12 interesting things we learned at GDC 2015
Meeting of the minds
When you put a ton of smart, creative people in the same space, good things are bound to happen. That's the idea behind the Game Developers Conference, the annual week-long gathering that invites people from all walks of game industry life to sync up and share ideas. As of today, GDC 2015 is wrapping up, and after five days of attending panels, playing indie gems, and getting a closer look at the VR tech that may very well determine gaming's future, we're feeling thoroughly enriched.
But if you couldn't make it out to San Francisco this year, don't fret. We picked up tons of interesting factoids and behind-the-scenes stories at GDC '15 - the kinds of tidbits that can get overlooked amidst all the news and previews. So here, in one convenient location, is a collection of the most downright interesting things we learned at GDC. Get ready to feel enlightened... or at the very least, feel like you've got a cool new anecdote to share with a friend.
Bungie used an 'awesome' button to help design Destiny's missions
It's probably no surprise to learn that triple-A game developers use a lot of data and focus groups to fine tune their games. Bungie was no different when it came to developing the missions and systems of its open-world shooter, Destiny. The dev team used lots of pre-release testers to play early builds of the game and let the creators know which parts of the game were fun and which sucked.
Typically, pause buttons are used to take a break from a game and collect feedback from the test participants, but because pausing isn't possible in an online-only game like Destiny, the developers had to think of some other way to get that precious data. The solution: give players instant access to button combinations that would tell the developers when they felt confused, lost, frustrated, or when something awesome happened. From there, the developers were able to create heatmaps of the awesome spots (as well as the not-so-great areas) and fill out the lame spots with extra awesome stuff. Awesome, right?
Naughty Dog made tons of test footage of Joel attacking Ellie
At the more technically focused talk titled The Last of Us Motion Capture Pipeline, Naughty Dogs Damon Shelton talked about what happens with motion-capture data after the actors are done. Basically it takes a lot of programs and developmental elbow grease to craft the people of that dystopian future, including test footage using two of the only complete character models. So, to map out the involved animation of Ellie battling a Clicker, Naughty Dog had to make a ton of test footage featuring Joels model attacking the last person youd expect him to.
Obviously this footage of Joel attacking Ellie would never be used in the game, Naughty Dog dropped the proper models in when all the assets were complete. Still, it must have been odd during development to cycle through hours and hours of footage of Joel attempting to bite Ellies face off. Shelton also revealed that Joels actor, Troy Baker, is actually a few inches taller than Joel, so they had to shrink the actor down to fit the finalized character model.
Telltale is always anxious about what players will think of its games
Back when The Walking Dead first came out, a lot of people were shocked to discover how good it was. Meanwhile, the folks at Telltale Games were just shocked (and incredibly relieved) that so many people liked it. "We were sweating bullets when Walking Dead went out, because it was so weird," Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner said during a panel on the company's narrative approach to gameplay. Specifically, the game was an odd entry in the adventure game genre, since it had very few puzzles and focused almost entirely on player choice and dialogue. Given that standards for the genre were set by the likes of Grim Fandango and The Secret of Monkey Island, The Walking Dead looked like a bit of an odd bird, and no one was really sure how it was going to pan out.
Thankfully, things worked in the game's favor, but that hasn't made the Telltale team less anxious. "Every time something comes out, we are terrified [about] how it's going to be received," Bruner noted, pointing to the skeptical reactions the studio received received after announcing Tales from the Borderlands. Still, the goal remains the same as it did in The Walking Dead's development: "I don't think we were trying to build the world's greatest anything. We just wanted to build something that we thought was good."
The creator of Danganronpa really wants people to get a Vita
Danganronpa and its sequel got a lot of critical buzz last year, but still stayed under the radar for many mainstream gamers. Those who played it loved the characters and densely written plot, but perhaps the series potential is limited by its platform. The Vita isnt known for big sales, and Danganronpa's creator wishes things were different.
While clarifying that he wasnt being paid in any way by Sony, Kazutaka Kodaka began and ended his presentation with funny slides that exclaimed, 'why wont people buy a Vita!' He didnt elaborate on those frustrations too much, as he soon dove into the nuts and bolts of writing a games story, but the situation is understandable. Kodaka and his fellow developers are certainly invested in the handheld, even if the sales are dwindling worldwide. It's tough to maintain a system on niche titles like Danganronpa, even if they do tell some of the best stories in games.
Swery65 only plays his games on Thursdays
Much like his most famous games, Japanese developer Hidetaka 'Swery65' Suehiro is so quirky and unassuming that you just can't help but love him. While hosting a panel about the development of the Xbox One episodic mystery D4, Swery hinted that a PC port of D4 may be possible. But that's not all - he also shared a whopping 65 tips pulled from his very own development process, including this valuable bit of wisdom to game makers: don't play the game you're creating every day.
"By leaving a little bit of room [between playtests], it allows for you to not get stale and have the same [recurring] opinions," he said. To ensure that he doesn't miss the forest for the game-development trees, Swery onlys plays the games he's making once a week - on Thursday, to be exact. Some other fun facts about Swery: whenever something bad happens at the office, his solution is to simply hug it out. When developing the characters for his games, he likes to map out a timeline for each of their fictional lives. Also, he owns four Power Gloves.
Dungeon of the Endless is the four-player dungeon crawler Xbox One needs
Stop me if this has happened to you: you're on a prisoner transfer ship, and all of sudden, the ship is attacked. You, the crew, and all the prisoners are rushed onto escape pods and jettisoned down to a mysterious planet. You find yourselves lost in an underground dungeon, and must work together to get out. It's so awkward, right? I hate it when that happens.
