The road to San Francisco: GDC 2015 and how they got there!

Every year, the Game Developers Conference (GDC), the largest professional’s only event of the game industry, holds a narrative review contest. Universities around the country have students prepare and submit essays, with the most promising essays requested by GDC to be turned into visual boards. The high placing essays win the ability to go to San Francisco to show their boards to industry professionals. For the second year in a row, Dakota State has several students in the Game Design major who have placed highly in this competition: Trent Steen, Mostafa Haque, and Sean Daily.

Covering a variety of topics, the students chose to cover different elements of games to explore their effect on stories. Two of the winners chose the Metal Gear franchise to write about, such as Trent Steen (platinum winner) analyzed the original Metal Gear’s use of mechanics to tell stories. He chose this topic because of his belief that video games have a unique way to tell stories. “Video games have the power to make their audience feel an emotion by having them be an active participant in the story.” He continued on to say he feels Metal Gear does this well by presenting the player with several choices one does not often see in a game.

On a similar note, Sean Daily’s (gold award) investigated the ways that Metal Gear Solid 4 interacts with the player and attempts to bridge the gap between gameplay and cut scenes. Moving away from the Metal Gear series, Mostafa Haque (gold winner) choose to write his essay about the Nemesis system of Shadows of Mordor and how it is used to tell unique stories for every gameplay. He chose this topic because of how this system spoke to him and the massive amount of hours he put into this game without even playing the main story often times. “In the first 50 hours or so of the game I played, only around 8 hours was spent on the quest.”

These three contestants had their struggles in submitting their essays that won. The writing of the essay proved difficult in ways for all of them. Mostafa felt temptation to go off topic with the lore of the game related. Trent commented he wasn’t sure originally if he wanted to submit his essay. “My biggest challenge in writing the essay was that, since I was using a paper I wrote for another class, it didn’t quite fit the format of the competition submission form,” he commented. He felt certain he wouldn’t win, and wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort to change it. Sean faced the challenge of reducing his content to make sure it fit within the constraints. “I always seem to have the problem of having too many things I want to mention,” he admitted, “and start to have trouble finding good places to mention them.” However, he stated that the papers he writes continue to get better every year.

Despite these challenges, these three students succeeded and felt they learned much from the conference and the experience. Trent, who went to GDC for the first time, felt it was prospective changing to see the industry from a new light. Mostafa and Sean felt the time to talk with professionals was of huge benefit to themselves. Sean in particular felt he had one piece of advice he had learned that would benefit him greatly throughout life, “you come across something you can’t do, there is no reason you cannot just hop online and teach yourself how to do it. Take advantage of that; if you don’t put in the effort, no one else will.”