Our Favorite Talks from GDC 2021!

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Game Developers Conference returned as an online only experience in 2021. Much like GDC 2020 and the March GDC Showcase, GDC 2021 showcased many developers who spoke about the development processes behind recent renown games. This year, we listened to talks featuring Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Spelunky 2, Ghosts of Tsushima, and more. The virtual format also enabled attendees to chat with developers during each presentation. Hearing these developers is always inspirational, and we wanted to share some of our favorite panels from the past week. 

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales spectacularly kicked off the PlayStation 5, and multiple panels focused on specific facets of the game’s development. In “Visual Effects Summit: An Explosive New Spider-Man: Creating VFX for Miles Morales,” Bryanna Lindsey spoke about creating effects that would showcase Miles’ unique abilities. We saw how the team implemented striking effects such as Miles’ bioelectricity-driven web-like explosions.

During the “Art Direction Summit: Collaborative Art Direction” panel, Gavin Goulden and Jason Hickey spoke about their experiences directing the game’s environment, character, and cinematic art. Given Miles’ Latino background, the team consciously strived to be culturally sensitive and accurate by speaking to developers of different backgrounds. In “Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales: The Creative Journey,” Brian Horton spoke about the game’s pre-production, plot progression, and character development. He spoke about how the game features Miles being an explosive new Spider-Man with unique powers and movement compared to Peter Parker’s, and he even showcased unused dialogue scenes that were completely revised and reworked before the game came out. 

GDC consistently encompasses a wide variety of games, and 2021 was no exception. We attended assorted talks regarding other current games. In “Independent Games Summit: One More Run: The Making of Spelunky 2,” Derek Yu spoke about how he felt compelled to develop a sequel to further explore Spelunky’s unique hybrid of rogue-like mechanics and platforming action. He spoke about the difficulties of implementing new features such as fluid dynamics and online multiplayer. He also spoke about how Spelunky straddles the line between dichotomous elements such as cartoon-like visuals vs realism as well as grid-based positioning versus dynamic obstacles.

In “Online Game Technology Summit: ‘Pokémon GoFest 2020’: Global Challenge Arena,” James Prompanya reflected upon the technical challenges and logistics behind last year’s Pokémon Go weekend event mechanics. Given the event’s hourly rotation structure and worldwide time zones, Niantic had to ensure that multiple game states were stable and concurrently running. In “Creating Newstalgia for Crash Bandcoot 4: Modernizing a Classic IP,” Paul Yan spoke about the process of reviving a long-standing IP. He mentioned how Toys for Bob analyzed other sequels, series revivals, and Crash’s history in order to figure out the direction for the new game. 

We also enjoyed “Creating Feudal Japan from Across the Pacific,” which described how Sucker Punch pivoted from their established inFamous franchise to Ghosts of Tsushima. Sucker Punch was considering several different historical contexts for their next game. After some initial trepidation, the team settled on Japan. Jason Connell mentioned how the team had to become students in order to learn to authentically represent a completely different culture. He showed footage of their travels to Japan in which they took thousands of reference photos and took extensive notes. He also particularly noted how the team learned to build assets after studying elements like sword guards. Given how the 1200s were so long ago, Jason described that it would have been difficult to authentically recreate every detail and that it was more important to present a believable world for players. 

These panels are only a small sample of what GDC has to offer. The GDC Vault is full of talks from previous conferences, and it will also include this year’s content as well. GDC provides many opportunities to further enrich attendees’ understanding of development, publishing, marketing, game preservation, and other facets of the industry.