Before I start, I just want to say I sorely misjudged the frenetic pace of events at this year's (and my personal first) GDC. While the first two days were slightly less hectic, the final few had Scott and I running around all day and attending 'networking events' during the night. While we took part in many of the panels and lectures, I'm going to leave much of the coverage up to the sites more suited to doing that kind of stuff. My prerogative is to touch on the ideas and issues that are specifically of interest to the modding and amateur development community.
During the 'Game Designer's Rant', Clint Hocking stated that the games industry is the most creative in the world:
"I should rant about creative stagnation... but that's such a tired and generic topic, I don't even think I can get pissed off about it. We have a considerably broader range than many other industries. Pound to pound, we are the most creative fucking industry in the entire world. Being creative is fairly easy. Having the courage to create something that challenges people is fucking hard. Why don't we create a game that fucking means something, that fucking matters?"
Developers make the systems that can engage and control a player's experience. Independents are starting to challenge the experiences that most people associate with playing a game. Mods, in their own way, have pushed a few boundaries too. Genres have been blending and creative minds out there are exploring new waters. The big boys have been hedging their bets with iterations on the classic FPS model that's been around since Doom. While the commercial indie world has had their champions to cheer over, where's the wildly inventive kings of the modding world? Moreover, why are most, if not all, of the successes in the modding world just similar to what the studio giants have had to offer? I think that modders are capable of releasing content that is creatively on par with the games seen at the IGF. We just have to be willing to make the games that we want to play and not focus what we think everyone else wants to play. As Tracy Fullerton from USC put it in her lecture on the 'Indies of Tomorrow', we need to divorce ourselves from the preconceptions of gaming. Get inspired, not just from other games but from everything else around you. Challenge yourself to challenge others - provide a new experience that's unlike anything they've had before.
People who develop games/mods do it because it's what they want to do. However, it's never all just happy times and sunshine. Finding a way to keep yourself motivated is half the battle. Sometimes its finding a Russian company that "borrows" your ideas (Kyle Gabler of 2D Boy), or just a small tight knit group of fellow developers. When you're starting a game or mod project, you can be guaranteed there's going to be rough patches ahead and you'll probably get pushed into assuming roles you never intended on serving. It may feel more like work than a hobby at times which is why many mods don't come to fruition. Having the fortitude to push on through the developmental barriers and making some sacrifices can net you the big payoff in the end.
Finally, I hope a lot of this year's coverage of GDC around the web has spurred some new thoughts on how you approach your development process and given you some renewed direction. The Independent Games Festival cancelled the modding part of their competition for 2008 (although Flipside and Foamzilla both made it into the student showcase). There's a lot of great work going on out there in the modding community and it's my hope that mods are brought back to the IGF in a big way. A lot of that will come down to you developers - make yourselves known and who knows, 2009 could be your year.