WordCamp Portland 2011 (part 2)

Day 2! To clarify on two items on the schedule: custom post types is for when you’re doing CMS-level work such as tracking items in a store. Post Formats is more towards end-users, a new feature that allows you to tell WordPress to format different types of posts (standard post, aside, image, etc) in different ways.

Also, there’s a local wordpress user group here in Portland that meets monthly.

Also, there’s a “happiness table” with WordPress experts offering to answer questions you have.

Also, there’s a job board for folks looking for blogging related work.

Also, thanks to the sponsors and volunteers!

Jane Wells @ Automattic: What’s Coming in WordPress 3.3 and Town Hall Q&A:

  • Jane is one of the UX folks working on WordPress core
  • A bit of background: Jane’s first wordcamp was Wordcamp Portland, where she showcased the changes in WordPress 2.7, and is now showing the changes in 3.3
  • wpdevel.wordpress.com is the officially wordpress developer blog.
  • New in 3.3: the sidebar navigation now has menus rather than having to click into sub-menus.
  • More work in the admin bar, making it useful to connect the front end and the back end.
  • Improving the help menus (more readable, more relevant).
  • Improving the widget screen for larger screens.
  • Improving tablet support for the backend (not targeting phones yet, that’s a whole other kettle of fish)
  • In general going for a more responsive design.
  • Take a cue from gmail and similar, there will be hinting calling out new features.
  • Image handling is MUCH IMPROVED, using a new uploader.
  • Media management revamp is still not done, though. Some minor changes, but not the big one.
  • Inline feature update log (not ready yet, but being worked on), so you can see the changes in the latest version of WP.
  • New User “Welcome” to help new users with a lot of the initial defaults — most users don’t really do an exhaustive search of the admin panel to learn how to change defaults.
  • A quick call-out: there is a setting theme developers can add to a theme to tell the editor to respect the settings of your theme (fonts, line width, etc.), if you want your editor to act more “WYSIWYG”
  • Question came up about styling per post from someone still using tables for layout: You need to learn CSS. At this point, if you don’t know CSS, your HTML is almost worthless. (Preach it!)
  • Development: they tend to test features as a plugin, then if that goes well, patch it into core.
  • Question about the file url setting in the media uploader: they’ve got “none”, but the point of the attachment url and post url is workflow (attachment url is basically to have a smaller shot that links to a larger image; post url is useful for when you want to keep images skinned to your blog, not just the image).
  • Request: better PDF uploading support? Agreed, it would be great, but it hasn’t been a priority since there are other ways to upload PDFs.
  • Random anecdote: one of the reasons for the UI refresh in 3.2: when they were at SXSW, they saw a preview of the new blogger UI, and the new blogger post screen looked just like the old UI for WordPress. This has/had been happening a lot, so they decided it was time to prioritize the planned refresh. (This is anecdotal, not some sort of official reasoning.)
  • Feature scope for a new version is generally decided communally on an IRC channel, and the public are welcome to chime in.
  • Request: that the wpdevel blog gets more usage (used to be more active).
  • Favorite feature .com has that .org does not: email subscriptions (even has jabber support)! Also, automatic twitter/social media broadcasting.

Oh no, Voodoo Doughnuts delayed again! Hopefully after the next session.

Blogging/Content Productivity: How do you write? Workflow? Tools? Discussion of EditFlow:

