I returned from San Francisco last week, after being at GDC all week. This was the first time I had ever attended the GDC, and it was absolutely fantastic. I learned an incredible amount and was truly inspired by a number of people. The Game Design Workshop was a two day workshop on the Monday and Tuesday of GDC and is an absolute must-attend for anyone who has anything to do with game design. I have never been so mentally drained in my life, than in that workshop which required groups of people to create games in very limited times (Actual games, not just theories). I came out of that workshop with a ton of ideas and critical ways to think about games that I believe will help me forever in this industry.
Notable lectures that I attended were Clint Hocking's talk on Immersive Fidelity, Jonathan Blow's talk on Inverting the Design Process, Ken Levine's talk on Storytelling in BioShock, and Nicole Lazzaro's talk comparing Halo vs. Facebook. I would highly recommend checking out the audios for these talks if you can. I'm not going to talk too much about each talk right now, but I may do so later as I write up more of my notes and begin to understand the subject matter further. I will say that the Game Design Challenge, in which contestants presented their designs for an inter-species game, was possibly the most fun I had at GDC. Steve Meretzky stole the show with his presentation, but I did think that Brenda Brathwaite's ARG (Alternate Reality Game) was actually a better game.
The biggest thing I learned at GDC is that there are a lot of game developers who are trying to challenge the ordinary, from all angles. You have people in the independent scene, mainstream gaming, flash gaming, and all other walks of life who feel similarly to myself. That was phenomenal to see. I truly believe that together we can make this medium more meaningful.