GDC 2018: An Inspiring Day of Art Sessions

The Game Developers Conference (GDC 2018) is consistently packed full of inspiration, advice, and fascinating retrospectives. On the first day of the conference, developers spoke at length regarding their experimentation with emerging technology and how they branched out into other genres. ConFreaks & Geeks attended several sessions showcasing artists who utilize a wide range of approaches and techniques, and we were blown away by the sheer comprehensiveness and diversity of their insights. During “The Art of VR Microtalks,” five experienced developers made ten-minute presentations about their history of working with virtual reality. We heard insights from Ashley Pinnick, Alex Karam, Carrie Witt, Charity Everett, and Angela Haddad. We also attended a talk by the renown artist Peet Cooper, who held a retrospective about internal game jams at Riot Games.

GDC 2018
Some of the many VR art infused games at GDC 2018

Ashley is a technical artist at Google working on Tilt Brush, and she described the thought processes involved in creating a new sketchbook-themed start screen. To drive home this idea, she built an interface featuring painterly strokes. Although the Tilt Brush logo is the main emphasis, the screen has storytelling vignettes that each contain primary, secondary, and tertiary focal points. She thinks of a VR composition as multiple compositions that come together. Another significant consideration was needing to place points of interest to match the user’s eye level to create a comfortable experience.

GDC 2018
Artist panel at GDC 2018

Alex creates empathy through art and addresses the erasure of victimhood. Their forthcoming VR project revisits a time when their family was attempting to call their little brother following the Paris attacks. Their family initially could not tell if the phone lines were down or if he was not picking up his phone, and this feeling of limbo inspired a recreation of the experience. The VR project’s setting is a living room, and the user looks at a cell phone up close. This living room certainly felt like it could belong to any suburban home. Alex’s goal is to create an voyeuristic-like take on viewing news in an intimate space. Alex believes that building a familiar world with familiar objects can create a more relatable experience.

Carrie Witt is an art director at Owlchemy Labs, who specializes in fun whimsical games such as Job Simulator and Snuggle Truck. She spoke about her passion for absurd experiences, which includes her newer title Rick & Morty Virtual Rick-ality. It draws from the show’s sense of humor with its fourth-wall breaking antics and interactable nonsense sci-fi gadgets. She spoke about the importance of using color, shape, and size to draw attention to key points of interaction, which is especially important for the VR experience. One example is the Microverse machine minigame, which has parts that draw inspiration from Simon and Bop It. Extensive playtesting was necessary in order to ensure the minigame is playable.

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Rick & Morty on VR! GDC 2018

Charity explores the story of human history via her current project “Go Back Fetch It.” With her take on image-based augmented reality, she explores human history via a deliberate choice of symbols that refers the origin of artmaking and storytelling. She studies monochrome drawings, cave paintings, Greek mythology, and early filmmaking such as Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon.” Her modern process involves using contemporary Adobe tools to allow viewers to experience human history via augmented reality phone imagery.

Angela’s studio One Third Blue revolves around her love for two dimensional art and incorporating it into a 360 degree experience. We saw examples in which she uses watercolor paint on paper and converts the paintings into digital formats. Some of her striking projects include “Oil in Our Creeks,” which is a documentary portraying the devastating effects of oil spills on swamps and fisheries. The use of 180 degrees of animation and 180 degrees of landscape shots immerses viewers. Angela also experiments with other programs such as Snapchat Lens and Paint 3D in order to create VR experiences.

GDC 2018
Pete Cooper talks at the Inspiring Creativity Through Internal Game Jams panel at GDC 2018

During the “Inspiring Creativity Through Internal Game Jams” talk, Peet Cooper recounted numerous riveting experiences. It was his first solo talk and certainly one of the highlights of the day. He spoke at length about how internal game jams help drive creativity at Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends. During each Thunderdome game jam, teams aim to finish a project within two days. The teams give teams the freedom to work across disciplines, try out new technology, and experiment with new ideas that do not even necessarily have to be games. Some examples include placing League of Legend characters into a fighting game and building costumed minions.

Peet described his experiences with six such jams, and it was quite awesome hearing about each new project. The first was to make a new playable map, but having a team of six artists and a tech artist resulted in a bit of a lopsided and inefficient use of time. The second was a new 1v1 mode, and the team composition had a designer, a producer, engineers, and quality assurance staff. For the third attempt, an organized team of twenty artists and five others created a new map skin based on an elaborate piece of pirate ship themed concept art. This had all new turrets, minions, and tons of other new assets. The team learned how quickly they can create new content while not overplanning and overthinking. For the fourth, another team of twenty-five set out to make a 2D side-scroller based on the game’s minions, which spurred accelerated learning. The fifth project was a forty-one person effort that hybridized a twin-stick arena game with Tetris style block obstacles, and the pixel art aesthetic proved to be a worthy challenge. The last of the six jams allowed players to vote on the game genre and theme, and the resulting 2D platformer boosted team confidence and audience engagement.

The GDC 2018 ran from March 19 to March 23, and ConFreaks & Geeks has plenty more to report about the event. Stay tuned for additional coverage!

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