  • General discussion session, asking about productivity and any tips and tricks and tools people have.
  • Example workflow: text editor, keep a file of drafts sync’d on Dropbox, so you can write from anywhere, and uses markdown.
  • [Personally, I’m curious on Scrivener for this.]
  • Idea to Draft to Post: the amount of time can vary wildly. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s weeks or months (or it stalls and is years).
  • Pinboard: similar to Delicious but not slowly dying (oh snap!). Useful for collected link posts.
  • EditFlow demo: grew out of a desire to manage and track external workflows across multiple people and projects.
  • Able to bring in a lot of that workflow into WordPress.
  • Features like custom statuses (“waiting for feedback” etc, instead of just “posted” or “draft”)
  • [This sounds like a godsend for a group blog/e-magazine, though I’m not sure how useful it would be for single user blogs.]
  • Calendar tools for viewing a story queue for scheduled stories/posts.
  • Also story budget tracking.
  • Editorial metadata (due date, location, photographer, needs, contact info, et cetera)
  • Looking for feedback from people willing to road test this plugin.
  • (Now they’re explaining a bit about how this could be useful as a one or two person blog vs a large team.)
  • As a single user, one of the big useful features is tracking drafts more efficiently. Custom statuses, and queues.
  • This actually makes a lot of sense: custom status of “pitch” for a trackable one-line pitch of your idea. Then maybe you have 20 minutes later, so you outline it, and then save it as “outline”. A few weeks later you have time and energy for writing a long form post, you then filter for outlines, and can immediately get to what you want. (Nice.)
  • The calendar view is also useful as a single user because it provides a visual tool to view when you’re actually posting — as was pointed out in the keynote, steady, consistent posting is the key to growing a readership, and this makes it easier to see this.
  • Request: showing due dates on the calendar: Developer: Check back next week, next version! (Yay for responsive developers, we’ll see if he was tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Request: Color-coding statuses. It’s possible easily enough (each post is wrapped in a status-specific class on the post list page in WP, already), just hasn’t been worked out yet.
  • Request: usage statistics (so you can see how many words you wrote through all revisions, and time tracking).
  • Request: RSS feeds to track status updates on posts (pitch to outline, outline to draft, etc).
  • Recommendation: using the new fullscreen feature in WP is great for no-distractions.
  • A lot of folks still use offline text editors for various reasons (I use Scrivener for long-form for the research note-taking, others use Evernote).
  • One thing currently lacking in EditFlow is documentation, and they’re going to work on that.
  • For EditFlow: treat it as a supplement to project management tools, not a replacement.
  • There isn’t a clear answer as to how to keep motivated for blogging. There’s two camps: those that push a schedule for a rhythm; and those that push the notion that “people share your content because it’s awesome, not because it was posted on Wednesday”. [Personally, I feel like it’s a mixture of the two: if you aren’t posting regularly, you don’t get the audience. If you aren’t posting quality content, you don’t retain the audience and they don’t share your content.]
  • Suggestion: go read Caterina Fake’s post FOMO and Social Media
  • It’s easy to get caught up in the noise: follow the people who are important to you and are consistently rewarding: if it’s actually important, it’ll still come up on your radar. The result is more signal, less noise, and clearer topics for writing.

Post Formats: Using Your Blog to Write About Anything:

  • Presented by Andrew Spittle (@andrewspittle), who works as a happiness engineer for Automattic.
  • Post Formats are a way in wordpress of designating a little bit of metadata about a post, so you can customize how different types of content is displayed.
  • Really simple, but requires your theme supports it (but is easy for a theme to add, and a lot are adding them). (Just add a easily cut-and-pasteable function into functions.php.)
  • Nine formats supported: aside, link, status, standard, gallery, image, video, chat, audio
  • Formats are not currently extendable (these 9 are what there are), because they wanted standardization on them so themes could more easily support the options.
  • [Personally, I’d love to see a twitter plugin that pulls and archives tweets as status-format posts.]
  • Post formats are easily re-skinnable.
  • The design can fit your content, without having to come up with one universal format. Different types of content have different needs.
  • Useful suggestion: tie post formats into categories, so users can quickly see all (for instance) images, or galleries, or quotes.
  • If you’re trying to convince your authors, show a site that is already using it, and then point out how easy it is to add by showing the “format” section within a “Create Post” page.
  • The big “shift” in using post formats is that blogging becomes more about what you want to share, rather than just “oh I need to write something now.”
  • One flaw to post formats is that it comes down to each theme as to what formats are supported. (The bright side is the content is still there, you just lose that custom formatting if you switch to a theme without that format support.)
  • Post format is a meta field in the database, so it’s persistent (if you set it to audio, then switch to another theme that doesn’t support audio, then switch to another theme that DOES have audio support, WP will still remember that it was set as an audio format before)
  • Changes to the “create post” page based on the post format is being discussed, but not implemented yet (and probably won’t be for a while, as it’s a BIG change, and they want to make sure they do it right). [This would be a great feature, imho. If I post a quote, I don’t need a title, I need a field for the quote, and a field for citation.]
  • You can’t currently filter your posts list (on the backend) by format, so also using them as categories seems like a good option (most useful if you’re not actively using categories for something else already).
  • A number of the themes in the Theme Showcase on wordpress already support post formats. (And all the free themes on wordpress.com are in a public repository in the SVN.) Just do a search with a filter for post formats.
  • [I’m pretty excited about post formats. It’s one of the things I like most about tumblr, and I’m glad to see that functionality in a self-hosted option.]