Dungeon of the Endless is a little bit dungeon crawler and a little bit tower defense. You explore randomly generated dungeons room by room, collecting new items and leveling up your characters in solo or co-op play. You also earn currency used to build fortifications in the rooms you've visited, in case hordes of enemies spawn when you enter the next area. Once you finally reach an exit, the finale involves running back to your starting point, picking up a special item, and slowly carrying it to the exit, all the while fending off an endless stream of enemies pouring in from all sides. Hope your fortifications are up to snuff in time for this PC-to-Xbox One port.
Sony has been trying to win over the folks behind Magicka since before the PS4 launch
Magicka 2, a game about mages mixing magic spells to defeat imposing hordes of enemies, will be hitting PC and PS4 in spring 2015. This is new territory for publisher Paradox Interactive, which is known for catering exclusively to the PC market - though apparently not for lack of trying on Sony's part. "Sony asked earlier if we would like to publish our games on PlayStation 3," Paradox studio manager Mattias Wiking noted during a demonstration of Magicka 2. "We said 'No, it's a bit too complicated for us. We need to do regular game updates that our fans are really demanding.' So, it wasn't really a good platform for us."
What happened to change Paradox's mind? The PS4, and serious efforts by Sony to simplify the process of developing for it. "One day Sony came and said, 'Now we have the PlayStation 4... we're gonna make it really easy for everyone to publish their games." Wiking explained. "And we were like, 'Yeah, this will work.'" As Sony and Microsoft vie for ever more exclusive content from third-party developers, it's interesting to hear straight from the creators about how these interactions go. If Paradox's example is any indication, Sony has genuinely upped its game for this generation, with a focus on making its system attractive to a wider range of game makers.
Rebel Galaxy is a mix of Firefly and Black Flag with a dash of Han Solo
If you're a fan of the ship combat from Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, but wish there was a lot more to it (and it was set in space), Rebel Galaxy is your space sim. You own a spaceship, with which you can do whatever you want. There is a full, open-world galaxy for you to explore, tons of characters to meet, and plenty of opportunities to rake in the dolla' bills.
There are many ways to approach Rebel Galaxy. Those who are keen on a complex storyline can follow the main quest chain, help or exploit important characters, and make universe-altering decisions. Alternatively, you can just skip all of that and raid merchant ships for their valuable cargo, becoming an infamous space pirate. The choice is yours.
The Flock is the scariest game of red light/green light you'll ever play
Ever wanted an asymmetrical online multiplayer game about being constantly freaked out? You absolutely need to try The Flock, which has a simple setup but horrifying results. Rounds start with everyone controlling one of the Flock: large, skeletal creatures living in the eternal darkness of ancient Earth. Somewhere on the map is the Light Artifact; if you're holding it, you're winning the game. Naturally, the other Flock will try and take it from you, but you can stop them by shining your light in their direction. Should a Flock move while exposed to the light, they'll instantly burn to a crisp.
Imagine it: you're running through a narrow, stone valley. It's completely dark, save for the dim beam emanating from the Light Artifact. All around you are clicks and scrapes from the Flock's talons as they encircle their prey, unseen. Suddenly, a crash! You spin around, coming face to face with one of the hunchbacked beasts, knowing that the moment you look away it will cut you down. But, from behind, you can hear the scratching drawing closer.
Open-world lighting is insanely complicated, and insanely important to realism
To announce that Unreal Engine 4 is now free to everyone, Epic Games showed off a mesmerizing cinematic trailer, which depicts a giant open world that could easily double as the next entry in the Elder Scrolls series. At a subsequent panel, Epic divulged the secrets to developing this stunningly convincing landscape - but the bottom line is that proper lighting plays a huge part in a world's believability.
Hundreds of reference photos of cliffs, plains, and moss-covered rocks were taken to create a scene reminiscent of the Isle of Skye in Scotland for the Kite Open World cinematic. But even with high-res textures covering the landscape, the scene still needs to react properly to incoming light sources, or the illusion is shattered when shadows don't line up with their environment. Luckily, Unreal Engine 4 can handle some absurdly complex lighting jobs, able to compute the amount of sunlight that should bounce off the ground onto other objects, or the way light scatters on human skin.
GDC hosted an incredible Atari collection
Outside of the meeting rooms and show floor, there were a number of displays in the halls and foyers of the Moscone Center. One of the most interesting had to be the Videogame Museums display near the North Hall. The Texas-based organization brought some of its most valuable artifacts from gaming history for all to see.. This display was dedicated exclusively to the history of Atari, the first truly mainstream console maker in the US, and the showing wasnt limited to mere games.
There were pristine game boxes, countless promotional materials that were kept in very good condition, and working models of every system setup. And the mood was perfectly set by '80s pop hits playing in the background. Check out our extensive gallery for a first-hand look at the loving tribute to a huge part of gaming history - and make it complete by listening to Boy George while you do it.
It takes much longer to make toys than you think
Are you annoyed at how rare interactive toys like amiibo can get? Do you wish Nintendo would just make a few more? Well, its not all that easy, as GDCs Disney Infinity 2.0 panel attested. The second release in Disney Interactives toys-to-life series added a ton of new figures to the world, many from Marvel Comics, and the production took 10 long months.
The amount of pre-planning for figures even afford the Disney Infinity team the lead time to help inspire the comics themselves - the current look of Venom in the comics is informed by his Infinity design. The developers also dodged any questions about Star Wars figures being added to the mix... but if thats happening in time for Decembers new film, then the toys are likely being made at this very moment, right? Unless they somehow shortened the production time since 2014.
Was this look behind the scenes engrossing? Do you want to ask the folks that attended GDC some more questions? Tell us all about it in the comments!
Want to get even more GDC trivia? Check out 45 things we learned from GDC 2014 and the 8 best things we learned at GDC 2012.