GDC 2014: our top 5 moments from this year's gaming conference

22nd Mar 2014 | 00:03

GDC 2014: our top 5 moments from this year's gaming conference

Our favorite gadgets and top headliners

GDC 2014: Our top 5 moments

Despite the developer-heavy jargon, the passion of the dev and gaming community can always be felt in full force during the Game Developer's Conference.

From seasoned devs answering a barrage of questions to burgeoning devs giving testimonials about dropping out of college to become a one-person indie studio, GDC is a place where there is no shortage of helping hands and determination.

Through all the lines for demos, sessions and panel after panel, we've had a great time at this year's show.

It's no CES, but we've still seen quite a bit of fun, innovative and exciting pieces of tech. Below you'll find a recap video of the show's biggest news, which also happens to be our take on the best five moments from GDC.

1. Virtual reality

We feel virtual reality deserves the number one spot because it was pretty much everywhere. From the ITA's first meeting to VR folks canvassing the press room to hawk their wares, the future is looking positively luminescent for those in the immersive technology realm.

Bigger companies like Sony and Microsoft are expressing interest in the tech - with Sony already in the fray - while more and more smaller companies are receiving more recognition.

The next wave of emerging technology is here folks, and its name is virtual reality.

2. Project Morpheus

Speaking of VR, Sony's Project Morpheus finally reared its head after much speculation, and became the toast of the GDC town.

With Tron-esque lights on the head mounted display and the addition of the PS Move controllers all lit up, it looks like you've stepped out of a sci-fi B-movie.

But during our hands on, we still found the Morpheus to be an impressive piece of future-forward tech despite only being a prototype.

It has a long way to go before we get to snatch it off a shop shelf, but we're excited that Sony has jumped into the VR fray with a more promising device - rather than stick with the expensive and forgettable Sony HMZ-T3W.

3. Oculus Rift

The startup champion is back again with a nearly-there Oculus Rift. Since the higher resolution Crystal Cove set debuted at CES 2014, the company has been hard at work on Developer Kit 2.

We took the VR headset for spin and this latest version isn't perfect, but has definitely improved. It costs a bit more than dev kit 1 because the previous control box is now integrated into the head mounted display and there is only one HDMI/USB fused cable.

The new kit also comes with a motion-tracking camera, which allows for greater movement within the world of the Rift.

A lot of the motion blur is gone and tracking is much better, meaning its safe to say your own personal Oculus is almost here.

4. Valve's Steam Controller

Like the Oculus Rift, Valve has been busy tweaking its Steam Controller too. It wasn't a big reveal since the company had previously showed off comparison photos of the before and after but the changes were enough to pique our curiosity.

The most interesting feature of the controller, the touchscreen, is now gone and replaced with buttons but the dual touchpads are still present. Valve hasn't entirely let go of the touchscreen concept but it won't be part of this package.

Regardless, the controller still probably isn't for every game and a mouse/keyboard combo may still be your go-to but the option to pick up a nice Steam Controller is still appealing and will no doubt still be a hot ticket when it releases later this year with the Steam Machines and Steam OS.

5. Indie games

Indies games are the heart and soul of GDC so always great to see the head honchos of gaming take an interest.

Both Sony and Microsoft are increasing its' efforts to release more indie titles while further fleshing out smoother processes for developers to create for each respective platform. The same can also be said for notoriously secretive Nintendo; in fact, the company has recently taken the steps to make developing Wii U and DS games easier.

To further help smaller studios, new tools have also been released. DirectX 12 and Direct3D 12 from Microsoft, plus Unity 5 were the big three announced at the show. These new dev tools promise to deliver top notch, next-gen graphics.

GDC 2014: Day four

We're still chugging along on the Expo floor, and with only one more day left, we've still seen quite a bit.

From Valve's new Steam Controller design to more on indie game developing, you can catch up and read about it all below.

Goodbye touchscreen, hello buttons

Valve showed off its latest touchscreen-less Steam Controller and we dove in with a hands on.

Valve has been busy tweaking its controller since we last saw it at CES 2014. With a focus on getting the peripheral to market by holiday 2014, so it can be bundled with every make and model of Steam Box, and sold separately at a "competitive" price point.

The controller is still highly programmable mostly thanks to those dual touchpads. By default they're used for moving your character about, and like the stick of an Xbox or PlayStation controller, they can be clicked.

While it's disappointing to see Valve ditch a unique feature like the controller's touchscreen, the company has a history of going back to the drawing board to much success.

