GDC 2014

25 Mar 2014

by Joel Hunsley (Developer)

SteelSeries sent two developers to the conference to explore the expo floor, take in the tech talks, and generally check out the show. Here’s my take-away.

Virtual Reality

VR tech was out in force in GDC. In addition to the announcements of Sony’s Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, there were a number of other VR accessories on display vying to fill in the remaining gaps in the experience.

I had the opportunity to try both the Project Morpheus demo and Oculus DK2 demos. The Sony demo had much more limited availability, but in turn gave a bit more time with the hardware to the people who got in. They were running two demos. One was exclusive to Sony: The Deep is a short experience in which you descend underwater in a diving cage. EVE:Valkyrie is a multiplayer dogfighting game set in the EVE:Online universe that both the Sony and Oculus booths were showing off. The Oculus booth was also demoing Couch Knights, a multiplayer augmented reality experience that I didn’t have a chance to try.

The Deep was clearly designed to show off the full head-tracking and full 3D audio that the Sony headset was displaying. It delivered in those respects, but had some issues with lighting and sense of scale. To be fair, however, most underwater games have those problems. I did find myself immersed to the point that I reflexively kicked at the shark, forgetting an LCD screen was set up on the floor dangerously nearby.

The EVE: Valkyrie demo was largely the same at both booths, although the controls differed slightly. The clarity of the text in the cockpit HUD and pre-launch screen seemed to have some blurriness problems in both demos, indicating that this was probably less of a problem with the 1080p displays than with the textures in the demo version. It showed off some great dogfighting and very pretty environments, and having the headset track your view for missile lock worked quite well in both demos.

In comparing the two headset demos, a few things stood out.

  • The Oculus display seemed a bit sharper and felt less blurry when moving your head.
  • The Sony headset was much more comfortable. The materials and design teams from Sony were obviously involved from the beginning of the project.
  • The Sony demo was also already using stock Playstation Move cameras in their head-tracking setup, indicating their VR setup should only run you the cost of a headset. My hope is that since the Oculus and Sony teams aren’t going to be direct competitors, that they will consider sharing some knowledge to improve the consumer iterations of both headsets.

I also noticed a number of interesting VR add-ons on the show floor trying to fill in parts of the experience that a headset alone can’t provide.

  • YEI Technology is bringing us the PrioVR, a set of wearable inertial sensors for upper-body or full-body motion detection. A demo game they had running on the show floor showed off accurate-looking arm, leg, and head tracking in a zombie combat environment. At the time of this post, there are still several days on their Kickstarter project.
  • The Virtuix Omni is a project aiming to solve the problem of immersive movement within a VR environment. Movement within VR environments is a big problem to solve, and their multi-directional treadmill and harness provides a way for gamers to walk and run rather than use joysticks for movement. Their Kickstarter campaign is already completed; you can view their full site here
  • Tactical Haptics showed off their Reactive Grip controller prototypes. Their project aims to provide tactile feedback for in-game physical contact, including simulating contact, weight, and torque. I tried their demo and found it pretty convincing in demonstrating torque and kickback, but less so when simulating direct contact. I definitely feel that there’s some promise in the tech. Their site is here

All in all, I’m excited about the directions that VR tech is headed, and I’m excited to see the consumer versions of a lot of these products.

Sessions and Talks

It’s difficult to pack enough content into a 50-minute talk to really teach a room full of developers a lot of new things. I’m happy to report that several of the speakers I saw at GDC were particularly up to the challenge.

Tom Betts gave an excellent in-depth talk on the procedural generation techniques used for building worlds in the upcoming open-world FPS Sir, You Are Being Hunted. He went into some very detailed specifics of the techniques he used and provided some great visualizaitons of the content generation in action.

I attended three talks by Naughty Dog developers on various portions of The Last of Us, and came away from each of them impressed by the level of design thought put into each aspect, as well as the amount of care that was taken to provide a scripting system that allowed the designers to directly interact with the behavior of the game.

I also saw a short (25-minute) session by Andrew Fray on writing effective unit tests that was extremely concise in describing a range of anti-patterns that you should strive to avoid. I could visualize specific tests in our codebase as he was speaking, so I was definitely impressed by the clarity of his ideas.


Lastly, I’d like to highlight a few games that I was excited about on the show floor.

  • Goat Simulator is an utterly ridiculous open-world game in which you play a goat possessed of a long sticky tongue, a sense of mischief, and a large free-play environment in which to wreak havoc.
  • Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hardcore roguelite rhythm game hybrid. Already an unusual combination, they kicked their GDC demo to the next level by using a DDR pad as the only method of input at the expo. The final game will support a number of input methods, but once you’ve tried it that way you may not want to use the others.
  • Cyber Heist was being shown off in several booths, but I caught it in the IGF finalists section. I personally love asynchronous co-op mechanics, and this was showing off a distinct aesthetic in addition to an interesting combination of game mechanics.
  • Leo’s Fortune is a very slick iOS-based physics platformer that was being shown off at our very own booth. It’s a gorgeous little game, and was showing off our Stratus controller to its full effect.