GDC is once again upon us, and on March 2-6 the people responsible for creating the games we love come together at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to talk shop. This year, virtual reality dominates the conference agenda. Here’s what we’re looking forward to.

gdclogoThe Game Developers Conference has come a long way since its inception in 1988. From a small collection of video game industry veterans to one of the largest gaming expos in the world and one the gaming media have paid more and more attention to over the last few years.

Our history with the event is short, but in just a few years GDC has brought us many surprises and advances in the field of virtual reality. We got our hands on some of the first production Oculus Rift DK1 headsets, wandered through Tuscany and reached into VR with the Razer Hydra. Sony used GDC 2014 as the launchpad for its bid for space in the VR arena by unveiling Project Morpheus to a delighted and surprised audience. And of course, Oculus launched and started taking orders for the Rift DK2, which shipped to developers later that year.

Oculus Rift GDC 2013 video Hawken TF2 DriVR Epic Citadel
Ben Lang tries out Hawken in an early DK1 at GDC 2013

The general skepticism that has surrounded the VR industry up to this point is beginning to evaporate, with unfavourable memories of the 90’s being eclipsed by VR headsets that are advancing quickly, delivering compelling, immersive experiences which offer something far beyond traditional gaming. Big money is backing VR, confidence is high and this is writ large in GDC’s itinerary this year. With over a dozen sessions dedicated to making games in virtual reality, running the gamut from storytelling to simulation sickness, it’s clear that the industry is gearing up for the VR revolution in a big way.

Road to VR will of course be in San Francisco reporting from the event throughout, do stay tuned for our coverage and get in touch with us if you’d like to share your VR related project. In the mean time, here’s a selection of reasons why GDC will be so important for VR enthusiasts and industry veterans alike.

Carmack to talk ‘Mobile VR’ Until He’s Dragged Off Stage

John Carmack speaking at  2014's Oculus Connect event
John Carmack speaking at 2014’s Oculus Connect event

Oculus VR’s CTO is not credited with an abundance of brevity in his public speaking, but frankly – most people into their tech could listen to him all day and still yearn for more. As we wrote recently, his talks are honest and candid brain-dumps from one of the most respected technical professionals in the gaming industry. His Oculus Connect talk on the development of Samsung’s Gear VR and was packed with frank diatribes on the drawbacks of both the device and the relationship between the two companies. Above all though, it was a fascinating and positive exploration of technology directions Oculus and Samsung may take in the future.

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At GDC this year, in a talk called “The Dawn of Mobile VR“, Carmack is to share “…techniques and strategies for maximising the quality of your VR games, applications, and experiences; and thoughts about the future of VR” in what we suspect will be required viewing for anyone interested or involved in this rapidly evolving space.

Sony Talk ‘Social VR’ and Share Latest Tips on VR Development and Artistry

Sony's Morpheus VR Headset unveiled at GDC 2014
Sony’s Morpheus VR Headset unveiled at GDC 2014

Last year, Sony had a very traditional unveiling at GDC of a very modern new device, the Project Morpheus VR Headset for Playstation 4. A stalwart of the boutique head mountable display, Sony’s long rumoured entry into virtual reality gaming caused quite a stir. Not only was Project Morpheus clearly advanced in terms of development, it was actual there in numbers to try – and it impressed us. Since then, Sony have been very open in sharing their findings on how to make comfortable, interesting and enjoyable VR experiences that everyone can enjoy. At GDC 2015 they’re presenting 2 talks on virtual reality.

In a session named “Beyond Immersion – Project Morpheus and PlayStation”  they’re sharing more development tips and tricks, plus detailing how to work with what they call “unique social experiences” and how to get the most out of the Playstation Move controller, an input device which has really found a reason to exist with Project Morpheus.

And in a talk entitled “Virtual Visuals: Key Lessons for Artists Working with VR” Jason Hickley, Environmental Art Supervisor at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, will walk developers through the lessons Sony’s London based art department have learned working in VR since Project Morpheus’ inception.

GPUs and Virtual Reality at GDC

nvidia-logonVidia have been shouting about their commitment to virtual reality, specifically in regards to ensuring low-latency, high frame rates can be delivered via their GPUs for a little while now. Their ‘VR Direct’ initiative was launched last year and promises a host of features aimed at the VR enthusiast. In “VR Direct: How NVIDIA Technology is Improving the VR Experience” the GPU giant aims to introduce developers to techniques designed to make VR experiences compelling and comfortable for users.

amd-logoAMD by contrast have been a little more muted about their role in the virtual reality revolution on desktop PCs. That’s set to change at GDC this year when they take to the stage presenting “Low Latency and Stutter-Free Rendering in VR and Graphics Applications” aimed at schooling developers in techniques to keep actual and perceived latency in rendering to a minimum in their virtual reality projects. The talk promises that “Real world examples of optimized AAA content will be discussed”, so it’ll be interesting to see if we’ll see some big new titles running in VR during the presentation.