Next-gen graphics

DirectX 12 was previously announced by Microsoft but wasn't detailed until its GDC panel. In addition to DirectX 12, the company also revealed graphics toolset Direct3D 12 - both of which are promise to take gaming graphics to the next level.

For consumers, the developer-focused API translates to PC, console and mobile games with richer scenes, a higher on-screen object count and full use of their modern graphics cards.

Foza 5

DirectX 12 is intended to work across all of Microsoft's platforms including Windows 8, Xbox One and Windows Phone 8.

An official release date hasn't been set, though a preview version should be out later this year.

Taking social seriously - social gaming, that is

Facebook is really getting into the social gaming scene.

"It's a great time to be working on games at Facebook," said Dan Morris, head of North American & Mobile Games Partnerships at Facebook during a media roundtable Wednesday. "We are increasingly understanding thanks to user data coming back to us that games are a fundamental human interest."

As we reported Monday, Facebook's own studies have found that cross-platform gamers generate 3.3 times the revenue as those who stick to desktop. Engagement is also higher for those who game on both mobile and desktop as opposed to one or the other.

Facebook seems committed to getting games on both mobile and desktop, not preferring one to the other. Brady noted the company aims for parity between the services and tools it provides game developers for both platforms.

Nintendo takes on indie gaming

Nintendo has been known to be quite selective about sharing its games. In fact the whole company has always been intent on remaining shrouded in mystery, which makes it difficult if you're an indie developer trying to create a game for the Mario masters - but Nintendo says that's actually not so.

According to Nintendo's Dan Adelman, the company has "always been friendly with indie devs."

During a presentation at GDC, Adelman detailed the process of joining the Nintendo Web Framework - its dev program for the Wii U platform - and pointed out that several steps have been simplified to make it easier to join.

GDC 2014: Day three

The Expo has kicked off to huge crowds of gaming enthusiasts, more developers and of course, industry bigwigs ready to woo and be wooed.

With the news of Sony's VR headset out in the open, it looks like virtual reality is becoming the "it" topic on everyone's minds.

In fact, there's a new Oculus in town folks, and it promises to be even better than before.

Stay tuned for more from the show floor - we'll be bringing more exciting news and hands ons until the end of the week!

Expo

Stuff of dreams

Speaking of Sony's foray into virtual reality, we were able to test out Project Morpheus ourselves and though only a beta, it rocked our world.

Project Morpheus is a 1080p head mounted display with a 90-degree field of vision. It straps around your head and the displays - technically one for each eye - hover a few inches in front of your face.

There's no price point or a release date just yet, but it definitely won't be out this year.

That leaves plenty of time to fix up the Morpheus's issues and plop out dev kits for our PS4 consoles.

Ogling the Oculus

We went eyes on with the Oculus Rift again and despite showing off Crystal Cove during CES 2014, Dev Kit 2 has made more improvements since then.

The new Oculus Rift development kit 2 has no control box - all the guts have been integrated into the headset itself, and the Rift has just a single cable - HDMI and USB woven together.

It's available now - for developers only of course - and priced at $350.00 (about £210, AU$385).

Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2

We spoke with Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe before Sony's VR plans became official and he was more than happy about the added competition.

Sony hearts indie

Sony is continuing its support of independent game developers more than ever with its latest addition of dev tools and middleware.

This year, the company plans on providing extra support for the PS3, PS4 and PS Vita through GameMaker: Studio and MonoGame development tools.

Fourteen PS4 games have already been self-published and over 100 games are in development at the moment with more interested parties signing up.

GDC 2014: Day two

It's day two and the Expo still hasn't opened but we're betting some big news will be out later tonight after Sony's panel.

Update: It's official! Sony has outed the its VR headset just as we expected.

The headset dubbed Project Morpheus, is destined for the PS4. Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony's Worldwide Studios, said the prototype headset is far from finished, and the company is looking for help from the developer community to "innovate with us."

Thanks to the PlayStation Move, Sony seems to have a lead in the control area for the headset. On a whole however, the company noted that it needs to touch on six areas to succeed: sight, sound, tracking, control, ease of use and content.

Keep checking TechRadar for more on the exciting, emerging news on VR - and of course and hands on with the Morpheus prototype.

Morpheus

Virtual reality for all

In the meantime, the Immersive Technology Alliance opened its first meeting with clarification about Oculus's recent departure.

However, various other VR companies were on hand like CastAR, Prio VR, Avegant, Middle VR, Epson, Vrelia, FPS Creator and Gameface Labs to show off hardware, tout the importance of VR software and discuss investors.

Despite the lack of an all-star VR name, the ITA seems to be in a good place with the current roster. Many of the companies are also hoping to find funding on Kickstarter, and perhaps the same fame that was thrusted on Oculus.

