Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Updated: GDC 2013: all the latest from the conference

Updated: GDC 2013: all the latest from the conference

GDC 2013 has officially busted down the doors of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Thousands of devs are streaming between tutorials, summits, demonstrations and more, and TechRadar is on the ground to bring you all the latest.

Check back here as the week progresses and we bring you fresh announcements and in-depth hands ons. Tell us your favorite thing from GDC in the comments below - we love to hear what you guys are thinking.

Sony shows off PS4 specs at GDC

Just when we thought GDC would come and go without a peep about the new PlayStation 4, Sony managed to slip attendees a little look-see.

A room full of game developers and press got some new details about the PS4's hardware, controller, as well as the online and social functions.

Senior Staff Developer Support Engineer Chris Norden unveiled the news under an over arching theme of a "frictionless and seamless" gaming experience on the PS4.

AMD shows off the Radeon HD 7990

Watch your back, Nvidia - AMD is readying a powerful dual-GPU graphics card, and it's not afraid to show it off.

The chip maker gave a GDC press conference the first look at what is says is the world's fastest GPU, bringing it out in public for the very first time.

Though final specs aren't yet set, the theory behind the machine is intriguing enough.

AMD also showed off a new series of cloud gaming cards called the Radeon Sky Series, getting its GDC presence off to a rousing start.

Facebook gaming now a $ 2B industry

If you're a member of the preferred social network, and of course you are, you know that games are almost as popular as cat videos and writing "yum!" on picture of someone's dinner. Facebook may have curbed the number of posts about missing cows and mafia recruitment, but those titles are still around, an d doing big business.

How big? Try $ 2 billion big. That's how much cold hard cash Facebook paid out to developers last year, and at GDC it's hosting the Facebook Developer Day to get the ball rolling on more titles. It's a call to action, if you will.

Sorry guys - no Xbox 720

You're bummed, we know, but it looks like Xbox is skipping out on this year's Game Developers Conference and won't show its next-gen console this week.

We received word from a Microsoft spokesperson that the company has no plans for this, none. We'll look forward to a standalone reveal probably next month or in May.

The legend of Assassin's Creed III's animation lives on

It's always great to get the 411 from the people behind our favorite games, and we got just that with Team Lead for AI and Gameplay Aleissia Laidacker from Ubisoft Montreal.

Laidacker took place in a summit on AI in games, but kindly spoke with TechRadar afterward about the w ork that went into Assassin's Creed III and the influence its animation style has on upcoming titles, including Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Let's just say the work accomplished in AC3 should live on for a very long time.

GameStick starts with a partnership

GameStick, the tiny TV console we very well might see this week, got GDC going with an interesting and potentially very potent announcement about a partnership between the system's developer, PlayJam, and Pivos Technology Group.

Together, the two companies plan to bring about a hearty media center, meaning users won't just have games to play, but a home entertainment hub as well.

We're hoping to get some hands on time with this Kickstarter project this week, so check back in for more.

Take a look at what we're expecting to see at the show

It's almost time once again for developers, producers, manufacturers, programmers, designers, arti sts, audio professionals, insiders and journalists to convene in San Francisco for five action-packed, game-centric days from March 25-29.

Known in long form as the Game Developers Conference, GDC is considered the largest and longest running professionals-only event in the gaming industry. This is where deals are made, new games brought to life and new systems are taken on test runs.

Now in its 26th year, GDC, which boasted 22,500 attendees in 2012, helps to set the tone for the indie gaming industry the whole year long. While lesser-known developers and manufacturers are given a stage all their own at GDC, this year will be markedly different thanks to two major new systems.

GDC 2013: what to expect
Last year's show floor Credit: UBM Tech

Not only will the PS4 and Xbox 720 dominate conversation and lord over the conference like a last-level boss, we might even get the chance to play with one of the systems for the first time following its announcement.

You'll have to read on to find out which one (don't worry, we let you know soon enough) and what else we expect to see at this year's GDC.

