines. Both of their areas were competing to look like the most important. Their exhibits were two stories tall, with stations and TVs on the bottom floor and some private showings on the top floor. Representatives were at each station ready to explain some new feature or to showcase what can be done with their tech. Indie developers were demoing their Unreal-engine games while an architectural firm used Unreal to visualize their new project. Amazon was also there to showcase their own, competing game engine: Lumberyard. A relative newcomer to the field, Amazon had many stations showcasing and teaching many aspects of their engines to whoever was willing to listen. They were emphasizing the implementation of Amazon Web Services directly into the engine itself. When companies compete like this, it is developers like me who benefit.

Other firms were selling other game related services. One was selling easy to do motion-capture. Another were demonstrating their new algorithms. NVidia was showcasing new graphics tech in the hopes of it being supported in new games. There were outsourcers there with portfolios of their work. In one corner was a company promoting their source control solution. Middleware companies were everywhere. Anywhere I looked was something new to consider.

Hardware companies were showing off their work as well. Facebook was there with Oculus to promote virtual reality. There were other, less-known companies with VR tech of their own. One of the coolest ones I stumbled on was WhirlWind VR. They sell a device that blows air into you while you play. As I played their demo, hot air was blown into my face as enemies wielding flamethrowers moved uncomfortably closer.

Many exhibitors were representing countries. There were showings from Britain, Canada, Scotland, South Korea, and Sweden. When I visited the DEC Korea’s exhibit, they let me try a VR gauntlet of sorts. Imagine playing tennis in VR. When the ball hits the racket, the gauntlet pulls on your hand as if you had hit the ball in real-life. It was something I would have never imagined trying outside of GDC.

To my surprise, ZOOX, a self-driving car company was there looking for game developers to assist with their hardware. Also on the floor, 5-Hour Energy, giving out, well, energy for free. They did not seem to be selling tech or hiring any developers. They were simply promoting 5-Hour Energy for developers. I’m sure many tired attendees appreciated their presence.

And, of course, there were game studios themselves. There is not as big a showing for actual games at GDC than you might expect. Games were mainly used to demonstrate hardware and other technology. In GDC, the audience is the professionals who work on games. As such, there is not as much reason to show off consumer facing products. However, some companies were trying to attract talent and investment. I gladly offered my business card for them.

Looking back at GDC, the thing that stands out is the scale of the event. It felt like a demonstration of humanity, with all its size, ambitions and absurdities. Seeing all these people discussing trends and promoting themselves reminded me why I wanted to be in this industry in the first place: the passion and the will to push limits. Anyone interested in working in games should go to GDC if only to be inspired by its grandeur.


Rose Flynn – Networking When You Don’t Know How

I will preface this by saying that whether someone remembers you can be a coinflip. I added and was added by several people on LinkedIn. Many of them I can’t remember the exact circumstances of our meeting, only a few I remember vividly. Yet it isn’t important, I believe, that we were supposed to become best friends, only that they meet me at all and have a possible memory of our encounter.       

Train Jam was the first real test of my ability to network, and even then, it was stretched to the limit. It had barely started when I was thrust into a room of over 100 people, many of whom were professionals, and all of them were key people to meet. I first met Anna then, she was pitching an idea for a game to the room when I noticed her. There were plenty of ideas going around, but hers stuck with me, it was also the only name I could hear over the loud room and remember.

It was then that I took the very first and most important step of networking. I went up and talked to her. I mentioned I remembered her game idea and I liked it, she smiled and nodded. Everything was going swimmingly. Then I took our relationship to the next step in terms of networking. Since we were working together, it seemed prudent to exchange contact information. This is step number two, business cards. Her business card was the first one I collected.

During the close quarters Train Jam I collected several other cards, all of which were acquired in the same way. Approach, question, get into talking about their game, cards, depart. It was a simple process.

To my average reader, I will address scenarios likely to occur to you now, at GDC itself. The following are a few examples of what I think were key moments of both success, and failure, at networking.


I had a lot of success meeting with indie developers over professional types. Therefore, if you’re like me, you’ll have a great opportunity to meet people at the Indie Showcase section in the west hall. This is where people new to the industry will be showing themselves off. Ripe pickings for the networking student. The key approach here is like the one I used in Train Jam. Approach the person, usually checking to make sure they aren’t already talking to someone. You can then talk about their game. With enough practice, you can base the whole conversation around just that topic. If not, or after, the other person might ask you a question. This is normal and expected, just answer as you would to a friend. When the conversation seems to die down is when you go in for the kill and either reach for your business card or ask for theirs. Several times I successfully got a business card from someone by asking if I could ask them questions about their specific field.


Instead of regaling the entire stories, as that would take far too much of your time, I will give you just the most cromulent pieces. The vendors aren’t always people you want to network with. Sure, they can seem easy to talk to, but that could be because you’re being sold to. Don’t wait for people to come talk to you, it can feel like that’s what you want to do, and feels safer, but it doesn’t work. Some parties are indeed student traps. You can usually tell by the loud music and night club aesthetic.


