Having spent most of this past week at GDC, here’s some of the stuff I loved.
Now I’ll obviously start off with a disclaimer: I didn’t see everything. With being press vs. a developer, I didn’t have access to every behind closed doors demo, nor did I have time to play everything. But I did attempt to experience most of what the Expo Hall had to offer, from the big names like Nvidia, Sony, and Microsoft, to the small hubs of indie and student developers, and even a variety of different hardware elements.
Without further ado, here’s some stuff I loved:
Quite honestly, getting a chance to possibly play Harmonix’s reboot of their fan favorite series was my main motivation of going to GDC. It was, thankfully, on full display with a bunch of playable tracks, all of which had multiple difficulties available. If you loved Frequency and Amplitude from the PS2-era, you’ll be right at home with this new version of the game. It plays in a near identical fashion, just with new tracks and a clean polish of current-gen visuals. For anyone that missed this series back in the day, it’s a synth-driven music game, that served as the basis for Guitar Hero and Rock Band, or even closer to the downloadable title, Rock Band Blitz. It’s my most anticipated game for 2015.
The Potential of VR
It’s hard to deny the incredible presence that Virtual Reality headsets have at every concurrent event. It was all over CES when I was there in January, and nearly every main booth at GDC 2015 was a VR booth, or heavily featured it. Oculus’ behind closed door demo was one of the most stunning experiences I’ve had in video games. Utilizing the latest Crescent Bay Oculus Rift hardware, you’re able to move freely within a room, letting you to not only look around with the headset, but physically walk past things, and then look at them from the other side. It’s pretty difficult to put into words just how impressive the technology is. Unreal and Epic Games also used the Crescent Bay hardware for an experience based around The Hobbit, where Smaug confronts you within his lair. While not as strong as the Oculus demo, it still gave me a great impression of the immersive capabilities these newer pieces of hardware can produce.
I also played a dozen or more demos on the older DK2 Oculus Rift, as well as the EVE: Valkyrie demo from Unreal, all of which featured less impressive hardware, but still provided a variety of different ways to utilize the technology. One company even had produced a Star Wars Lightsaber demo, where a player holds two wands to simulate holding the weapons.
Razer had their OSVR present in demo also, but it really felt much like the DK2, a step behind where Oculus is at. Steam had their HTC headset available behind closed doors, but I was unable to try that. The same goes for Sony’s Morpheus headset for PS4, but the specs announced for it have me most excited of all the VR tech. Featuring 120hz refresh rate and a 1080p OLED display, those 2 details are the greatest missing element of any other demoable hardware.
Tucked in the back realms of the conference, behind even the career center at GDC, Mekazoo is a brilliant platformer that brought me back to it’s demo booth numerous times. Paying homage to classic fast-paced games like Sonic Adventure, Mekazoo lets you swap between different robotic animals on the fly, taking advantage of each creature’s special skill as you need it. From a speedy armadillo to a swinging, agile frog, the game is gorgeous, quick, and a ton of fun. It also features an incredible soundtrack, of which the dev’s were kind enough to give me an EP of.
Announced at last years Video Game Awards, Adrift in it’s most basic form looks like a playable version of Gravity. You play as an astronaut, struggling to survive after some form of horrific accident has caused significant damage to your space station. It’s beautiful, atmospheric, and features incredible sound design. The vertical slice I played kept me on my toes the entire time, and I can’t wait to dive into the full 4-5 hour experience when it’s estimated launch of July 2015 arrives.
That Dragon, Cancer
This was another title I didn’t except to be able to play at GDC. Launched from a kickstarter last year that I gladly backed, That Dragon, Cancer is a visual experience that places a player into a fantastical version of a family as they lose their child to cancer. Based on the creator’s real-life loss of their son, it’s an incredibly powerful game to play, more so doing it in front of the child’s father, Ryan Green. Look for it later this year.
The latest hardware from Nvidia’s line of android-powered gaming hardware, the $200 Shield is a small box that allows you to stream high quality games directly to your TV. Playing Dying Light, Shadow of Mordor, Metro Redux, and more via a streaming box in a visual fidelity almost on par with their PS4 counterparts, the new device is incredibly impressive. Couple in the fact that it’s a full functioning box for streaming Netflix, Plex, YouTube, and beyond, and you’ve got a budget friendly way to play PC games in the near future, especially since the streaming games will be available via subscription, not just purchasing full titles.
While I only attended a handful of sessions at GDC, one that I did stumble into was an intimate conversation with Ashram Ismail, a game director for Ubisoft Montreal, most recently notable for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. He spoke to myself and around a dozen others, freely answering questions about his climb in the industry, struggles in various departments, and learning to trust your team. He provided a lot of common sense advice, but hearing it from someone in his position makes it all feel a little more real. My biggest walkway came from his encouragement for aspiring game makers – “The best way to get into the gamed industry is simple: make stuff. Video games, card games, board games – go through the process, and then most importantly, let people try them out.”
This is brief, but I got to a lot of conferences, and GDC has the best swag game of them all. I walked away with about a dozen Google Cardboards, ~25 t-shirts, a kite, and some delicious treats, including an ice cream bar. It’s a perk to attending events like this, but still was great nonetheless.
Well that’s the stuff that really stood out to me at GDC this year. That being said, I’d be remiss to not mention a few other things. Axiom Verge and Gun’s Up look and played spectacularly, and seem like some wonderful downloadable titles coming out later this year. I was also able to play Helldivers, convincing me to pick it up. The opposite can be said for Bloodborne. Bloodborne was probably the hottest title at the PlayStation booth, but my experience left me okay with likely passing on it. Demon Souls and Dark Souls were never my jam, and this feels very much like those two. Many people were loving it, so I’m confident it will be a huge score for Sony.
One of the bigger disappointments of the show was Microsoft’s booth, as most of it was devoted to hacking and code challenges. The games on display were limited, but the Fable Legends demo actually got me interested in that title for the first time, and Gigantic was also playable, and is a fun, quick, and gorgeous competitive arena multiplayer title. Ori and the Blind Forest was playable at many booths, and while it was hard to get into it at random moments, the brief pieces I did play got me very excited for it’s release this month.
Now, let’s (hopefully) bring on E3.