(Yay doughnuts!)

Adding Video/Audio/Animation to Your Blog:

  • Leader didn’t show up. Awwww.

And that wraps up WordCamp Portland 2011! (Since my last session aborted, I opted to skip out a little early and missed the wrap-up.) Thanks again to all the organizers and presenters, it was a lot of fun, and I was glad to be able to make it to the event.

WordCamp 2011

I’m at the Eliot Center in Portland, Oregon for WordCamp Portland 2011. The keynote was just starting as I arrived, so this may start out a little rushed.

Key ideas out of the keynote (Scott Berkun @ Automattic):

  • Without content, you don’t have a blog. The point of a blog is to post.
  • Automattic, the folks who drive WordPress, use almost no email, and are effectively all remote workers (they have an office, but it’s generally pretty empty). Instead they use IRC, Skype, and blogs running the P2 theme.
  • If you average 1 post per comment, you’re ahead of the curve.
  • Group blogs get more traffic, because when you first start, blog traffic is driven by the people you know: more authors means more networks that are getting tapped.
  • Slow growth is the reality of a blog: don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a lot of traffic right away, just keep posting on a regular basis.
  • They started a daily post challenge, and they’re getting good info about ways to make posting regularly easier. Some of which is already hitting WordPress in 3.2 and 3.3
  • Figuring out a “Post Post” page. The act of posting should be exciting and encourage the user, instead of just a little line at the top saying “Successfully posted.” They’re experimenting with pulling stats about how long it took to write your post, how many subscribers you just published to, how many twitter followers you just broadcast the post to, et cetera, and give you a more rewarding experience.
  • There are 60 million wordpress installs, half of which are on wordpress.com.
  • Something to consider: a doc for new bloggers that says “What you should expect in the first 30 days of your blog.”
  • They use a lot of live-site A/B testing (keeping the experience good for people is important, but exposing new experiences on the live code seems to get more real-world metrics).
  • WordPress.com tends to be the proving grounds for new features, and where possible, those then get rolled into wordpress.org (sometimes into core, sometimes into a plugin, and they’re pushing JetPack as a catch-all plugin to house these features).
  • Project Management is largely about respect and trust (both ways). Developers need to respect and trust the PM, and the PM needs to respect and trust the devs.
  • Longer and shorter posts both have benefits: longer posts are more engaging, but are read less — the TLDR effect. Shorter posts get a higher read count and keep people coming back regularly.

And now we’re getting ready for the unconference session scheduling (Cami is explaining the process)… and now the mad rush to put up sessions on the board begins! (I’m hoping someone will have a session on coping with the Second Year Slump, but not enough to put it up myself.)

Using WordPress as MVC (Using WordPress as an application development framework):