GameStick to make an 'alternative' console splash

We hear about Ouya and Valve's Steam Box all the time, but what about other "alternative" gaming systems looking to take on the bastions of gaming (we're talking Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, of course)?

A little Android console and Kickstarter favorite called GameStick could leave a big impression on GDC if its makers decide to out the system in public for the very first time.

We don't have complete confirmation, but with a "number of announcements" planned for next week, we wouldn't be surprised if GDC is the setting the system makes its debut. There's also a none too subtle hint GameStick has been working with ARM, and there should be an announcement on that front as well.

New game - probably Battlefield 4 - from EA

EA needs a win... badly.

Thankfully and perhaps karmically the game developer has a press event scheduled for the evening of March 26. While we have no hard and fast word from EA what we'll see then, it's looking like Battlefield 4 is the title it will trump out for all the world to see.

The company, along with DICE, has created a teaser site for the game, one that beckons viewers to come back March 27 for the first look at gameplay. While very little is revealed on the site's homepage, it promises that as more users login, the more it w ill reveal.

For those needing instant gratification, the wait is almost over.

Some 'splaining from SimCity crew

EA's release of the latest SimCity was a disaster, let's face it. The company servers were totally unprepared for the always-connected roll-out and EA is now doing its best at damage control.

But what went wrong from EA's perspective? What are the flaws that EA needs to address, in the short term and in the long term, to make sure something like this doesn't happen again? Do the merits of the game help overcome the launch's horrendous short fallings?

A number of people who helped build and design SimCity will be on hand at GDC, and we know the topic of the release is going to come up. What we don't know is how the people at the heart of it will respond, and that makes for some very interesting viewing.

Sony teaser photo
PS4 should arrive just in time for a GDC appearance

Playtime with PlayStation 4

Two consoles will be on everyone's mind at this year's GDC: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720.

To tackle the former first, Sony already unveiled its next-gen console during a Feb. 20 event in New York City, but we expect there will be plenty of PS4 talk time at the San Fran conference.

Our ultimate wish is for the company to roll out the not-yet-seen console at GDC, but we're really not counting on that happening.

Creating buzz is still the name of the game for Sony, and we fully expect the company not just to talk up its new system but also to give us m ore clues as to how gamers, developers and others in the industry can take advantage of the new console.

Graphics for the PS4 and the Xbox 720 will also be hugely important to gaming en masse , so Sony might reveal a lot more about the console's capabilities and what games we can expect on the system at launch during GDC.

On the flip side, since no one has actually handled the PS4, it leaves a lot of room for smaller systems to take charge and boost underdog games along with them.

If people aren't talking PS4 (and Xbox 720), they'll be thinking about both, so look for announcements and ideas on development leaning heavily on the big boys.

Xbox 720 talk

As of now, we don't know when the next Xbox will launch or even when Microsoft plans to unveil it. Heck, without official word we can't even confirm that the Xbox 720 - or whatever it's called - is in the works, though there are some very strong indicators that it is.

Regardless of whet her it's announced before GDC or not, the next-gen Xbox will, along with the PS4, be the buzziest system at the conference. The same questions we were asking before the PS4's launch apply - what games will we see on it, what are its processing power and graphics like and what does it mean for systems moving forward?

There's word that game developers are already fiddling with the 720, so we could hear concrete confirmation of just what games are heading to the system during the conference.

The PS4 has already set the bar for the Xbox 720. Can the latter live up to and even surpass its competitor? We imagine quite a few lively debates will take place on the topic.

What's really interesting about the Xbox 720 (or Xbox Infinity or Durango, other names we've heard used to describe the system) is that it has the potential for gamers to continue playing on their phones, laptops and tablets.

With greater mobile integration comes a whole world of possibilit ies and platforms for developers, artists, and audio experts, just to name a few. We could really see and hear some exciting stuff on the mobile gaming front all stemming from the possibilities afforded with a new Microsoft system.

