Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

GDC in some ways is a more valuable conference than say your E3es and PAXes. While there might not be much in the light of new game announcements (though this year, we got a chance to see games like FramedDouble Fine’s Hack n’ SlashMonument Valley, and Among the Sleep), GDC gives developers a platform to address all things game design, game development culture, along with tools and platforms that will become integral parts of the industry’s future.


VR was arguably the most prominent hardware theme at GDC this year. Until last week’s conference, the Oculus Rift stood as the primary (practically solitary) piece of hardware representing the modern day concept of “virtual reality”. And Oculus continued to impressed users at GDC with its Dev Kit 2 which boasts increased display specs (900x1080 for both eyes on an OLED panel), decreased motion blur, and an external camera to detect positional tracking.

But simply based on pure novelty, Sony’s Project Morpheus was THE VR device to talk about last week.

Though with some immersion breaking nicks such as some light bleed at the bottom of the device and narrower field of vision, Project Morpheus was said to hold a near comparable VR experience next to the Rift. Morpheus hit the ground running with positional tracking already built into the core experience thanks to the TRON like lights that line the device as well as the Playstation Eye, and Move integration finally gives the motion control device a purpose. Motion control and VR have existed separately in many respects up until now; either you used three dimensional movements for a 2D display, or used traditional button inputs for a 3D display. But being Morpheus’ compatibility with Move bridges that encompassing immersion at a seal, we can look forward to full somatic and sensory virtual gaming experiences.

Other VR hardware and peripherals were showcased at GDC as well, including: the Cortex, Seebright, and the Omni Treadmill peripheral.

But today, we can’t discuss virtual reality without mentioning Facebook.

Yesterday, Facebook helped me release my bowels when they announced their acquisition of Oculus Rift for $2 Billion.

“Holy shit” was indeed the correct and unanimous response. Whether you’re naturally cynical or even a bit of an optimist, the wave of concern was unavoidable. From the “big fish eats little fish” analogy to Facebook’s frighteningly expanding empire, Facebook’s “infringement” in the virtual reality market is, quite frankly, “creepy” as Minecraft’s Notch put it who pulled their game from Oculus support along with other developers putting their projects on hold.

But creepy doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing.

The monetary benefits of Facebook’s acquisition is undeniable; Oculus will have far more resources than they had as a project originally funded by Kickstarter (I’m truly sorry backers), and the financial costs –  according to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe – will in the end make Oculus cheaper for consumers. Secondly, if we were to take Mark Zuckerberg’s claims in that Facebook will not infringe upon Oculus’ direction, how this device will be used will be an in-addition-to, and not in-place-of when it comes to games. Many have already imagined the Second Life/Playstation Home simulators where people enter virtual worlds where they interact with one another. The fact of the matter is Oculus is bound to have a plethora of uses outside of gaming.

Sounds familiar? That’s because Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida claimed vision for Morpheus is quite similar. After Morpheus’ announcement, Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey stated that Sony’s Morpheus was a “good thing”, and was looking forward to having other VR devices that doesn’t suck. Being that the two devices aren’t in direct competition, they’ll more work as inspirations for one another.

Oculus is clearly at the head of the game when it comes to virtual reality, and with such a led in potential, hopefully this will lift the VR market as a whole. 

This concludes a look back at GDC 2014. Thanks for reading.

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