Our first GDC, but certainly not our last.
This year was not only my first year at GDC, but Hey Poor Player’s first time covering the conference. My journey through the event was one that started with a lot of general anxiety, but I can happily say ended with a ton of kick ass games and panels. For those unaware GDC (Game Developers Conference) is a yearly gathering where game developers network, educate, and inspire others. Unlike other gaming industry related events, this one was catered for developers and those in the industry rather than consumers or press, although they were very accommodating to all parties. I had the joy of going as a member of the press on behalf of Hey Poor Player, to cover the battleground that was the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. Unfortunately I was a one man production crew so I couldn’t attend everything, but I did manage to attend a good mix of panels, booths, and demos. This article will more or less serve as part one of our GDC coverage, giving a general synopsis of the things I could demo and attend. There will be other articles as well that will include more specific, focused impressions and news based on games that I tried both at the conference itself or an external event. Also something of note is that all the panels will be available for later viewing on the GDC vault, when this will be hasn’t been announced yet.
“The Sound and Music of Hyper Light Drifter” was the very first GDC panel I attended. I must say there were a lot of excited people because the line extended well into the hallway. The panel speakers were Akash Thakkar and Rich Veerland, the sound designer and composer of the game respectively. Both were very enthusiastic to talk about their creative process and level of experimentation when it came to the game. The things that stood out to me the most was the focus on experimentation and collaboration. Both speakers talked about all the different ways they produced scores and sounds by going outside the box of what is traditionally used in modern production. Such as the music repeating at different parts of the game but changing based on different variables such as enemy and weather. There was also a good portion of the talk about the type of managing style the main creative director had in relation to the team, and how it affected the working environment and process of the development team. Overall a very good panel and very well executed one at that. It is a super interesting talk for those who have never played or have played Hyper Light Drifter.
Slime Rancher is one of my favorite games on Steam, something about adorable anime-esque blobs in a farming simulator just hits all the sweet spots for me. When I found out that there would be a panel where the speaker would be the co-founder of Monomi Park, Nick Popovich, I knew I needed to go. The subject matter of the talk was emergent storytelling and its relation to Slime Rancher. The way Popvich described emergent storytelling is the stories that player tells with the systems built into the game that game designer did not intend on. For example, when you play a game such as Eve Online there are many stories of player’s actions and how it affects the world. The players are still playing by the systems set in place for them by the designers, but the stories they craft are from their experience unique to them, and not pre-scripted. He believes this idea of emergent storytelling is a reason attributed to Slime Rancher overall success. He furthers this point throughout the talk by giving examples mechanically specific to Slime Rancher. This was without a doubt one of my favorite panels of the whole conference and definitely one you should check out whenever it’s available on the GDC vault.
GDC this year was big on VR, which is why a whole separate subject called VRDC was a thing. Among the many VR related properties and peripherals, one that stood out was the VirZoom. The VirZoom is a simple concept, use the power of VR games to encourage exercise. What separates VirZoom from other companies that have tried gaming based fitness is that they want to produce games that are good and not necessarily a 3D workout regimen. One of the many trappings of fitness entertainment is that it more or less the same thing as doing the workout, games about doing yoga are essentially yoga but in front of a monitor. VirZoom does have these games, one game I demoed was essentially riding a bike virtually, but that isn’t all they have. There are many titles that don’t feel like a virtual exercise regiment and are just decent mini games in their own right. For example, I played a tank simulator where I aimed with my head and moved the tank by pedaling, this is a good way to do fitness gaming without being just a virtual version of the task. What VirZoom accomplished best is the quality of the exercise bike itself. The company has ex-members from Harmonix, and that experienced with peripheral based gaming certainly helped with making a peripheral that is both sturdy and ergonomic. The bike felt great to pedal on and I got a serious workout during my demo, but that could just mean I’m horribly out of shape.
I had the joy of meeting with Francisco Gonzalez at GDC, creator of Lamplight City. Funny fact we had to tweet each other to find one another throughout all the chaos of the conference. Now I’m not the biggest fan of adventure games, I appreciate them for what they are but they are certainly not for me. Lamplight City is a detective mystery adventure title, taking place in an alternate 1800s where the American colonies never revolted and are still part of England. You play a private investigator named Miles Fordham who can hear the voice of his deceased partner, who was killed by an unknown assailant. Miles must know solve cases all while tracking down the man who murdered his partner, all while questioning his own sanity. A very big focus of the game, as Francisco mentioned, is that your actions have consequences. He very much wanted failure to be part of the game and you can actually label a case unsolved because you failed at something. You can still beat the game and objectively be “bad” at the game, but you do get rewarded for playing good as well. Overall I enjoyed talking to Francisco and absolutely love the alternate 1800s steampunk history of the title.
Anamorphine is a Salvador Dali walking simulator about depression: maybe I should explain. You play in a first person perspective through the eyes of Tyler, who navigates through past memories that define the milestones of his relationship between him and his wife Elena. The game centers around Tyler unable to deal with the guilt of not being able to help his wife through depression. The game has no voice acting and you do not take actions within the game, all you can do is walk. The game by all means a walking simulator, but I’m not using that term derogatorily. As you move through these memories the game’s watercolor art style combined with surreal Salvador Dali-esque perspective tricks makes the game quite a trip. The game is looking solid as of right now and the themes of the game will hit very hard for those who can relate with guilt or depression. Anamorphine is one of the darker games I’ve played this GDC week, but video games as an art medium can be more than just fun times. Like all forms of art it can tackle many themes and it’s nice to see a product that tackles such hard themes with finesse and style.
This rounds out this article of our coverage of GDC. As the title of the article suggests this is only part one, there are far too many things to talk about in one article so we will spread them out. I have many more games and panels to talk about so please keep checking back for more GDC goodness!