  • There are apparently some interesting hooks and code within WordPress already present
  • The presenter was able to convince his team to switch to WordPress for their web application backend (vs Rails or similar), because WordPress basically does a lot of the annoying things for you
  • A lot of other options out there (Plone, Rails, Django, etc) are really customizable, which is great, but sometimes you don’t want to re-invent the wheel for your basic interface materials every time. Maybe you don’t need that level of customization. At that point, having a tool that has an opinion to express in their experience, like WordPress (where they’ve spent considerable time and resources making a lot of their interface very useable and clean).
  • The name of the session was a bit of misnomer: it’s not a replacement for MVC (awww), but it IS a solid application framework.
  • Check out WP Alchemy for some useful custom field handling.
  • “How do you mitigate using a platform that can change on you between updates?” — they avoid custom DB queries and other custom changes to core. By using stock functions wherever possible (and then small utility functions where extension is needed), it helps mitigate using an actively changing backend.
  • Constraints are your friend: if you are explicit about what you are using, you reduce developer chaos, and makes it WAY easier to maintain.
  • Stuff still happens: they’ve not moved to 3.2 yet because of changes to the metabox tools they’re using. (Minor releases tend to go out right away, bigger ones are delayed to make sure everything is working.)
  • Use logs! Get it logging to somewhere you can check, and check them regularly. It’s not enough to say “Well, it’s loading, that’s good enough.” It’s entirely possible for a page to load, but throw several warnings or errors with issues that could choke your site under load.
  • A key takeaway: Be kind to yourself, and be kind to your content creators.

The official schedule is now online.

Second Year Slump: What to do when it’s no longer shiny:

  • Moderated discussion rather than presentation: no one has a perfect answer, so let’s hear some ideas
  • (Since it’s more conversational, been harder to liveblog, sorry!)
  • Create a schedule of drafts that will post whether you post or not, so you’re driven to fill them in before they post.
  • A post can be three sentences (or even one)! It’s okay to have a short post!
  • Avoid self-censoring! Sometimes what you think was the crap post gets the most comments and people like it.
  • Switch media: if you’re stuck on writing, post a video, post a picture, or some sort of audio post.
  • Federate! Engage other bloggers via your blog rather than comments, create a dialogue.

Lunch. Pasta this time — in the past it’s generally been Nicholas’s, but pasta is good too. I also checked in for my t-shirt, but apparently a few too many people collected my size. I was asked to come back towards the end of the day in case more of the right size shows up, and if not they’ll order more and mail it to me. These things happen, not too worried.

Andrew Nacin: You Don’t Know Query (WP_Query):

  • In general, don’t use query_posts, use wp_query! Please!
  • Everyone uses queries, but very few folks really know how or what it’s doing.
  • Query is ridiculously robust, and is the core part of a loop. You can also run multiple queries, to create very precise, custom loops for content.
  • wp_query is actually a reference to a more obscure wp_the_query
  • When we load wordpress, before we load the theme, it already queries for a list of posts. Yep, before the theme loads, wordpress already has all your posts queried.
  • This means there’s actually a whole lot of querying going on, which isn’t super efficient. There are better ways to do this!
  • WP_Query is robust and lets you lets you manipulate the object and use conditional tags without having to re-query.
  • Something new in 3.3: is_main_query
  • Neat flowchart as to different query methods (and why you should generally use wp_query): bit.ly/wpsequery

Music Blogs:

  • There’s the question of how to link to the music you want to review or expose, but doing it legally/safely.
  • The flip side is that artists often don’t want (or can’t due to publisher agreements) it streamed.
  • There aren’t many good solutions right now: it would be nice to have a clean plugin that stores music securely and then only exposes that song via stream.
  • Observations has been that you need to not worry about the downloading — if it’s streamable, it’s collectable, period.
  • Check out TopSpin for audio management. Creates promotion with tracks as reward. (Trading music for an audience.)
  • GigPress is still kind of the best plugin option for handling events/scheduling.
  • Most people tend not to make money on the music, they make money on touring and the merchandise and licensing.
  • Check out Press75 for some of the stuff happening with oEmbed for showing video.

Snacktime! Delicious fried berry pie, provided by @Whiffies. As an aside: I randomly came across a show while wandering N Mississippi with Jade back in July. One of the bands in that show was The Doubleclicks, and we thoroughly enjoyed their set. In true Portland small-world fashion, I totally just bumped into Angela from The Doubleclicks at the music blogs session.

