During the week of February 27th to March 3, San Fransisco was the host of the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). The event contains a myriad of events aimed at networking, advising, and the demonstration of games and technology. The show floor was brimming with games from AAA developers and young hobbyists alike. This year, GDC saw in increase in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) games, and their associated technology. With so much to talk about, let’s dive into the details of some of the most stand-out aspects of the convention.
The atmosphere of GDC is what sets it apart from other events in the industry. It is, by far, what I enjoyed most about my time at the conference. Unlike E3 or PAX, developers and publishers do not use GDC as another event to build hype for and market their game. Instead, developers are there to show off their projects to people eager to pick their brains about their inspirations, triumphs, and struggles throughout the process. Publishers are there primarily to support the showing of their developer’s projects. Independent developers had a very strong showing during the event. It is always incredible to see the games they are working on because it is their project. They aren’t just another cog in the machine that spits out a first-person shooter every year. They have a genuine passion, and you can clearly see it.Sitting down with several of these developers was an incredible experience. All of them were eager to talk my ear off about what they have been working on, and playing a game side-by-side with these developers was a truly special experience.
Since there are so many experienced and knowledgeable members of the industry scattered throughout GDC, there is an air of cooperation and guidance throughout the convention. There were countless times where I passed by a developer explaining an issue they were having with their game and the person they were speaking to would help them find the solution. There were also plenty of booths set up on the show floor where developers explained things like design concepts, making code more efficient, or some of the good practices when making 3D models. Anyone and everyone was welcome to stop by and absorb some of their knowledge. For any questions you had, they were glad to chat with you after their presentation and help you understand the topic that they are passionate about. Even as a media member, I stopped to talk to professionals who explained concepts that were way above my understanding, but they weren’t bothered by the need to dumb-down certain things for the sake of my understanding. These sort of instances are what makes the Game Developers Conference completely different from other events that I have attended.
Another fantastic part of convention (which aids the collaborative atmosphere) were the many panels hosted by industry leaders. There was a wide variety of panels ranging from a full dissection of a game to nitpicking a very particular part of the development process. A favorite panel of mine was hosted by Mick Gordon who focused on the creation of the music in Doom. The talk centered on how music can be created through interesting methods, but the focus of the talk was on the ideas that “If you want to change the outcome, you have to change the process” and “You have to comfortable with failure to be able to thrive.” I also enjoyed Sean Murray’s talk about the procedural generation in No Man’s Sky as well as some of the lessons that Wild Card learned during Ark: Survival Evolved‘s beginning stages in Steam’s Early Access program.
On the GDC expo floor, Virtual Reality had a huge showing. Occulus Rift had a huge (and beautifully built) booth with a line that wrapped around it. You had to schedule appointments with Google to get your hands on their Daydream headset. PlayStation even brought out their VR headset with a handful of games, all of which had lengthy lines. Interest in Virtual Reality’s application in gaming was very high, and with so many cool games in development, there is no wondering why. A booth that I spent a great deal of time at was the VirZoom presentation. VirZoom has been using VR paired together with a stationary bike (developed in-house) to promote exercise. They have developed a series of mini-games ranging from roping bandits off of their horses to flying a Pegasus to aid as distraction while you’re working out. This is done by using the bike to control your speed, leaning your body to steer, and interacting with the game controllers built into the bike’s handlebars. After playing the game, you are presented with the statistics of your workout (heart rate, calories burnt, etc.). Many booths included unique applications for VR which don’t extend just to gaming. It will be thrilling to see how VR developers continue this trend and push the technology further.
The Game Developers Conference does a really great job of showing how the video gaming industry is always pushing itself and improving. It has definitely been one of the most humbling and educational experiences of my career covering games and their development. For anyone interested in seeing games from a different perspective, or just mingling with people burning with passion for their work, GDC is an even worth attending!