GDC 2011 (Game Developers Conference) will take place through February 28th – March 4th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. The GDC 2011 organizers have revealed partially most of the sessions and speakers. Some are yet to be scheduled properly, but the cat’s out of the bag.

This is definitely a year that Blizzard Entertainment developers have a strong presence at the event participating in several sessions. Usually we would see them in a limited amount of sessions in past years. (2010, 2009)

Only one of the sessions, however, deals completely with a Blizzard game. It’s to be directed by Dustin Browder under the title: Remaking a Classic: The Game Design of STARCRAFT 2. His second session titled Strategy Games: The Next Move deals more or less indirectly with Starcraft 2. Dustin shares the session as speaker with four developers from different companies.

James Anhalt (Senior Software Engineer II, Team 1) is a speaker in the session AI Navigation: It’s Not a Solved Problem, Yet. In this session, James explains how Starcraft 2’s AI handles massive numbers of simultaneous units.

Erin Catto (Principal Software Engineer) is a speaker in the session Physics for Game Programmers.

Scott Goffman (Technical Artist) is a speaker in the session Technical Artist Boot Camp: Lessons in How to Create and Be an Effective Technical Artist.

Brian Schwab (Senior AI/Gameplay Engineer II) is a speaker in the session AI Pr0n: Maximum Exposure of Your Debug Info! He’s also in two other sessions: AI Unplugged: How Experienced Devs Think Through AI; and Using Randomness in AI: Both Sides of the Coin.

Seth Spaulding (Art Manager) is a speaker in the session Art Director/Lead Artist Roundtable.

The corresponding GDC 2011 webpage for each individual session can be accessed below by clicking on the developer’s name.

Blizzard Quote:

Remaking a Classic: The Game Design of STARCRAFT 2

Speaker/s: Dustin Browder
Day / Time / Location: TBD
Track / Format: Game Design , Production / Lecture

Description: The challenge in designing STARCRAFT 2 was simple. Make it exactly like STARCRAFT, make it much better than STARCRAFT and re-invent the real-time strategy games for gamers who have grown bored with the genre. The team faced a series of challenging decisions that required discipline and extensive iteration to reach the finished product.

Takeaway: Attendees will learn about Blizzards core design philosophies as well as gain an insight into the special challenges of STARCRAFT game design. Attendees will gain some insight into real-time strategy campaign design, multiplayer design and the benefits and cost of designing an e-sport.

Intended Audience: This talk is intended for game developers who are working in the strategy genre or are facing the challenge of doing a sequel in a beloved franchise.

Eligible Passes: Main Conference Pass, All Access Pass

Strategy Games: The Next Move

Speaker/s: Ian Fischer (Robot Entertainment), Soren Johnson (EA Maxis), Dustin Browder (Blizzard Entertainment), Jon Shafer (Firaxis Games) and Tom Chick (TECH TRANS)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: Game Design / Panel

Description: Strategy games have one of the longest traditions within the industry, including two of last year’s biggest games, STARCRAFT II AND CIVILIZATION V. In what direction is the genre heading? What are some of most important, and possibly overlooked, gameplay innovations of the last few years? How has the growth on online, persistent play affected the way strategy games are developed? Has the rapidly expanding mainstream audience changed how strategy games are targeted, or is the genre at risk of turning into a ghetto? As the market moves towards free-to-play, micro-transaction-based gaming, how will strategy gaming adapt while maintaining fairness of play? Is there still room for traditional, boxed strategy games?

Takeaway: Several experienced strategy developers will share their own perspectives on the future of the genre, offering insights on both game design and the challenges facing the genre in the coming years.

Intended Audience: Although primary of interest to strategy game developers, the session will also be relevant to anyone interested in how a game genre evolves and reinvents itself in the face of a changing market.