The Personal Blog in 2011: Beyond Cat Photos:

  • Aaron Hockley is presenting, mostly because it’s relevant to his life.
  • Back in the day, blogs used to be really casual, just done haphazardly on geocities and livejournal and similar.
  • He’s been paring back on his blogs, came to the realization that a lot could be put back into a personal blog.
  • What sites he was finding himself going to was interesting writers with a small handful of topics, ends up being more of an evolved personal blog.
  • These broad-topic, semi-personal sites are more engaging and exciting to read.
  • The new “personal blog” is the consolidated blog — the personality-driven blog with a handful of topics.
  • Usage is medium-long form articles — there are gallery sites for photography (500px) and Twitter for status updates.
  • The reality is that while keeping topics separate makes some sense, it’s harder to generate the personality, and often there is a lot of overlap between interests, so why not run with that?
  • Personal identity is becoming increasingly important, and self-hosting means self-managing your identity.
  • Question Posed: Generating revenue is more straightforward on a targeted site.
  • Aaron’s gut feeling is that it’s not as easy but could be more rewarding overall.
  • Some debate over whether to just post everything into the same stream hodgepodge, or to offer feeds per category, and allowing users to decide what things they’re going to follow. (I’m inclined to say offer both.)
  • The goal of the personal blog these days is to consolidate, condense, and make it easier to create a relationship with the user.
  • [As an aside: a lot of this is line with the philosophy of IndieWebCamp]
  • The question: “If it’s your personal blog, why would you want to monetize that?” “Why not?” Longer answer: if it’s relevant monetization (amazon links/etc for a book or camera or whatever is being talked about), it’s not intrusive or bad.
  • “Do you want big numbers, or do you want more engagement?” (Targeted silos of content get more subscribers, but personal blogs get more engagement from the subscribers they do have.)
  • As you go more personal, where do you censor yourself, not necessarily in your own interest, but out of respect for those around you that may not be comfortable with information about them discussed online.
  • Personal blogs can be useful from a business perspective as well: the authenticity carries over, people DO research the people behind the brands, and tend to do more business with those who they can align with personally.

Last session for today (this is getting long enough that I’ll do tomorrow as a separate post).

Blogging for Photographers:

  • Mislabeled: actually about proofing via blogs.
  • Using WordPress as an online proofing manager.
  • (Another example of what we’re talking about is SmugMug or ZenFolio.)
  • What do we want out of a proofing service? @TheFrosty (running the session) is looking into building one and would like input.
  • Want: flagging for corrections (marking an image as desired, but needing touchups or other corrections).
  • Having some method of rating that can be shared between multiple proofers.
  • Having some method for sorting proofs, so you can show “photographer’s picks” and similar.
  • Lightroom plugins exist, finding some way to piggyback on that for image uploading would be great.

LiveBlog: CyborgCamp

9:43am: Currently in the Forum at Cubespace, waiting for opening remarks on CyborgCamp, Amber Case (@caseorganic appears to be MC’ing.

9:50am: there are several extras for following what’s happening with CyborgCamp (#cyborgcamp): CyborgCamp Backchan.nl, CyborgCamp LiveStream, Twitter Tracking.

Should definitely check out the sponsors at CyborgCamp.com.

10:00am: Still going through sponsors, each is getting a chance to get up and sort of give their spiel as to what they do. I’ve yet to see any that aren’t worth checking out.

Explanation of an unconference — a mixture of established presentations, and blocks of time where you can create breakout sessions — if you have something you want to discuss or present, just put it on a card, put it on the grid. The point is to make these conferences to work for you. There is no commitment as an attendee — go where you’re finding value; if something isn’t what you wanted, go somewhere else.

10:12am: Okay, starting to organize the unconferences and meeting back here in 30.
Continue reading “LiveBlog: CyborgCamp”

WordCamPDX Wrap-Up

Skipped the after-party to wander home (I don’t drink, and today was long enough as it stands, otherwise would have joined the crew at the Green Dragon). Hoping to collect my thoughts on the day while they’re still fresh.

The short of it: it was a REALLY fantastic event, and I’m very glad I went (it would have been worth coming down from Seattle for were I still in Seattle, let me put it that way). As can be gathered from my previous post, there was a virtual wealth of information regarding blogging, and thats not even getting into the deluge of tweets on Twitter regarding it — at several points in the day, we were anywhere from the number one to the number three item in Twitter Trends, even beating out the political stuff the day after the debates. And the attendance was just 150 people(ish), so that should be saying something on just how much everyone was tweeting. I about doubled my Twitter Follows/Followers.