L.A. Stapleford – Experience or Opportunity – The Differences Between PAX and GDC

The first time I went to PAX I felt an immediate sense of belonging. I was surrounded by video games and people who love them just as much as I do. Walking around you could hear people talking about their favorite games, see people taking pictures of cosplayers, and see people waiting to get in lines to try out games. My first time at GDC was similar, but also very different. At GDC I wasn’t just surrounded by people who love games, I was surrounded by people who were making games. The attendees are an important distinction that really separates GDC and PAX. The attendees at GDC are your most valuable resource, the true value to the price you pay. PAX, by contrast, holds its value in its exhibitors.

I’ve gone to PAX for four years and one of the most consistently fun things to do is go around and collect “free swag”. Usually this requires you to stand in line for at least an hour for each item and try a demo or two, but sometimes all you have to do is walk up to a booth and ask. Swag can consist of things like bags, lanyards, hats, posters, and T-shirts. This requires careful planning if you want to maximize the amount of swag you get, as the Expo hall is only open until 6pm, especially if you want to hit up the bigger booths that have lines with up to two-hour waits.

GDC also has swag, sometimes swag more valuable than stuff found at PAX, but not as many booths give stuff out. When I went to GDC I saw things from T-shirts to Amazon Echo Dots being given away for free. But as opposed to PAX where you’d usually just walk up to a booth, grab stuff, then leave, GDC’s swag is often a means to start conversations. It’s bad form to just grab stuff and go. It’s expected that you stick around and chat up the exhibitors before and while you grab stuff.

Panels are something else both events share, but again the focus of the panels are very different. PAX panels are often for companies to connect with their fanbases or showcase demos for games. Sometimes these panels have free swag, like the Mass Effect: Andromeda showcase this year gave out Mass Effect-themed Cards Against Humanity card packs. Some of the panels, especially in recent years, are for famous Youtubers to hang out with their fans. GDC panels are more educational than PAX’s, with lineups containing more post-mortems and round-table development events. Where most of the panelists at PAX are hosted by indie devs, most of the panelists at GDC are senior AAA game developers. Again, the price you pay for GDC is for access to the people there, not necessarily the content.

And price is an important factor when deciding which conference to go to, especially if you’re a student who can’t afford to go to both. PAX is much more affordable. It’s usually about $150 for all three passes necessary to attend the whole conference, compared to the minimum $200 for an Expo Pass at GDC and a maximum of nearly $2,000 for an All-Access Pass, the latter pass being necessary to see many panels hosted at GDC. PAX East, the PAX I’ve gone to, takes place in Boston, MA. Compared to San Francisco, Boston is a much more affordable place to stay, and it’s much closer to travel to from RIT.


John Miller – Presenting Gibraltar

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present my strategy game, Gibraltar, at GDC ‘17 in San Francisco this year with MAGIC Spell Studios. It was a great honor and an awesome chance to get to meet industry professionals, students and alumni. GDC felt like a gigantic, week long carnival. There was a lot to see and take in, from the monolithic, two story exhibits, to the sea of indie booths and after hours company events. I also got to compete in this year’s Intel University Games Showcase which is a competition Intel holds at GDC to judge games from some of the best schools around the country. Gibraltar was RIT’s entry into the competition. Unfortunately, Gibraltar didn’t win anything but it was very cool to see how big other schools’ programs are and all the interesting concepts they’re working on.

Gibraltar got a lot of positive feedback and people had a lot of fun playing through an abbreviated version of the single player campaign. Only a few bugs popped up the whole week and fortunately, none of them were game breaking. It was a lot of fun hanging out at the booth with the rest of the MAGIC team and getting to interact with all the people who stopped by to check out the games.


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2016-2017 IGM Delegates

Nick Greenquist

What advice would you give an incoming student?

  • Build and maintain your personal portfolio site. In one of your classes you will get a project that is to build a site like this. Make this your priority! More importantly, don’t just build it and then forget it. Employers love when they can easily open a link and be bombarded with all the awesome work you’ve done. Every time you create a project while in school, take the time to create new pages for your site showing off your work. Employers have to comb through an enormous amount of applications. If you can get them looking at your work with a simple web link right on your resume, you are miles ahead of the competition.


What’s your favorite memory as an undergraduate student in IGM?

  • Showing off my first game in GSDIII. In that class, we were given 10 weeks to build whatever type of game we wanted. My teammates and I spent countless hours making our game, enjoying the creative freedom to build whatever we could think of. The most rewarding part was presenting the game at the end of the trimester to our classmates. Getting positive feedback and compliments for something you’ve dedicated so much time to is one of the most fulfilling things you can experience


What’s been the most influential course you’ve taken?