Redmond representatives will be in the building during those days, so we should be able to gather what the Softies have going for their next console, as well.

Check out this nifty video TechRadar put together with all that we want to see in the next Xbox:

Free-to-play, not pay-to-win

When you hear the phrase free-to-play, what games come to mind? FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Smurfs Village? Or Team Fortress 2, League of Legends and Star Wars: The Old Republic? This year GDC will host a conference on the F2P model - games that don't charge players for the initial dive in, but start shaking the cup for in-game items and character progression.

This business model gained a foothold in the industry beyond games your Facebook friends spam you about. Massive multiplayer games, such as Star Trek Online and DC Universe Online, that faced waning subscriber interest have found new life with a F2P option. Other games like Hawken and Monday Night Combat have been F2P from the beginning, and seem to be striking a perfect balance of offering free entry while getting players to chip in for reasonable rewards.

But GDC's F2P advisory board is mostly experts from the realm of browser games. While the folks behind successful Flash titles such as Marvel Alliance and Bingo Blingo obviously understand the marketplace, we're interested in the roll F2P can have for AAA 3D titles. Valve is attending, so maybe someone from the TF2 hat department can chime in?

Hands-free gaming developments

Handheld controllers will never go out of style, though we'll certainly see them evolve over the next few years.

While we do expect there will be some intriguing ergonomic additions to the controller and keypad ecosystem demoed at GDC, we'll be looking for the ways users can manipulate play while keeping their hands folded, stuffed in pockets, or cradling a slice of pizza.

Tobii Technology, which recently showed its hands-free Windows 8 peripheral at CES 2013, is one of the listed GDC exhibitors and we anticipate good things coming from these guys.

The company is one of the leading developers in eye tracking and "gaze interaction," coming up with a system so users can rely just on their eye movements to maneuver PC applications.

The tech isn't just great for gamers looking for new ways to interact with their players and virtual realms - the implications for special needs users are also an exciting front for the gaming industry to explore.

Tobii's influence, which looks to be taking hold, should be something the gaming industry keeps... um... an eye out for, so we anticipate others to take notice and/or show off their own tech come GDC.

Here's a demo video of the eye tracking tech from Tobii as used in Angry Birds:

The best of Best in Play

GDC 2013: what to expect
The cream of the crop comes early at Best in Play Credit: UBM Tech

The GDC has always had its Game Developers Choice Awards, where games industry professionals choose the highlights of the show. Now, for the second year in a row, the GDC will kick off award season early with the Best in Play awards.

Best in Play is for independent developers to show completed or in-progress titles in February. The winners, as chosen by GDC board members and the editors of Gamasutra, will receive full access to the GDC show, and special placement at the show.

Best in Play gives indie developers a head start, and gives attendees a heads-up on great titles to check out that they otherwise might have missed. We look forward to seeing the t itles that make the grade.

The story of story in gaming

GDC 2013: what to expect
Hey, at least the rabid fans weren't skipping the cutscenes

It seems like every year games find ways to grab players not just with visceral thrills and flashy production value, but compelling characters and situations. As gaming grows as a medium, more and more emphasis is being placed on narrative.

Do gamers need a compelling reason to go for that hard-to-reach gold coin or decapitate just one more zombie? The folks of GDC sure think so. There are a half dozen or so lectures on video game story telling, including "Rethinking How We Build Games and Why: The Papo & Yo Story" and "Emotional Journey: BioWare's Methods Bring Narrative into Levels."

BioWare is a real frontrunner in stor ytelling through gaming, but recently met with a shocking amount of flack from gamers over the conclusion of its Mass Effect trilogy. The developer actually released a downloadable addendum to the game's ending, hoping to satisfy fans with an ending-expanding prologue.

Is Mass Effect 3 a cautionary tale of placing too much emphasis on narrative? Or was it just growing pains for a maturing medium? We're curious to see if this comes up in BioWare's presentation.

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