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Valve Share VR Expertise and Introduce glNext

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Valve’s prototype VR headset, as demonstrated at Steam Dev Days in 2014

Valve have been a key player in the acceleration of VR’s development over the last few years. Their internal R&D projects, culminating in the now legendary Valve VR headset, paved the way for Oculus’ use of low-persistence OLED displays in their latest headsets and Valve’s groundbreaking work introducing VR into their games has been invaluable thus far.

At GDC their sharing what they’ve learned. In a talk entitled “Advanced VR Rendering“, Graphics Programmer at Valve Alex Vlachos aims to share ways to tackle the challenges rendering for first generation consumer VR headsets, which are “…expected to require renderers to shade over 4 million pixels per frame at a minimum of 90 fps”. It’s likely to be a fascinating insight talk and required viewing for any programmer hoping to break into VR coding.

Additionally, and slightly tangentially, Valve will be introducing its rendering platform for its Steam Box platform, glNext. In “glNext: The Future of High Performance Graphics” a host of industry representatives will join Valve in presenting the benefits of what they term the “…singular choice for developers who demand peak performance in their applications”. With representatives from Unity, Epic and EA sharing their views on the newest way to render 3D visuals and with Valve’s dedication to bringing virtual reality to the living room with Steam VR, this promises to be an interesting peak into how we may interact with VR in the coming years.

Oculus to Talk ‘VR Audio’ in Games

At CES 2015, Oculus were talking heavily about two subjects in particular: Crescent Bay and ‘VR Audio’. The latter is Oculus’ implementation of VisisonicsRealspace 3D audio system, for presenting spatialised 3D audio which enhances the virtual reality experiences. In conjunction with Crescent Bay‘s custom, high-spec audio hardware pipeline, Oculus have made it clear that audio in virtual reality is something they are focusing very hard on.

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In the talk “Introduction to Audio in Virtual Reality“, Brian Hook and Tom Smurdon will share Oculus’ advances in 3D audio in games and how developers can best implement ‘VR Audio’ to enhance the chances for players to experience presence in VR experiences in the Oculus Rift. We’ve covered 3D audio extensively over the last few months and it’s an area we’re excited is receiving so much attention now. It’ll be interesting to hear both technical and creative views on how 3D audio may make our gaming experiences better.

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Wild Speculation Alert!

This is where we get to throw our journalistic integrity (no sniggering at the back) to the wind, have a little fun and take a stab at what we think the big surprises of GDC 2015 may hold for VR.

war thunder project morpheus
Paul James getting to Grips with War Thunder on Project Morpheus at Gamescom 2014

A year on from Project Morpheus’ reveal, what surprises might Sony in relation to their new VR platform? A consumer launch window seems more likely to be announced at E3 in June but there’s a chance we may see a new revision of the headset, perhaps sporting a low-persistence panel and a design more closely resembling the final retail product. We’re also hoping to see more actual games demonstrated running in VR, up to now Morpheus content has been largely restricted to tech demos.

As for Oculus, their Rift DK2 VR headset launched at last year’s GDC, a message to developers that they could begin development in confidence it represented where the company was headed with its first consumer model (CV1). But, with Crescent Bay now announced and demonstrated at CES 2015 en masse, and an expected 2015 release for CV1, the message from Oculus surely has to be all about the games. We’re hoping for some triple-A announcements from companies involved in bringing VR to mainstream gaming, as to what they may be we can only dream.

In general, we’re looking forward to GDC 2015 to being the event where VR moves beyond questions of hardware on to the tantalising prospect of what content we can look forward to enjoying in virtual reality. If 2015 really does pan out as we hope, with consumer hardware from both Oculus and Sony on the shelves by the end of the year, the answer to the question: “so, what can we actually do in VR?” will be crucial.


Road to VR will be on the ground at GDC 2015 and if you have exciting VR related projects you’d like to share with us, please do get in touch with us at info@roadtovr.com and we’ll try our hardest to line up a meeting with you.

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  • Thiago Braga

    It has been a pretty silent time on the Road. By the time I’m following this site, I’m already looking forward for that boom of exciting news when a conference comes up like CES or OC… this time GDC. Keep up the good work guys, but someday – maybe – I’ll be sharing some project with you all. Thanks for great time! Ben, Kyle, Scott, you’re the guys! *jcvd thumbs up*