VRTGO Compere Will Freeman @ GDC

It was 2013 when Oculus held its first special event for the DK1 at GDC. Ever since, VR has presented a trend that has stood prominent at the vast conference.
And with GDC 2016 taking place just days before the long-awaited consumer release of the Rift, this year VR dominated like never before.
 
Indies, triple-A teams, engine and middleware outfits, platform holders, hardware manufacturers and those from outside the world of games were all in town with VR at the forefront of their minds, and it made this GDC one of the most exciting there has been in some time.
Of course, GDC is primarily a show for the makers and creators, and that meant a bounty of superb VR games were on show, from the arresting polish seen in Epic’s Bullet Train shooter demo and the familiar form of Rock Band re-imagined for VR, to indie triumphs like Northway Games’ glorious puzzler Fantastic Contraption and Owlchemy Labs’ wonderful, knowingly daft Job Simulator. Elsewhere Opaque’s astronaut training experience Earthlight shone on the Vive, while countless titles drew long, snaking queues around the Playstation VR kiosks.
 
This was also the GDC where VR-focused hand controllers asserted their status as a powerful device to engender new levels of immersion and presence in virtual worlds. Demo after demo on the show floor made use of the likes of Oculus Touch and HTCs hand controllers, and in most cases the VRTGO team tried, they thrived in bring a notion of tactility to the virtual ream; itself a place long in need of the ability to let users… well…  use their hands.
The conference’s buzzword within a buzzword, however, was ‘room-scale’. Indeed, it was the talking point of one of GDC 2016’s inaugural sessions, which set the precedent for long snaking queues greeting almost every GDC themed session. Those queues underlined VR’s popularity throughout the conference, and often those patiently waiting could be heard discussing room-scale VR.
 
Room-scale refers to VR experiences that take place in a reasonably large tracked area the user can move around within; most likely the consumer’s living room – quite probably with the furniture pushed aside. It’s an area the Vive excels in, but increasingly those building content for Oculus and others are working projects that lean towards room-scale, even if they are not truly so open to movement. And just as the last few years have seen knowledge sharing and collective learning define the dev community’s understanding of best harnessing the potential of VR, at this year’ GDC that creative spirit was applied to better comprehending the potential of designing for room-scale experiences.
 
Another VR trend that continued to enjoy attention at GDC was a new emphasis on long-touted creative tools that let users design VR experiences from within VR itself. GDC is a games development conference, of course, and that meant it was a chance for both Epic and Unity to demonstrate their visions for how their respective game editors might work when used in VR. Both showcased that potential from on-stage, and the results were frankly striking.
 
Seeing a game developer build a game world around them with an HMD and hand controllers was remarkable, and the potential in that space is truly exciting. It was also curiously tangible to realise how playful this creative method was, and as such, it could be argued ‘in-VR game editing’ might just be a technology that puts the ‘game’ into ‘game development’.
 
It’s also worth noting how prominent AR was at this year’s GDC, and the volume of hype and excitement it courted relative to previous years. The reasons were most eloquently addressed in the session by Ralph Barbagallo, founder of studio Flarb, who posited the notion that ‘AR 2.0’ is with us. Older AR technologies largely demand the use of real world markers and the like – harnessing an approach known as image target AR. New depth sensing systems, including that offered by the Tango-supported mobile phones and Microsoft’s Hololens, largely do away with image targeting, instead building a 3D model of the real world space surrounding the user; a 3D space AR assets can recognise, interact with, and be cemented to. Ultimately, AR has a huge potential – particularly via it’s knack for not isolating the user anything like as much as VR – and at GDC the examples on show asserted a new status and potential that made it very clear AR is going from strength to strength.
 
This year at GDC was undeniably VR’s year, though. In fact, it might just be that GDC was VR’s conference, so powerful was its presence.
 
Come VRTGO 2016 in November, and these trends and many more looked at from a rather different perspective; one where several VR systems are finally in the hands of the consumer. It’s an exciting time to be so close to VR, and you can be sure VRTGO will let you get just a little closer.