  • Advanced Public Speaking. Coming to RIT, public speaking was one of my worst fears. I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and take Public Speaking and then Advanced Public Speaking. I eventually overcame my fear and actually turned it into a strength. I even somehow managed to win the Public Speaking contest at Imagine RIT. More importantly, this new skill allows me to better share and explain my ideas. No matter how good your ideas are, no one will care if you don’t know how to communicate them effectively.


What will you miss the most about IGM/RIT?

  • The game lab. While at RIT you’re going to have unlimited access to powerful hardware and countless software tools. Use this to your advantage while you’re still a student!


What’s next for you in the real world?

  • I’m interning this summer at GeekHive as a software development intern. Then I’m attending NYU in next fall to pursue my Masters in Computer Science. My goal is to specialize in Machine Learning and AI.



Anthony Zalar

What advice would you give an incoming student?

  • Dream beyond your goals. When I arrived at RIT my only dreams were to work at Epic Games and study in Japan. Within three years I did just that. It was amazing to me to be able to accomplish that but then I did not have the necessary direction to guide me for what would come next. Dream for being the person who will make the next big game, or the person who will save the world. At RIT you will be amazed at how many opportunities you will have to achieve those dreams so don't aim small.


What’s your favorite memory as an grad student in IGM?

  • My favorite memory in IGM comes in a series of memories where I would have lunch with my Game Design and Development (GDD) teammates after class. We would meet with the purpose of discussing our project goals but it was more often a way of enjoying the company of each other. It was amazing to work on exciting projects with great friends.


What’s been the most influential course you’ve taken?

  • The study Game Design in Germany course was the most influential course for me because I was able to learn about the impact of what I was studying at a global level. Beyond the studies, I made lifelong friends who taught me about German culture and the importance of enjoying life.


What will you miss the most about IGM/RIT?

  • Being a part of the team. I am so proud to be a student in IGM. I believe that every member in the IGM community also carries this sense of pride and the will to strive to be the best in world. It will be sad moving out of this team but I will always hold the memories close to my heart.


What’s next for you in the real world?

  • I will be moving to Chicago to work at a company called ImmersiveTouch. My focus will be on the front end development and design for Virtual Reality experiences as a technical designer. The goal of my company is to improve the lives of doctors and patients through the integration of VR/AR technologies.


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Princeton Review 2017 - IGM #2 for Undergrad & #4 for Graduate Studies

The Princeton Review top gaming schools for 2017 was released today 3/21/2017.  The School of Interactive Games and Media is proud to have increased our standing to #2 for Undergraduate Studies and #4 for Graduate Studies.  Congratulations to all the faculty, staff and students for all their work and dedication to make us one of the top rated schools!



Adobe Voco: Photoshop for Audio

This review of Adobe Voco is written by IGM Lecturer, Cody Van De Mark. 


Recently Adobe announced an experimental technology called #VoCo, “Photoshop for audio” [link]. The idea behind #VoCo is that it can pull the dialogue from audio clips as text that can then be edited. The edited text will change the audio in the speaker’s voice to say the newly edited phrase. At first, it sounded too good to be true, but Adobe’s engineers have never ceased to amaze. In the live demo of #VoCo, Adobe edited text and showed that the audio clip was updated to say the new phrase. Astonishingly, it sounded just like the original speaker’s voice. Even after multiple changes to the clip, the audio still sounded authentic. The speaker in the audio clip was saying entirely new phrases never heard in the original audio clip.

In terms of the games and media industry, this is incredibly exciting news. Numerous games and media experiences use voice recording [link]. In many products, it’s a crucial part of the experience. Currently any required changes in audio must be re-recorded with the original voice actor. These changes may come from alterations to the script, poorly recorded audio, background noises in the audio, misspoken words, stuttering or other recorded speech disfluencies. Adobe’s technology may ease that work by allowing editors to correct phrases without the need of the original voice actor or the need to rerecord the audio clip. In mere seconds, an editor could correct audio to remove disfluencies and change vocal phrases. 

We don’t know the current limitations of the #VoCo technology, but there is exciting potential for technology like this. Though it is probably beyond the current technology, it is wonderful to imagine a world where we could create compelling procedural dialogue audio in games. Many games use procedural dialogue to create randomized quests and player goals that keep the player engaged. If technology advances to a point that we can procedurally generate matching and compelling voice audio, this could add a lot of immersion to games.

It is already known that voice acting adds an extra layer of immersion to a game. Traditionally this has not worked well with procedural dialogue because that would mean a voice actor would need to record every possible combination of dialogue. Since procedural dialogue can create millions of combinations, it is nigh impossible to record audio clips for every phrase. Recording this many audio clips would also mean the game would need to store millions of additional files, which would drastically increase the installation size of a game. The idea of procedural voice generation could eventually solve that problem and create better player experiences. For the time being, we can be excited that Adobe has pushed technology further and eased the difficulty of voice recording. Hopefully this is a testament to the future of audio manipulation.


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