Record crowds converged on the Game Developers Conference 2012 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center earlier this month. About 22,500 attendees came to share techniques, troll for jobs and hunt for the best new tools of the trade. The conference — now in its 26th year — hosted hundreds of panels, workshops and talks that were aimed at educating, inspiring and inflaming video game developers. Here were my highlights:

During an earnest “fireside chat,” SpyParty designer Chris Hecker grilled Mojang’s Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of Minecraft. Persson took an evenhanded stance on piracy, rejecting the notion that the illegal downloading of games leads to significant losses in sales. “It’s wrong,” he said, “but it’s such a minor thing. It’s ridiculously small.”

Microsoft veterans Matt Whiting and Ted Woolsey explained the lengths to which their company goes to bring games like Disney Adventures to hundreds of markets. Talk highlights included moments when Woolsey, who helped import many Final Fantasy classics, told of all the death threats and late-night phone calls he received for tweaking the beloved role-playing games.

Renaud Bedard, the programmer behind the forthcoming indie game Fez, sketched out the technical tricks he used to render the game’s colorful and complex game world. He also described the tools he created to help designer Phil Fish craft the game’s ornate levels.

During the “Localization Microtalk” discussion, developers outlined the technical and marketing difficulties of importing games from one region to another. Particularly interesting was the tale of Knight Online, an MMO that flopped in the states but found massive success in Turkey.

On March 8, designers filled a Moscone Center ballroom for an evening of awards ceremonies. First came The 14th Annual Independent Games Festival. The event, hosted by Monaco designer Andy Schatz, celebrated homegrown video games crafted by small teams. Fez took home the Seumas McNally grand prize as well as $30,000. The Nuovo Award for experimental games went to Daniel Benmergui for Storyteller, a puzzle game that asks players to create their own comic strips.

Later that night, Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games hosted the Game Developers Choice Awards, chosen by the votes of the winners’ peers. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim took the coveted Game of the Year award, while Valve’s Portal 2 won for Best Audio, Best Narrative and Best Game Design. Atari veteran Dave Theurer was recognized with the 2012 Pioneer Award for creating Missile Command, Tempest and I, Robot. Warren Spector, the creator of Deus Ex and System Shock, inspired the crowd after receiving a lifetime achievement award: “We can do things no other medium in human history has been able to do,” Spector told his fellow game-makers.

The closing of the convention hall doors cued the start of a wild array of parties, press events and meet-ups. Electronic Arts threw two different events as coming-out parties for The Sims 5 and Medal of Honor Warfighter. In Firaxis Games hotel suite, developers offered intimate glimpses of new games, including the expansion of Civilization V: Gods and Kings.

Indies plied their wares just as eagerly. Independent designer Jonathan Blow offered a close look of his ambitious and immersive puzzler The Witness, while Klei Entertainment designer Nels Anderson lugged a laptop around the convention center to give lucky attendees hands-on time with the Mark of the Ninja.

That’s just a sliver of GDC 2012, but it’s proof enough that anyone who cares about how and why games are made may want to start making plans for 2013.