On the quibbles side of things, I’d say it’d be nice if it was broken into two shorter days rather than one PACKED day. More chance to socialize and network between peers, and it would also give the opportunity to provide a bit more tracking options for sessions (as it was, there were a few that ran opposite each other that a lot of people wanted to go to both of). That said, the price was unbeatable, the presenters and topics were interesting, and the location was excellent. Overall, if you’re going to have issues, having too many neat things packed into the time is a pretty nice problem to have.

A few mental notes to myself:

  • I promised to look into more effective ways to migrate or batch edit categories in MediaWiki (the wiki software the Codex uses)
  • The WordPress Codex needs more volunteers to help write tutorials and document features, especially with 2.7 right around the corner! This is something that is worth at least a portion of my time, even if it’s just taking a few hours a week to fix typos and grammar.
  • Unrelated to WordPress, worth looking into the Information School at Berkeley, as their graduate program sounds like potentially a good fit. Thanks for the tip about goes to the lovely @snelson, one of the numerous awesome people I got to meet today.

I feel like the event made me excited about being a blogger again, which is a great feeling. I’m excited to put some of what I learned about into practice to make my blogs better and more effective. Some of these include the plugins that got listed, and implementing OpenID support and finding other ways to foster communication on the blog. I’m excited to update to 2.7, and plan to pull a nightly for local testing to make sure my theme development doesn’t break. I’d like to finish my new theme and get it implemented on the site, and maybe (shock of shocks!) share it with the community in case someone else likes what I did! Which, I think, is the biggest takeaway from this event: it’s not about the tool you’re using, it’s about the community that uses it.

Liveblogging WordCamp Portland

8:33am: We’re all set up in the main conference room at CubeSpace, bagels and coffee in hand… slide on the project points out that if you want to search on twitter or flickr or anywhere, the hashtag to look for is #wordcampdx.

8:38am: Giveaways of random things, like a free copy of Blogging Tips

8:40am: “Compost Compost Compost!” (Eva explaining CubeSpace)

8:42am: Automatic sent us a bunch of buttons and stickers and tattoos (temporary tattoos). Tattoo contest for creative use (PG-13 please!) over the day.

8:43am: Random silly little WordPress video done to “When You Wish Upon a Star” — cheesy but cute. It’s sort of a list of bloggers and developers and such who’ve managed to be successful using wordpress.

8:48am: Random interviews with various WordPress users.

8:53am: Lorelle just came in dressed as a Fairy Blogmother. “Has no one’s lives have been changed by WordPress here? What the hell am I doing here?”
Continue reading “Liveblogging WordCamp Portland”

Leopard and You

I’m currently sitting in the conference room of the Hilton in Dedham, waiting for the Mac OS X Leopard Tech Talk to start (it’s a developer seminar previewing the new stuff coming up in 10.5… they did one for 10.4 as well that I made it to). I’m still pretty pleased that I managed to make it here, as they really are a lot of fun, and I like knowing things, even if I don’t really get a chance to make much use of it. I won’t necessarily be liveblogging the event (some of this is still under NDAs), but I will try to give a general sense of what’s coming up without getting in trouble with Apple’s legal department. It’s really nice sitting here and seeing dozens and dozens of MacBooks, Powerbooks, and MacBook Pros, and logging into the complimentary available wireless network and seeing everyone up via Bonjour. If I were a bit more adventurous, I’d even try IMing people.

[Update: 2 PM They were quite happy to point out that yes, a lot of this is under NDA, and if things are leaked, they don’t get to continue doing these, so please bear in mind that there’s a LOT of information here that I just can’t go into detail about.

My first session was the introduction to the seminar, which covered basic sales numbers, general updates about the application, and then showcased some shiny new features that are definitely pretty exciting. I’m feeling pretty good about what’s changing in printing, and I’d say those of you who are worried about it changing should be well pleased with what’s being done. Core Animation is showing a lot of potential, and a lot of it has already been integrated in ways that you may not really realize: it’s not meant to just be a shiny, a lot of the time animation is a subtle thing to enhance the user experience, to make the UI more clear in what’s happening. An example is the dock, already: if you drag an application icon around on the dock, things move and shift out of the way. It makes it immediately clear where and what’s happening. In 10.5, developers will be able to leverage a lot more of that sort of animation capability for “free”. I’m really excited about some of the new graphics related toolkits that they highlighted.

