There's no Game Developer's Conference this year thanks to the coronavirus, which has also prompted the cancellation of E3 and many other events. While some of GDC's talks this year will still go on as livestreams, they're mostly by game developers, for game developers—we're missing out on some of the most fun and accessible talks that normally come out of GDC, like the classic game postmortems.
But wait—GDC maintains a vault of recorded talks stretching back years, hundreds of which are available for free. I've sorted through them to pick out a boatload that will keep you entertained, and teach you a little something about games, in these strange times of self-isolation.
From the archives, here are 28 great GDC talks, telling the behind the scenes stories of PC gaming.
Doom: Behind the Music
Composer Mick Gordon talks about the inspiration for and making of Doom 2016's soundtrack. A timely watch right before the even-more-metal Doom Eternal arrives.
Remastering Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango
What exactly goes into remastering a game? Double Fine shows us in great detail, with this talk on Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. Check out the documentary series that shows the process in action, too.
It's Still Emulation: Saving Video Game History Before It's Too Late
Historian Frank Cifaldi talks about why emulation is still treated like a bit of a dirty word, but is the essential way games can be preserved, and made accessible to new generations.
Guilty Gear Xrd's Art Style: The X Factor Between 2D and 3D
This talk was a mind-blower at the time, showing how developer Arc System Works made its 3D models look like 2D animation. Amazing art made even more impressive when you know how it was done.
How American History Influenced Early Board Game Design
OA genuinely fascinating look at how culture manifests in board games made over the past 200 years. Even Candy Land has a lot to teach us!
Peter McConnell, composer of Grim Fandango and many other wonderful game soundtracks, gives you a look at what it used to be like to compose music for games. The limitations of '90s technology shaped what was possible.
80 Days & Unexpected Stories
Writer Meg Jayanth talks about the storytelling of 80 Days, one of our favorite PC games.
Making Her Story - Telling a Story Using The Player's Imagination
Her Story felt like a bit of a revelation, with its mix of non-linear storytelling and FMV clips. It was a new way to interface with a game and solve a mystery. Here's how it came to be.
The Power of the Abstract
Most videogame graphics continue to grow more and more detailed, but realism isn't always the best path. Liz Ryerson talks about how effective more abstract graphics and mechanics can make for more interesting games.
FTL Postmortem: Designing Without a Pitch
If you ever wondered how the hell FTL turned out to be so good...
The Making Of Divinity: Original Sin
Larian founder Swen Vincke gives a remarkably candid talk about all the problems and near-bankruptcies that the studio encountered trying to make its dream game. They succeeded, obviously, but this is a good look into the brutal realities of game development. If you like this talk, follow it up with Vincke's 2019 talk on the making of Original Sin 2.
Creating Atmosphere in Games
Back before Supergiant had followed up Bastion with Transistor, Pyre, and Hades, developer Greg Kasavin uses some of his favorite games to break down why atmosphere is so important, and how certain games do it so well.
Classic Game Postmortems
Command & Conquer
If you're pumped for this year's C&C remaster or wonder why you should be, here's a look back at the series.
You've probably heard of Zork, but how much do you really know about it? Learn the history of one of PC gaming's most influential early adventures.
Lemmings has to be up there with classics like Tetris and Doom in how many platforms it's available on. Those little guys were everywhere for decades.
Another legendary PC game that many of us are familiar with but may not have actually played—here's why it's still such a big deal.
Ultima Online was the vanguard of the MMO era, and people got up to some pretty wild stuff back then. Fascinating stories from the early days of online gaming.
Fallout needs no introduction thanks to Bethesda's modern entries in the series, but how much do you know about the original Fallout? Tim Cain, more recently lead developer of The Outer Worlds, tells the story.
We could listen to Warren Spector talk about the design ideals of Deus Ex and immersive sims forever, pretty much.
Ron Gilbert has made many of the all-time best point-and-click adventure games, and this retrospective on Maniac Mansion digs into the formative days of Lucasfilm Games.
The Oregon Trail
A great look at the early days of The Oregon Trail, before it was a game anyone could play on their PC or Mac. It dates back to the '70s, when it only ran on school mainframes, and survived for several years as nothing but source code printed on a fat stack of paper.
Prince of Persia
Developer Jordan Mechner kept detailed notes on the making of Prince of Persia in the '80s, which he turned into a book and mined for this talk. Great insight into the early days of game development and Prince of Persia's groundbreaking animation.
A rich history of Diablo's development, including the amazing explanation of how it was originally a turn-based game (and how some incredibly simple programming made it real-time).
X-COM: UFO Defense
You know modern XCOM, and you might know Julian Gollop's spiritual successor Phoenix Point. Here's the story of how he made the original X-COM.
Pinball Construction Set
You may or may not have ever heard of Pinball Construction Set, but designers like Will Wright credit it as a hugely important and influential game, thanks to how it allowed players to create their own games.
Myst was kind of a big deal, and co-creator Robyn Miller puts together an insightful look at the decisions that shaped it and how they pulled off the technology at the time.
Even now, 30 years later, Brian Moriarty would like you to ask him about Loom.
There may be no game with a better documented history than Doom, but even if you know the story, this talk is full of cool in-progress screenshots and design talk from Tom Hall and John Romero.