Eligible Passes: All Access PassMain Conference Pass

Blizzard Quote:

Physics for Game Programmers

Speaker/s: Squirrel Eiserloh (TrueThought), Gino van den Bergen (DTECTA), Erwin Coumans (Sony SCEA US R&D), Takahiro Harada (Havok), Glenn Fiedler (Sony Santa Monica), Kees van Kooten (Virtual Proteins), Jim Van Verth (Insomniac Games) and Erin Catto (Blizzard Entertainment)

Day / Time / Location: Tuesday 10:00- 6:00

Track / Format: Programming / Tutorial

Description: As the complexity of games as increased, so has the knowledge needed to create them. Creating the latest code for graphics, animation, physical simulation, even some extent artificial intelligence, requires greater knowledge of the necessary engineering and mathematical underpinnings than ever before. And of the fields described above, one that has grown increasingly important is physical simulation, as shown by the latest games such as the Little Big Planet series and Limbo. Creating such a simulation may appear to be a daunting task, but it is possible with the right background.

This one-day tutorial continues the more than ten-year tradition of the Math for Programmers and Physics for Programmers tutorials by bringing together some of the best presenters in gaming physics. Over the course of a day they will get programmers up to speed in the latest techniques and deepen their knowledge in the topic of physical simulation. These presenters will provide a toolbox of techniques for programmers interested in creating physics engines, with references and links for those looking for more information. The focus of the course is to study various pieces of the simulation pipeline and show how problems along the way can be solved and optimized using standard 3D mathematical concepts and engineering know-how. Topics include collision detection, constraint systems and solvers, game physics artifacts, networking for physics programmers, tools for physics programmers, parallelizing the physics engine, and fluid dynamics. Sample code libraries and examples are provided.

Takeaway: After attending this tutorial, the attendee should have an understanding of most of the core issues in simulation, so that they can take them into account when building their own physics and collision engines and incorporating them into their games.

Eligible Passes: Summits and Tutorials Pass, All Access Pass

Blizzard Quote:

Technical Artist Boot Camp: Lessons in How to Create and Be an Effective TA

Speaker/s: Keith Self-Ballard (Volition, Inc.), Jeff Hanna (Volition, Inc), Bryan Moss (THQ Digital Phoenix), Bronwen Grimes (Valve), Rob Galanakis (Bioware), Seth Gibson (343), Scott Goffman (Blizzard Entertainment), Steve Theodore (Undead Labs) and Adam Pletcher (Volition/THQ)

Day / Time / Location: Tuesday, March 1 – 10:00am- 6:00pm

Track / Format: Visual Arts , Programming / Tutorial

Description: Over the past decade Technical Art has become an increasingly important discipline in game development. The number of TAs in the industry has grown tremendously and every year they take on more responsibilities, devise new innovative solutions to problems, and create bigger and more powerful tools. Still, though, most Technical Artists are home grown. Many are transplants from other disciplines. While some are coming in to the industry with specific TA educations most are not. This means that the skill sets between TAs are often quite varied. The self-invented TA culture makes it difficult for studios without TAs to truly see the benefit. Hard for studios with TAs to expand their ranks by hiring great candidates, and frustrating for technical artists themselves as their valued skillset at one company may be worth nothing at another.

To help the alleviate this problem well known and well respected Technical Artists from across the industry would like to invite you to sit with them for a day and learn their views on what it takes to be an effective TA. Their hope is that by exposing academia, studio management, and displaced industry professionals to Technical Art that they will foster discussion and expand educational and professional boundaries.

Topics for the day will include: How a technical art discipline can expand and enhance the both the artist and programmer culture at a studio. What different types of programming technologies are used by technical artists How to extend content creation applications with powerful scripts How to to visualize, create, and maintain art creation pipelines How database knowledge can empower TAs to make tools and pipelines that are self policing and expose a wealth of data that can be invested new workflows and methodologies. Shader creation techniques that can enhance visuals without impacting rendering performance How TAs can push the visual limits of a game by using known art techniques in unconventional ways.

Takeaway: At the end of this all day event the speakers hope to have inpsired college professors to adapt course offerings to include technical art education, shown studio management the value of a good TA team and how to identify great candiates, and what skills industry professionals, either established TAs or people looking to become TAs, should cultivate in order to excel at their job.