My second session was an introduction to Xcode 3.0 and Interface Builder 3.0. I’ve got to say, I’m quite impressed with the new features. I like what they’ve done to streamline the workflow, and the new interface builder is sharp, and seems a bit more intuitive. It’s also apparently significantly more extensible than the old version. A lot of the information is available on the developer site, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in using OS X as a developer platform.

My third session was “Modern OpenGL”, and it was a treasure trove for my particular field of interest — game development. They’re expanding their support of OpenGL, and some of the features they’ve added have already begun to show a marked increase in speed in existing apps: adding multithreading support on the graphics side to a popular game I play gave a 90% frames per second increase. Some of the example apps were crazy impressive in what they were able to pull off, and easily half to two thirds of the presentation covered ways to modernize OpenGL code and optimize it for performance. Some really nice caveats to remember (I have them written down) if I get back into programming.

I’m taking a break at the moment to let my battery charge, but at 3:15, there’s a session on what’s new in Cocoa that I’d really like to attend. Hoping to attend the sessions on Resolution Independence and Printing in Leopard after that, since those are things that are directly relevant to both myself and others I know. Then there’s just the reception and a chance to shmooze with folks before heading back north. Pretty fun day, all told. Kudos to Apple for hosting it!]

GDC Day 5

This was the last day of the conference, and you could definitely feel people were getting worn out. I didn’t manage to make it through the expo before it closed, which is unfortunate but not the end of the world, and frankly the panels I went to were more important. I managed to make it to all three panels I’d planned to attend, albeit I got into the first of the day about 20 minutes late due to the shuttle hitting some traffic. All three were about methods to create a new game company, and essentially different routes people took to do it.

The first session was about bootstrapping a company, and mostly worked on a “work for hire”/contracting system to raise cash for their internal projects. This was held from one of the guys at Demiurge, which is based in the Boston area, and it’s worked quite effectively for them. We swapped cards, and I’m hoping to make it down for one of their game nights in the not too distant future, for the socializing if nothing else (I definitely took the advice from my first panel this week to heart, about encouraging you to surround yourself with a brain trust of people smarter than you).

The second session was about taking a game from design to product as an independent developer. The speaker had started his own company, and put together a game for about $25,000, “and could have done it for $10,000 if I knew then what I know now.” This was definitely encouraging to hear, and while a lot of his advice was common sense to me, it was still reassuring to hear that it’s still possible to do what he did.

The third session took a different tack to starting a company, and went the venture capital route. It was held by the CEO of PlayFirst, which had just completed it’s second set of fundraising ($5million in the first round, and another $5million in the second). It was interesting to see the difference in presentation between the three meetings, with this third session being significantly more business-like and number crunching in nature. It is both more intimidating, and reassuring to know that the money is out there, though. I don’t think venture capital is the route I personally want to take, but I’m not averse to it, and managed to swap cards with a VC who was in the audience that focuses on startups in the tech and media sectors, for seed and series A funding (30k to 2million). This could potentially be immensely beneficial, should I choose to pursue this route (especially since one of the things they bring to the table is financial and business tutoring to help you get your business running solidly… that’s something you get out of the deal. They usually aim for the 5-15% range for a stake in the company, which is acceptable. I may actually put Kevin in touch with them for UberCon, especially since they’re based out of DC).

By the time the last session ended, the convention center was a ghost town compared to the crowds that had been there all week. It was strangely refreshing, though it did very little to bring closure to the event for me. I took the shuttle back to the hotel, and spent the rest of the evening playing Brain Age… my current brain age is 49 (lower is better, range is from 20 to 70)… lot of work to do on that. I completed about 12 sudoku puzzles, though.

