3 Things to Think About From GDC 2017

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GDC

This year marked the 31st annual Game Developer Conference. Devs from around the world trek to the great city of San Francisco to talk, shop, play some games, and consume copious amounts of alcohol. It is a wonderful time full of brilliant speakers, special events, awards and raging parties. Here are 3 things to think about from GDC 2017.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is off to a rough start. In my opinion, it is still stuck in a bit of a gimmicky stage. The experiences are cool but not insanely fun or enjoyable. Thankfully, game demos at GDC 2017 seemed to show promise.

VR Invaders is a beautiful arcade shooter!

VR Invaders is an updated take on mechanics that we have seen in a lot of VR titles, but with really strong execution and an exciting sci-fi story to boot. Overall, it is an absolute blast.

 

Killing Floor: Incursion was recently announced and demoed at GDC.

From what I saw, Killing Floor: Incursion offers a polished adrenaline fueled co-op experience. Games need to achieve this level to be competitive in the market. Additionally, VR games need to break from the traditional format of console and PC. What works there may not work in VR. Lastly, devs need to look at what makes VR unique and what are its strengths, then focus games around those mechanics.

LiveOps

The game does not end when it launches. Games can start out with a minimal following and build to great success. When I was a wee lad, games would launch and never change. Now. games launch broken and change on day 1! GDC had a lot of talks that focused on LiveOps, and it was crazy interesting.

The post launch server usage of Pokemon Go!

I now understand how little I knew about operating a game post-launch. This actually made me realize an issue of game development in an educational setting. Once the game is done and the grade is final, we never touch our games again when in fact so much can be done post launch. I would love to see an Entertainment Arts & Engineering class that teaches LiveOps, and allows students to practice the skill set in a post-launch environment.

Minimal UI

Less is more! I have heard it a thousand times, and you probably have, too. Yet it is never more true than with UI (user interface). I had the privilege of attending a talk by Margaret Robertson, the Game Director at PlayDots. They make games about dots and they do it very well. Her talk focused on how to maximize minimal UI, at which they are some of the best in the business!

Here is a screenshot from their original game Dots!

Here is a screenshot from their more recent game Dots & Co.

It is beautifully simplistic in the sense that I understand everything happening, yet there is minimal wording and clutter. Often, people’s natural instinct is to add words to explain a situation or provide feedback. As designers, we want to avoid this instinct. User interfaces are about the interface, the texture, the geometry, the feel, etc. Yes, words are helpful and necessary, but the question is how we can reduce the time players spend squinting to read, and instead streamline their play process.

This is a very early mockup of Justice.exe.

Justice.exe is an educational game, that I have been working on, where players have to sentence mock-criminal profiles with an algorithm running in the background choosing the content of the profiles. This is tough because the player has to access so much information. So the question I keep asking myself is how we can display the data in a refreshing manner that isn’t as painstaking as reading actual criminal profiles. At this point, I am still working on this issue.

As game developers, what we should think about is how we can do more with less and come up with creative new ways to convey our intentions. Instead of having a button that says “press me”, how can you make the player want to press the button out of sheer interest?

I hope everyone had a fruitful GDC and enjoyed the article. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Until next time, make some games and take some names!

-Logan “Ollie” Erickson

 

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