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GDC 2014 round-up: All the stories, games and VR so far

S. Prell, @SamPrell

The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is going on now, and Joystiq is checking out every game, trying out every piece of new tech, walking every inch of the show floor, and eating every piece of pizza - yes, every piece - from the concession stands so that we can bring you the best news, interviews and previews.

But we understand that not everyone can follow us every step of the way - people have jobs, families, secret evil lairs to construct, etc. - so we've prepared this handy little round-up to give you a summary of GDC 2014 so far. Prepare yourself. The fun cannot be halted.

Announcements & Reveals

  • Unity Technologies unveiled Unity 5, the latest iteration of its Unity engine, which has powered everything from HD remakes of original PlayStation games to old-school RPGs from Obsidian. The engine is particularly well-regarded for its ease of use, which has resulted in some very viral, well-received games from indie and amateur creators.
  • Microsoft announced a slew of indie titles coming to Xbox One, "slew" being defined - here, for our purposes anyway - as "25." There's plenty of variety on the way, including:
    • Riptide GP2, a watercraft racer game - when's the last time you heard that? - that allows up to not two, not four, but six-player splitscreen.
    • Calibre 10 Racing Series, an arcade racer where one player races while their partner fires rockets from turrets placed along the track to take out the competition.
  • Developers Kit V2 of the Oculus Rift is now available for pre-order at a price of $350, and this updated virtual reality headset boasts a bevvy of improvements over the original: higher resolution displays, better comfort and an external camera for position tracking. Shipments are expected in July.
  • Not to be outdone, Sony announced their own virtual reality headset, dubbed "Project Morpheus." This sleek-looking headset displays whatever the user sees on the television, so onlookers won't be quite so confused when you start screaming and flailing. We've actually got so much information about Project Morpheus that it's got its own little breakout down below. Skip ahead if you like, we won't tell.
  • The virtual critters of Animal Crossing: New Leaf sure know how to make a sale, but so do their creators. Series creator Katsuya Eguchi revealed at GDC that the childhood adorableness simulator (genre term patent-pending) has sold 7.38 million units worldwide.
  • Spry Fox, creators of Triple Town, have a new game coming out perhaps best described as a "2D Monster Hunter." We would describe it by its name, but we can't - because right now it still doesn't have one. It does however have many dragons and a majestic, flowing beard. We're okay with this.
  • You got steampunk in my world-building sim! You got world-building sim in my steampunk! Clockwork Empires, the metaphorical Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in this analogy, is launching a purchasable alpha this spring.

Game Analysis & Post-Mortems
  • Sometimes the best part of a heist is watching it go wrong. Monaco level designer Andy Nguyen took to the podium to explain how developer Pocketwatch Games incorporated player feedback about frustration to make a stealth game that's just as much about getting caught as it is about getting away.
  • If at first you don't succeed, die, die again. Developer Cellar Door Games spoke at GDC about how their game, Rogue Legacy, began life as something lovingly referred to as Dark Souls 2D, as well as how the team managed to recycle much of their effort making DS2D back into Rogue Legacy.
  • It may seem like it doesn't matter what you do in The Stanley Parable, but one of the game's designers, William Pugh, explained that it's just the opposite: because there is no overarching goal, no villain to defeat, no victory conditions, every choice becomes an expression of the player. Mind. Blown.
  • Republique creator Ryan Payton told an audience of GDC attendees that it wasn't until he and his team became the game's harshest critics that gameplay started to really click. Or tap, seeing as Republique is a one-touch stealth game for iOS devices.
  • It may take place in the future, but Alien: Isolation's feel is decidedly low-tech, full of CRT monitors and ... what are these, books? Creative Assembly talked to Xav de Matos about recreating the feel of the 1979 horror classic in a modern video game.

  • The Iñupiat people are not a group we're used to hearing much about. Never Alone from developer Upper One Games hopes to change that. The indigenous-owned developer talked to Xav de Matos about translating and preserving Alaskan Native culture through their upcoming game.
  • Would you like some adorableness to go with that crippling depression and mind-bending puzzles? Jessica Conditt got her hands on Road Not Taken, a roguelike/puzzle/narrative mash-up that "is deeper than you think."
  • Not content to die in the wilderness, Jessica gave Hyper Light Drifter a shot. Her time spent in the game's co-op combat mode was a brief two minutes, but she lived more in those two minutes than many dare to dream. Also, she killed lots of monsters, so all in all, not a bad life.
  • Valve's Steam Controller has undergone a major facelift since we played with it back in January, but now that it's GDC time, we have another chance to check it out. Thoughts thus far: impressive in versatility, but still a bit finicky.
  • Our own Richard Mitchell experienced Sony's virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus, to show you what it's like. Oh, what's that? Sorry, King Barbarian Richard Mitchell, decapitator and torso-remover extraordinaire - don't worry kids, the suits of armor he's hacking apart are empty.

Project Morpheus
One of the biggest announcements yet to come out of GDC 2014, Project Morpheus is Sony's answer to the Oculus Rift: a wearable virtual reality display that works in conjunction with the PlayStation Camera to give players the sense of being in a virtual space. Here's a recap of the what we know and what we've seen:
  • The device was introduced Tuesday as a prototype development kit, but it already has several notable partners ready to support it, including Epic Games and Crytek.
  • It will feature 1080p display and 90-degree field of view, and can simulate more than 60 virtual speakers for sound. It can also display what the user sees onto the television screen, so onlookers can watch what's happening from the player's point of view. Notably, the way the image is displayed is a single one, not the "binoculars" effect seen in many VR demonstrations. More tech details here.
  • Richard Mitchell would get to try his hand (head?) at Project Morpheus later in the week, but first had a chat with fellow Joystiq'er Jessica Conditt about the device's place in the market and the mysteries yet to be revealed. He also gives everyone a heart attack when he tosses expensive technology.
  • Anton Mikhailov and Jeff Stafford from Sony R&D give us their thoughts on Project Morpheus and how it compares to the Oculus Rift, as well as what they hope to achieve with their product.
  • But when all is said and done, talking about virtual reality can't hold a candle to experiencing it. That's why we sent VR trooper Richard Mitchell to check out Project Morpheus and a couple tech demos. Yeah, there's a dragon.

Oh, and there's this:

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