GDC 2016 Recap

Introduction

Last week I was very fortunate to attend the 2016 Game Developers Conference (GDC) hosted in San Francisco, CA. I attended on behalf of Intel and presented a technical session entitled, “Bringing the Real World into the Game World with Intel RealSense Technology” in which I described some of the use cases that we are exploring to incorporate this technology into video games. I’ll be writing future posts related to this topic, but for now, I’d like to share some of what I saw and heard at the conference.

GDC 2016 Expo Under ConstructionThere was a lot of great stuff to see this year, and I did not want to leave anything out of this post so that anyone who missed it could feel like they were there. Below you'll find a summary of my favorite virtual reality demos that I tried, and blurbs about five of my favorite sessions.

For more information about each of the sessions, you can follow the link at the end of the blurb to another post and read on!

For anyone who has never been, GDC is a week-long gathering of game developers, designers, programmers, artists, audio engineers, producers, students, and video game enthusiasts.

The events of GDC fall into three major categories: sessions (lectures, panels, workshops), demos (from AAA and indies), and extracurricular activities (award ceremonies, meetups, and parties). Big companies come to make announcements of new games and products, and independent developers come to showcase their hard work to potential fans.

Notable VR Demos

I Expect You To Die (Schell Games)

I Expect You To Die Screenshot

Jesse Schell, veteran game designer and author of The Art of Game Design, delivers this hilarious puzzle game in which you play as a secret agent…who is really bad at his/her job. The goal is to solve whatever puzzle is presented to you, like driving a car out of a locked enclosure, while avoiding the game’s constant attempts to kill you. I played with the Oculus and touch controllers, but it is playable with a keyboard and mouse as well. The (unfinished) game is currently available now on the Oculus Share.

Job Simulator (Owlchemy Labs)

Job Simulator Screenshot

This game is exactly what it sounds like. It is a job simulator, in which you drink coffee, eat donuts, and check email…oh yeah and you get to fire people…well not people, but robots! And that’s just the office job experience. You can also step into the shoes of a convenience store clerk or a gourmet chef. I played Job Simulator on the PlayStation VR, but it will be a launch title for Oculus and Vive as well.

The Lab (Valve)

 The Lab

The Lab is a toybox of mini-experiences developed by Valve for the Vive. I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises, but I will give honorable mention to my favorite experience: Slingshot. Set in what appears to be another lab within Aperture Laboratories, it is your job to calibrate a queue of spherical robots (like Wheatley from Portal 2). You quickly discover, however, that “calibration” involves launching the robots from a slingshot into targets, some of which explode. The haptic feedback that you feel with the Vive controllers as you pull back on the slingshot really made this experience great for me. That, and the snarky personalities that Valve gave to each of their robots. The Lab will be available for free with the launch of the Vive.

Notable Technical Sessions

Lessons Learned from I Expect You To Die

Speakers: Jesse Schell, Shawn Patton (Schell Games)

I talked about my experience playing I Expect You To Die, from Schell Games for the Oculus with touch controllers. In this session, Jesse Schell (CEO) and Shawn Patton (Senior Designer) discussed the lessons they learned about developing VR games through their experience on this project, including some important ideas about presence in VR, and what makes some experiences in VR super fun. Read More...

This is Your Brain on VR: A Look at the Psychology of Doing VR Right

Speaker: Kimberly Voll (Radial Games, Riot Games)

Kimberly Voll, a PhD Computer Scientist with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Science, is one of the developers of the upcoming Vive launch title, Fantastic Contraption. In this session, she spoke about how our brains take in input from the world to give us our understanding of reality. Understanding how our brains perceive reality is extremely important to understanding how they will perceive virtual reality. Read More...

What Level Designers Bring to VR

Speaker: Lee Perry (Big Dorks Entertainment)

Lee Perry, creator of the VR game MoonStrike, stated that VR is opening up a new creative frontier that is fostering new design discussions within the video game industry. He believes that VR is a cool outlet for creative types to work on projects that might not be as visible in other, more crowded segments of the gaming market, and it gives developers the chance to fundamentally rethink some of their ideas about game design. In this session, Lee presented some ways that he thinks VR should change the way we think about level design. Read More...

A Year in RoomScale: Design Lessons from the HTC Vive & Beyond

Panel: Scott Stephan (WEVR), Alex Schwartz (Owlchemy Labs), Patrick Hackett (Google), Tyler Hurd (Independent), Curtis Hickman (The Void)

This 5-person panel of experienced Vive developers, who brought us such experiences as The Blue, Job Simulator, and The Void, shared some of the lessons they have learned about designing roomscale VR experiences. Read More...

Amazon Lumberyard: Building Blocks to Create Great Games and Build Communities

Speakers: Chris Dury (Director of AWS), Eric Schenk (GM of Amazon Lumberyard)

Amazon sponsored a number of talks this year, primarily focusing on the launch of their new, AAA-quality game engine, Lumberyard, which is freely available with access to the source code. Lumberyard is based on CryEngine technology, and features a number of new systems developed by Amazon, such as integration with Amazon Web Services and Twitch. This session provided an overview of Amazon’s motivation behind developing a game engine and some of the high-level engine features. Read More...

Experimental Games Workshop

Operator ScreenshotI want to make a special shout-out to my favorite game I saw at this year’s Experimental Games Workshop: Operator. In Operator, you play as the pilot of an armed satellite orbiting Earth, and it is your job to arm, aim, and launch your missiles. The problem is, your ship is broken and you have no idea how to fix it. Luckily, there is a customer support hotline! This game takes all of the frustration of dealing with automated customer service, and turns it into fun, with a physical touchtone telephone!

 

Photo Credits:

I Expect You To Die Screenshot: https://share.oculus.com/app/i-expect-you-to-die

Job Simulator Screenshot: http://jobsimulatorgame.com/

Valve's The Lab Screesnhot: http://www.roadtovr.com/valves-lab-wondrous-playground-full-vr-toys-htc-vive/

Operator Screenshot: http://www.killiganindustries.com/

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