The Game Developers Conference is an annual expo which hosts the largest gathering of professional video game developers from around the world. Every year GDC, along with a few other notable events (PAX, E3, etc) helps to set the tone for the future of the gaming and tech industries, so it’s no surprise that these events serve as platforms for all manner of announcements from all spheres of the industry. Inevitably, some announcements overshadow others and quite often big news is swept aside by even bigger news. So, to remedy that, here is a brief recap of what went down at this year’s GDC.
Valve arguably stole the show this year with a number of big announcements and surprises. The biggest being Valve’s partnership with HTC to develop the Vive, a VR headset which uses SteamVR tracking technology. The headset allows users to pair two SteamVR base stations which will track your movement inside a virtual space. While you will be able to use a controller, it won’t be necessary for the actual tracking of movement. The Vive developer kit already packs two impressive 1200×1080 screens with refresh rates of 90 frames per second. While the final specs for the machine haven’t been announced, you can bet they’ll be at least as impressive as the dev kit.
To sell developers at the conference on the Vive’s capabilities, the company unleashed an impressive series of demos, including the much discussed Portal themed demo set inside of Aperture Science Labs. Impressed journalists and developers have since proclaimed the experience as one of the best VR presentations since the first Oculus Rift excitement began. This, of course, is all qualified by the fact that the dev kit hasn’t even been released yet and VR tech in general still has a lot to prove before being released to the public. That said, the Vive is announced to release later THIS year which gives it an advantage over Sony’s Morpheus and the Oculus Rift which aren’t poised to hit the market until next year.
Along with Valve’s VR announcement, Jeep Barnett, a programmer for Valve, talked about how they’ve been experimenting with Half-Life assets in VR to explore gameplay and design possibilities. While this is by no means a concrete announcement of anything, Barnett was quoted as saying “We’re not saying, no, but we don’t know what the right thing is. Our most precious resource is time, and we don’t have enough time for people to do everything. Would we like to make all of our franchises in VR? Absolutely. But we don’t have enough time or people. So we have to figure out what’s the best fit, what plays to the strengths of VR.”
Another big unveiling from the gaming juggernaut was the Source 2 engine. The original Source engine, used since the release of Counter-Strike: Source (way back in 2004), has long been a mainstay in the gaming industry. Source 2 is reported to be developed with creator productivity in mind, not just for the pro developer, but for gamers themselves to help in the creation and development of games.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Valve also had another hardware announcement: the Steam Link. According to Valve, the sleek Steam Link box will provide “low latency” steaming of Steam games in 1080p resolution at 60 Hz. The box will be capable of streaming content from any PC, Mac, “Steam Machine,” or Linux-based computer to another computer on the same network. Steam Link is set to launch alongside the Steam Controller this November and will retail for about $50 USD.
And lastly… the final design for the Steam Controller was shown off along with its November release date. The SteamOS controller will also be retailing for $50 USD.
Although not as impressive as Valve’s showing, Microsoft did reveal a few interesting bits of information, along with a handful of game announcements. As discussed in a previous look at Windows 10 and the Xbox One here at SimHQ, Microsoft announced that they will unlock retail Xbox Ones as test kits for games that are being developed within the Windows 10 app later this year. This essentially means that Xbox One owners will finally be able to use their boxes as a development kit. While probably not too exciting for the general public, this announcement does give a window for the “self-publishing” promise Microsoft had previous made to Indie developers.
On the game front, Chris Charla, head of ID@Xbox, teased a possible future for the classic game series Battletoads while discussing the recently announced X1 version of Shovel Knight. While not an overt announcement, Charla’s teasing comment “I wonder when we’ll see them next?” has the Internet abuzz with hopes and expectations. Along with the concrete announcement of Shovel Knight for the Xbox One, Wasteland 2 is also set to make its appearance on Microsoft’s console.
Smite, the highly popular MOBA which released last March for the PC, announced that it will go into alpha on March 11 with a beta starting sometime this April. Lucky PAX East attendees will be able to grab a code from the Hi-Rez booth during the expo this year.
Finally, the popular space sim Elite: Dangerous will also be coming to the Xbox One as a timed exclusive this summer. Although no details about the game or price have been revealed, it has been confirmed that Frontier Developments flagship will be coming to the PlayStation 4 sometime after its release on the Xbox.
The big news from Sony this year at GDC was about Project Morpheus. We’ve seen and heard about all the flashy tech demos over the past few years in VR news, but this year, Sony stepped up to the plate to show off actual gameplay: The Heist. The demo utilized two Move controllers and dropped users into a firefight. The headset also showed off some tweaks to its design which improved the bulky peripheral’s comfort and specs.
The notable changes, include: OLED display, 120hz refresh rate, super low latency, better tracking, and a user-friendly design.
Nvidia surprised during its conference by announcing their own “console.” The Shield is a hybrid set-top box and console which sports a Tegra X1 processor, 256-bit Maxwell GPU with 3gigs of memory, as well as all the trimmings of other, similar Android boxes. It’s the Tegra X1 chip that really gives the box some power compared to other Android boxes. The Shield allows for local and streaming play (via GRID+), as well as support for GameStream. It can also, somewhat impressively, play and capture 4k video at 60fps. For $200, you’ll get the console as well as a controller, which is technically optional.
Okay, Nvidia’s creating a powerful Android box, so what? If you’re not a fan of the already niche devices then you probably won’t be very excited. However, the GPU giant also announced its Titan X which promises to be one extremely powerful (and big) graphics card. While details and pricing are still sketchy, the card does offer a 12 GB framebuffer and 8 billion transistors… which is enough to make me want one, right now.
GDC 2015 is winding down, but the announcements aren’t over yet. PAX East starts this weekend and is sure to bring another round of new gaming and tech announcements. Stay tuned!