ITA meeting

Unity unifies

Unity 5 has also been announced. Unity is one of the most popular cross-platform engines and is now greatly improved.

Players can expect higher quality characters and environments thanks to better lighting and shading, meaning even more realistic graphics.

Unity 5

Falling in line with Epic's recent move to add more browser gaming to Firefox, Unity is also working with Mozilla to make plugin-free gaming.

Microsoft hearts indie

The Xbox One and independent developer relationship got off to a rocky start, but Redmond has definitely been busy trying to win back the devs.

Calling this "the midst of a golden age of independent games," Microsoft's independent developers publishing arms, or ID@Xbox, dropped the news at GDC that 25 new titles will soon be available.

The titles originate from nine countries, and include newcomers such as It Draws a Red Box and FRU. Current "fan favorites" being brought to the Xbox One platform include Strike Suite Zero and Divekick.

Other indie titles include Nutjitsu, 1001 Spikes, Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition (we're partial to the name) and Riptide GP2.

Expect to hear more from Microsoft in the coming days about DirectX 12, SmartGlass and cross-screen apps.

GDC 2014: Day one

GDC 2014 is well underway and TechRadar is here in San Francisco to bring you all the news as it happens.

There will be news from the Oculus Rift team, Microsoft, Sony, Valve and more in the coming days but right now, we've got a few tidbits about the growing world of mobile gaming.

Gaming on the go

First up, there's been quite a bit of talk about cross-platform gaming and it looks like Facebook is getting in on the game.

Facebook told TechRadar that its push for cross-platform game development is based at least in part on the company's findings that cross-platform gaming monetize well.

A spokesperson declined to give specifics on cross-platform usage.

Facebook

However, those who are fans of Facebook games can look forward to a big push for more social media games for both mobile and desktop browsers.

Google announced it is bringing turn-based and real-time multiplayer capabilities to iOS and Android devices.

More information will be released during a presentation on Tuesday but for now, we know that if developers include the service in their games, iOS and Android users will be able to play against each other.

Check back for more later on Wednesday when the show gets "properly" gets started. Until then, here's what we're expecting to see this week.

GDC 2014: Show floor speculation

From March 17- March 21, the San Francisco Moscone Center will play host to thousands of gaming industry professionals, aspiring developers and press alike for the 2014 Game Developers Conference.

Last year's GDC saw whispers of the PlayStation 4 and hints of the Xbox One, but now with the two major consoles outed, what could GDC 2014 possibly bring to the table?

The short answer? Plenty.

CES 2014 made sure to show off the Steam Machines and we're betting there will be more face time with each unique box during GDC. We're also putting our money down on seeing more virtual reality devices, indie games and perhaps sneak peeks of upcoming triple A titles.

For the long answer, check out our list below for more on what we expect to see during the conference.

Valve's big year to continue

We've seen the 13 Steam Boxes from various companies, along with the SteamOS and Steam Controller - but we've yet to actually play with the machines themselves.

We're hoping to see at least one Steam Machine in working order and ready for a full hands on at GDC.

With the latest news that the Controllers are seeing a total redesign, we probably won't see the latest version up and running, but perhaps Valve will have renderings and mock ups on hand? We can hope.

Will we also see Valve's virtual reality headset? It made appearances at the recent Steam Dev Days where attendees took it for a spin, but it seems the company has no plans to continue the project ... or does it? We'll find out at the conference.

Update: Valve's Gabe Newell recently did an AMA on Reddit and teased several juicy details about all things Steam, including news about Half-Life 3 - there is no news.

However, Newell and co. seem to have big plans for Steam Music - as in it might look like Spotify or Pandora. Hopefully GDC will shed more light on it.

Additionally, Valve is still furiously working away on a budget Steam Box.

The engine that powers the Crysis games, CryEngine, is allegedly on its way to Linux - meaning devs working with CryEngine could easily hop on over to the Linux powered SteamOS.

Valve also just released shots of its new, redesigned Steam Controller and we're betting it will be on hand during GDC, where we will of course get a hands on to see how it compares to the old one.

Valve Steam Controller

The reigning VR champ

Speaking of virtual reality, we'd be remiss to leave out the headset that everyone's dying to get their hands on - the Oculus Rift.

Only the developer kit is out and we've seen the Rift make a lot of progress; the Crystal Cove prototype thankfully includes positional head-tracking and low persistence, both of which help make the virtual reality experience even more immersive and addresses some users' complaints, including motion blur-induced nausea.