GDC Day 4

This will be a shorter post, since I already talked a fair bit about the keynotes that were today. By today, I was pretty worn out (being an introvert by nature, the swarms of people I don’t know really puts a drain on me, even knowing that they’re all geeks like me), so other than the keynotes, I spent most of the day hanging out in the IGDA lounge, catching up online and just in general trying to relax. It was moderately successful, and even with that, I managed to collect still more business cards (I’ll hopefully be doing follow-ups with them when I get back home). Overall, I feel like I should have made more effective use of my day, but I really needed the down time, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

In the evening, my cousin Cortney called, and we grabbed some dinner at a tastey Indian place called the Tandoori Oven (for those in the San Jose area, it’s over on First, near the Repertory, and across the street from the Fairmont). That was fun as ever, and was nice to chat with her and in general relax a bit. After that, I did a circuit through “Suite Night”, and ultimately left after about half an hour (the place was PACKED, and I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with a bunch of drunks).

Will Wright Keynote

Will Wright is one hell of a nice guy. It’s pretty remarkable how self effacing he is. The actual title of the keynote is “Why I get too obsessed with my game research”. I think it says something that just a few minutes in, we’ve all laughed probably a dozen times. “Learn to embrace your inner Otaku”

He started with a bit of a postmortem of The Sims Online, which was this massive, massive, heavy project with an amazing amount of inertia to deal with, compared to Spore, his next game, which was fast and agile in terms of development. Which then migrated into a discussion of application of ownership; this in turn gets brought back to Spore.

Will then discussed the initial ideas and research he did to come up with Spore. The history of life, the universe, and everything [sic]. Different theories on how life possibly came to Earth, the idea of “cross talk” between planets, or even interstellar cross talk (matter from one planet going to another planet).

The basic premise of the keynote was to drive home just how important research is to game development, and how sometimes the most random thing can be the inspiration for some really fantastic games. Overall, it was a fantastic keynote; I think it would be amazingly fun to just sit down and chat with Will for a while.

Nintendo Keynote

This has proven to be a delightful keynote. Iwata has a very dry sense of humor that works very well with his thick japanese accent. The topic is about disrupting the market, much in the same way that Pepsi did when it diversified into snacks and alternative drinks (sports drinks, water, et cetera).

Some of the comparisons are interesting… the PS2 sold 6 million worldwide units in 21 months. The GBA sold 6 million in 20 months. The DS did it in 14 months. Nintendogs sold 6 million units in a year. Brain Training has already sold over 5 million units collectively, and hasn’t even reached a global release yet. (It’s worth noting that the Nintendo booth at the expo has DS lites running Brain Age, which has proven to be great fun.)

He discussed the process of developing Brain Training, which was a small team personally produced by Iwata, working with developers new to game development. I think this is awesome, and encouraging both for working with Nintendo in some role.

Iwata then brought on one of the developers of the localized version (Brain Age), who is demonstrating the game. It’s fucking fantastic — I’m REALLY looking forward to it now. I also think Mom would love this game, though it would mean she would need to get a Nintendo DS (not a bad option). They brought up some people who hadn’t played it before (including Will Wright), and had a brain age competition, which was fantastic fun. The neat trick is that it actually does help you train your brain into functioning better.

Really, the main point of his keynote is that it’s not enough to just do what others are doing… take a chance and do something new, and you might be surprised. He’s also giving everyone who attended the keynote a free copy of the game!!!

From there, he’s begun talking about other parts of Nintendo’s plans. Notably, their networking service. Keeping it as seamless and simple as possible, to encourage the social dynamic of being able to focus on playing and chatting.

Then they showcased Metroid Prime Hunters… I’m impressed. The gameplay is slick. D-pad is movement, L button is shooting, and stylus is aiming (double tap to jump, use stylus to select weapon). I’m pretty impressed. The gameplay is arguably the best console adaptation of a keyboard and mouse control.

After that, he showcased a NEW ZELDA GAME FOR THE DS. It’s cell shaded like Wind Waker, looked damn fun. That’s coming out sometime later this year. While he was at it, he announced the inclusion of support for virtual consoles of the Sega Genesis and the TurboGrafx 16, operating like an “iTunes Music Store for Games”. All in all, it was a really excellent keynote, and I’m glad I went (and for more reasons than just the free game).