GDC Nostaligia (A Psychogeography)

by Darius Kazemi on October 15, 2007

in gdc,networking,travel

Take a look at this picture. It’s a pretty unassuming location, right? Deserted plaza, couple of benches, some ugly-ass corporate mixed use zoning.

But it’s part of a rich tapestry of game industry memories for me. Because this crappy plaza is in downtown San Jose, CA where I attended the Game Developers Conference for many years, and as a result built up many close friendships which last to this day.

I was in San Jose last week for the Virtual Worlds Conference, but I was walking around and reminiscing about all the cool stuff that happened to me in these different places. There’s actually an entire discipline centered around this phenomenon called psychogeography.

This is the light rail station where I met up with certain friends of mine, back when we were all students trying to break in to the industry. They had been partying all night and were incredibly drunk, and one of them vomited all over the rail platform. Classy! I’ll avoid naming names since I’m such a nice guy, but that was definitely a nice bonding event.

Here’s a great Thai restaurant that was the first place I ever really hung out with the MIT CMS games folks (now of MIT GAMBIT), including Matt, Clara, and Philip. I actually ended up eating dinner here a few times a few different years with them, so I always associate this place with them. Good memories, and they’re definitely good friends.

Wow. This one takes me way back. The 2003 GDC was my first GDC, and I didn’t know anybody and also didn’t know where to get cheap dinner in downtown SJ. There were plenty of expensive hotel restaurants but I didn’t see anything affordable (I now know that there’s plenty affordable to eat in the area, I was just a n00b). On my first day I made friends with Jeff and with a gal named Lauren who actually kind of dropped off the face of the earth after GDC ’03. We went to this Johnny Rocket’s together that night. So even though Johnny Rocket’s is kind of a despicable chain theme restaurant, I have fond memories of this one. I think I ate here at least once every year that GDC was held in San Jose.

Ahh, the Fairmont. The networking heart of the old GDC in San Jose. This was the first place that I was ever truly star-struck by the game industry. Because it’s one thing to see Will Wright or Warren Spector or John Romero or whoever on a panel in a convention center. It’s an entirely different thing to hang out in a swank lounge with them while you’re all drinking and carrying on. At GDC, if you didn’t know where to go, you’d head to the Fairmont and within 10 minutes you’d hear about three different parties and have met five interesting people. (As long as you worked the room.)

The Fairmont lobby is set up like a pit, so it would literally be a teeming pit of game developers. Sounds disgusting, and come to think of it, it kinda was. But… the NETWORKING, man!

It’s a damn shame that there isn’t something similar to the Fairmont at GDC in San Francisco. It looks like the Marriot is shaping up to be the place to meet. But as CMP found out, you can’t dictate this kind of thing, it has to arise naturally over the course of years. Just one of the pitfalls of moving a long-standing conference location.

I recall that this particular corner of the Fairmont bar was always taken up by one clique or another and it was always a pain in my ass to join their conversation. In fact, I never managed to successfully do that. Just goes to show that some places are physically configured for networking (like the Fairmont pit in general) and other places are conducive to shunning outsiders and new people (like this corner).

Whenever I would tire of hanging out at the Fairmont and felt the need for some fresh air (it did get pretty hot and loud in there), I would leave the hotel and head for one of these pillars out on the sidewalk. And then I’d just perch there, like some kind of networking gargoyle. Undoubtedly, cool people would be walking by because, well, it was on the way from the convention center to the Fairmont. There would be throngs of people walking by, and usually within 5 or 10 minutes I’d see someone I knew and hop down and tag along with them. Once, a friend actually stopped by and joined me perched on the next pillar over. We had a nice little pillar chat, from what I recall.

I will always remember this innocuous piece of sidewalk, because it was here that I was walking along and who walked right by me but Reggie. Now normally I’d say, big deal, some famous dude walked right by me. Happens all the time at GDC. But this was different. This man exuded an aura. He walked by like a god damned force of nature. A laser beam of singular purpose and focus. Like his briefcase was fucking handcuffed to his wrist. I have never in my life been so impressed by someone just from being near them for a few seconds. I knew right in that moment that Nintendo of America was in good hands, at least when it came to marketing. (Of course, now he’s the NoA President.) That man BLEEDS executive.

Ahh. The Agenda. In 2003 this was the site of my first big GDC party. It was also the site of my first GDC party shenanigans. Microsoft rented the whole club for a night and through some friends I got an invitation which came with the goodie bags for folks attending the MS Developer Day session at GDC. I didn’t actually attend that session, so this level of cleverness was a big deal for me as a n00b. I also had a few friends who didn’t have a pass, so I got into the party, found a grate that I could slip my invitation under, and passed the invite out to them. We repeated this trick to get about three people into the party.

Also, this was actually the first place I ever had a drink in public. I was underage at the time, and until then had been completely dry. I looked around me and saw 300 drunken game developers, and I was holding two free drink tickets. At which point I said to myself, “Well, screw it. If there’s a time and a place to start drinking, this is it.” And I had a single glass of wine because I didn’t know WHAT to order, much less HOW to order it.

This was also where I had the first of many extended conversations with my friend Rich Stein. We talked for about two or three hours about game clubs at universities, game development education, and our prediction that most university game development programs built top-down were doomed to failure.

Anyway. Yeah. A brief tour of my personal psychogeography of San Jose, filtered through the lens of GDC.


Patrick October 15, 2007 at 6:15 pm

I feel that dude, I’ve got some memories myself but they’re probably not publishable.

Darius Kazemi October 15, 2007 at 6:28 pm

When has that stopped you?

Doug October 15, 2007 at 8:42 pm

Awww, you had wine at your first party? That’s classy ;-).

Tom October 19, 2007 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for the trip down memory lane man! I lived right around the convention center when I was interning at Google. Seeing your photos makes me really miss the place :/

Darren Torpey February 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm

(Now that I’ve *finally* read this post — I’ve seriously had it open in a browser to read for months…)

A lot of these memories remind me of similar ones that I’m sure we both share from WPI — especially the “pillar chat” (did we coin that term sitting outside of Founders that year?).

Last year I was unusually shy about being a shutterbug, but I really enjoyed this psychogeography, and I’m sure you got even more out of writing it, so I think I’ll specifically take more photos so that I can do the same for GDC this year.

In particular, I’ll be sure to grab shots from which I can built my “first two years at GDC” psychogeography. Hopefully it will help you (and many others I’ve talked to) understand that GDC in San Francisco is still a magical thing for n00bs, despite all the growth and the relative lack of quirky, traditional places to hang out. (I’ve already grown quite fond of the Marriott)

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