Crystal Cove will most likely be on display at GDC but hopefully the folks at Oculus will have a bit more news to share - like when we'll be able to dive into gaming at home.

Update: Virtual reality itself is making waves in the tech world; though various forms have been out and about for years now, it's really starting to take off.

In fact, the Stereoscopic 3D Gaming Alliance has been freshly rebranded as the Immersive Technology Alliance (ITA). Aimed at delivering the magic of virtual reality to the masses, there are more than 20 companies listed including some familiar names - like Oculus VR and Electronic Arts - but also Virtuix, Panasonic, Epson and HDMI.

The ITA will hold a private session on March 18 which we're attending to make sure you have all the details about the VR world.

Amazon - what?

Amazon console

Yup, Amazon. It's one of the biggest e-commerce sites, and with the addition of Killer Instinct studio Double Helix, it seems the company wants to be even bigger.

The rumored Amazon console is also looking more and more likely, though it's doubtful Amazon will actually unveil any hardware next month.

However, it's possible the company will divulge information on its purchase and maybe reveal some nuggets about its plans for the gaming studio. We can't imagine it'd pass up the chance to get game developers excited and on board if it's plans do extend to gaming.

GDC 2014: Show floor speculation continued

Sony's big, big plans

The PlayStation 4 has proven to be a huge hit but what's Sony got up its sleeves now? Well, earlier in January Tony Clark, director of business development at Sony, tweeted, "This is such a MASSIVE year coming up! Lots on for #PS4 #PS3 #PSVita at #GDC #E3 #Gamescom and so much more! Exciting!"

The PS Vita Slim will naturally be a big talking point. Already out in other parts of the world, the Vita Slim is seeing a spring 2014 US release, so it's obvious Sony will want a lot of buzz around the smaller - but still powerful - beauty.

PS Vita Slim

In case you didn't know, Sony also has its own virtual reality headset in the works. Well, it's rumored to have one, but really it's not surprising since the company already has the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, a device that has stayed in the shadows because of it's huge price tag and lackluster abilities.

With the advent of more virtual reality headsets, Sony is definitely looking to improve and get in the game (pun intended) with a better head mounted display, and here's hoping we'll see something more solid at GDC.

Update: It looks like we actually will see a PS4 specific VR headset from Sony. We were tipped recently from a source who claims they've seen and even tried out the device - and were duly impressed. Exciting!

The recently announced Sony panels, "innovation at PlayStation" and "the future of gaming" on March 18 suggest the company might just have a thing or two to tell us, don't you think?

With other sources coming forward, it's looking more and more like the VR set will pop up during GDC. Word of a prototype headset from Sony seems to be the latest in the mix.

The future of free to play games on Sony's PS platforms will also be discussed - plus expect to hear more about new features for the PS4, PS3 and definitely more demos of PlayStation Now.

Microsoft looking to expand Live, and more

Like Sony, Microsoft already has its Xbox One out in the world. The question is, what's next?

Judging from the panels Microsoft will be presenting, SmartGlass and cross-screen applications will be a major talking point.

Similarly, it seems the expansion of Xbox Live is in the books with Microsoft hoping devs will be able to better see Live's capabilities and the "exciting opportunities" it affords.

DirectX 12

Update: It looks like Microsoft is looking to update it's DirectX API to DirectX 12 during one of its sessions.

DirectX: Evolving Microsoft's Graphics Platform is probably where we'll hear more info - though the panel description details how the company plans on delivering better tools to increase performance from "PC, tablet, phone and console."

The panel will take place March 20.

Nintendo still alive and kickin'

Aside from an Animal Crossing presentation, Nintendo has a few interesting tidbits to share at GDC.

Though we probably won't hear anything about the health platform initiative announced awhile ago, there will be a booth presentation by Manager of Business Development Dan Adelman.

The Wii U seems to be the main focus for Nintendo. The company will be touting eShop games for the device that were built with Unity, and the Nintendo Web Framework to draw in more developers to create games for the platform.

Indie games more popular than ever

Tech conferences are meccas for start ups, and it's no different for indie devs. With the meteoric rise of many lesser-known gaming titles over the years, GDC 2014 will be a popular stomping ground for said developers as they try to woo and win over the crowd.

The Independent Games Festival awards is in its sixteenth year and will take place right before the GDC Choice Awards. The IGF has given away tons of money in support and recognition of the latest fantastic displays of indie game development.

Among the eight summits, Peter Molyneux is a big name attached to the Independent Summit. He ventured back to indie gaming in 2012 and will be giving a talk called "From Indie to AAA to Indie: The Rebirth of Design" on March 18 - where he will discuss his experiences in both types of studios.

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