Eligible Passes: Summits and Tutorials Pass, All Access Pass

Blizzard Quote:

AI Pr0n: Maximum Exposure of Your Debug Info!

Speaker/s: Rez Graham (Electronic Arts (Sims Division)), Brian Schwab (Blizzard Entertainment) and Michael Dawe (Big Huge Games/38 Studios)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: AI Summit / Lecture

Description: Debugging complex AI is a very difficult task. Often the best approach involves visualizing the data and the relationships instead of staring at code. After all, nothing is more revealing than getting a peek at all that private activity going on behind closed doors! To that end, it can be challenging to find that balance between constructive information and simply visual clutter. In this session, several developers will expose the creative and unique approaches they used to visualize the complexity of their AI for debugging and development.

Eligible Passes: Summits and Tutorials Pass, All Access Pass

AI Unplugged: How Experienced Devs Think Through AI

Speaker/s: Dave Mark (Intrinsic Algorithm), Brian Schwab (Blizzard Entertainment), Borut Pfeifer (), Chris Jurney (Double Fine Productions) and Brett Laming (Rockstar Leeds)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: AI Summit / Panel

Description: Sometimes the hardest part of constructing game AI is not writing the code, tweaking the formulas, or even deciding on which technological framework to use. Often, designing good AI depends upon analyzing the specific behavior or problem that needs to be addressed and decomposing it in such a way that it can be dealt with in the first place. In this panel, we present experienced game AI designers and programmers with examples of typical (or odd!) game behaviors and watch as they walk through the process of tackling the problem — long before the programming suite is ever opened.

Eligible Passes: All Access PassSummits and Tutorials Pass

Using Randomness in AI: Both Sides of the Coin

Speaker/s: Dave Mark (Intrinsic Algorithm) and Brian Schwab (Blizzard Entertainment)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: AI Summit / Lecture

Description: Predictability in game AI has often been cited as a drawback to gameplay and especially replayability. In some genres sports games, for example randomness is a necessary component to generate believable results. Often, it simply provides needed variety. Sometimes, however, randomness in game behavior can cause problems if it fails to align with the player’s expectations. This lecture will show examples of the sometimes quirky ways that people perceive randomness, show the pros and cons of using randomness in game systems, and give concrete techniques for mitigating some of the problems that truly random sequences can generate.

Eligible Passes: All Access PassSummits and Tutorials Pass

Blizzard Quote:

Art Director/Lead Artist Roundtable

Speaker/s: Seth Spaulding (Blizzard Entertainment)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: Visual Arts , Business and Management / Roundtable

Description: In the course of development cycles, lead artists and art directors are forced to confront a number of challenges, many of which are issues which are shared across all game developers large and small. This roundtable brings together lead artists and art directors from around the industry to discuss their real-world solutions to these matters. In the roundtable we will discuss matters surrounding proper use of pre-production resources, scheduling and of course – schedule slip, marketing requests, tools, art reviews, production pipelines and training time.
Takeaway: In the course of the discussion, participants will come away with a better sense of the issues facing the industry as a whole and, more importantly, will come away armed with an array of solutions to tackle the challenges of their own project cycles.

Eligible Passes: All Access Pass, Main Conference Pass

Blizzard Quote:

AI Navigation: It’s Not a Solved Problem.Yet

Speaker/s: James Anhalt (Blizzard Entertainment), Alexander Kring (Nihilistic) and Nathan Sturtevant (University of Denver)

Day / Time / Location: TBD

Track / Format: AI Summit / Lecture

Description: Every so often, we hear the question asking whether pathfinding in games is a solved problem, and yet there is a continuous stream of new techniques to help improve it or address a particularly knotty problem. This session will demonstrate and explain some new techniques used in three different games. These include how STARCRAFT 2 handled massive numbers of simultaneous units (think hundreds of zerglings), how DRAGON’S AGE: ORIGINS gained increased navigation efficiency by abstracting their paths, and the myriad benefits that hierarchical navmeshes provided in the upcoming PS3 title, HEROES ON THE MOVE.

Eligible Passes: All Access Pass, Summits and Tutorials Pass