GDC 2014: Panels, announcements and more, live from San Francisco

The 2014 Game Developers Conference runs Monday, March 17, through Friday, March 21, and will see a plethora of panels, game announcements and hardware demonstrations during its run. For all our live coverage, game impressions and developer interviews stay tuned to this stream all week.

Exploring consciousness, suicide and the quiet horror of SOMA

Unlike the machines running next to it, the device is crushed to the ground. It spooks as I approach — realizing that I am not, in fact, Amy — and begins to scream and thrash at me. My vision becomes alarmingly blurry if I get too close, so I leave it.

The 45-second encounter disturbs me more than anything else I'll see of the game.

SOMA, the upcoming sci-fi horror game from Amnesia creator Frictional, is an exercise in narrative-driven gameplay, human consciousness and fear. Slated for Windows PC and PlayStation 4 launch next year, the game skips through gutted ships and isolated...

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How Grey Goo hopes to revolutionize real-time strategy

Grey Goo, the recently announced real-time-strategy game coming from Grey Box, has a lot going for it. The game looks like a smart return to a beloved PC genre conceptualized by Weta Workshop, the design studio behind the likes of District 9, Lord of the Rings and Avatar, and developed by Petroglyph Games, the team formed out of the husk of Westwood Studios and responsible for titles like Star Wars: Empire at War and End of Nations.

In a nutshell: This is a game imagined by Weta and empowered by Petroglyph.

Despite that impressive pedigree though, the most memorable thing about my time...

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Epic Games' Sweeney on the future of Unreal, VR and democratic game development

The future of the Unreal Engine is open and, compared to Epic Games' previously licensing model, impressively inexpensive. Just about anyone can start developing with Unreal, thanks to the engine's recently announced pricing model.

The decision to make access to Unreal Engine 4 cheap — users can get access to the engine and its source code for just $19 a month — was, according to Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, a reflection of the new game development world.

Game development is democratic, Sweeney said, and Epic Games wants more game creators than ever to have access to its tools.

"We...

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When is a game not a game?

With no violence, no action, no threat, no way to die or be hurt, Gone Home still managed to captivate its audience, receiving accolades and nominations for game of the year from websites, newspapers, magazines, the industry and, most recently, even the Games for Change conference.

But for some, one odd question remains: Is Gone Home a video game?

Unlike with movies, music and literature, the thing that defines video games still remains, in some corners, a debated issue.

Gone Home is a game of exploration and narration, an effective vehicle for story telling. But its lack of puzzles and...

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Animal Crossing's creators on new console versions, mobile connectivity and fatigue

That may be why the producer and co-director of the series latest entry see Animal Crossing as a good fit for Nintendo's plans to complement its traditional games with smaller — sometimes promotional — smartphone and mobile experiences.

In an interview with Animal Crossing producer Katsuya Eguchi and Animal Crossing: New Leaf co-director Aya Kyogoku, we discussed the future of the franchise, including smartphone interactivity, the series' future on home consoles and keeping the experience fresh.

When we asked how well suited Animal Crossing might be for smartphones, Eguchi said that it's...

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Lichdom: Battlemage gave the male and female heroes a life, a writer and a voice

The game’s writing duties were split down the center, a male writer was in charge of the male character, and a female writer was given control of the female character.

"You can choose to play as a male protagonist or a female protagonist," Josh Van Veld, the game’s producer, told Polygon. "If you choose the male, then that character has a certain personality. Your companion, the Gryphon, who is a scout, she has a certain personality. If you choose the other way, the personalities remain intact. Each gender has their set personality."

The characters, their voice actors and their basic...

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Sony: Until Dawn a 'really good fit' for Project Morpheus

I asked Shuhei Yoshida, head of Sony World Wide Studios, about the game's rumored move from PS3 to PS4 and upgrade to a virtual reality title, while speaking to him at last week's Game Developers Conference.

I told him I heard that it was now a Morpheus game and asked if that was true.

"That would be very interesting, because it's a horror game, and the people are tweeting to me, ‘I want to play Outlast in Morpheus,'" he said. "I think that's, in terms of genre, that's a really good fit. If you really want to make serious games for Morpheus, the game design would be really, really...

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Sony plans to court indies with its Project Morpheus VR headset

"Actually I am very excited to work with indie developers because we've been communicating with third party publishers, and the typical conversations go, you know the developers in the third party publishers, they are really excited, but they say, ‘Oh well, I have to get approval from the business side.' And it's very hard for big companies to approve something that no one knows if there's a market for it," Yoshida told Polygon last week. "But the indie guys are like, ‘I like it, I'll do it.' And there are many indie games being created in the marketplace because of that.

"The indie teams...

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Funcom details Lego Minifigures Online's Pirate World

During the Game Developers Conference last week, developer Funcom held a press event to highlight its upcoming MMO Lego Minifigures Online, and specifically to show off the game's new Pirate World.

We played through a dungeon in Pirate World, with four players working together, each rotating between three minifigures at a time. The minifigures on display were based on traditional Lego concepts, such as a socialite and a construction worker, rather than specific crossover licenses as you often see in Lego games. And the figures split into three types: defenders, strikers and builders.

In...

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Exploring the frightening depths of the ocean's abyss in a walking coffin

The virtual atmospheric diving suit is confining, claustrophobic when viewed through the Oculus Rift headset. The feeling is even more oppressive when wearing a pair of headphones.

You can hear yourself breathe and see your breath fog up the glass dome inches from your face as you slowly trudge through the silt of the deep abyss.

Diving suits like the one featured in Windows PC survival game Narcosis were first invented in the 1700s. Much has been done to advance the safety of these underwater, pressurized suits of armor, but they remain hulking 500-pound wearable life-support systems....

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What's the future of games at Epic Games?

Epic Games, the creators of Unreal Tournament, Gears of War and the Unreal Engine, has earned something of a reputation over the past few years: It's not a studio making video games with the fervor it once was.

That reputation, perhaps unearned, is rooted in the slower pace at which the developers at Epic Games' headquarters in Cary, N.C. are releasing new titles. The company's only currently announced game, Fortnite, was revealed in late 2011, and Epic has been relatively quiet about its development. Epic has released new titles since then, including entries in Chair Entertainment's...

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World of Speed is a racing MMO where coming in first may not give you the win

"It’s our way of trying to fix racing games a little bit," Pete Morrish, lead producer at Slightly Mad Studios, told Polygon.

"All racing games are about crossing the line first, if you transfer that into an online environment with an eight-player race that means seven players are coming away a little bit annoyed at your win," he continued. Playing online isn’t fun if you crash at the first corner and are stuck having to finish a race you know you can’t win.

Which is why World of Speed introduces objectives and points to the mix. You get points for coming in first, sure, but you also gets...

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Never run, always fight: One developer is trying to redeem gaming's mage

They can’t go head-to-head with fighters, and you give up the ability to soak damage in order to get the use of all those nifty spells. This has always bugged Michael McMain, the CEO, founder, and creative director of Xaviant, the developer behind the first-person mage simulator Lichdom: Battlemage.

"Whenever I play RPGs I become the mage. There’s something about magic, I really like it," he told Polygon. "I thought about what happens when I play mages in games, and I play a lot of games. As much as I like them I always find myself frustrated that the mage is brought down a few notches to...

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GDC panel provides tips on how to subversively queer games

At the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference last week a group of five queer game developers, writers and academics took the stage at San Francisco’s Moscone center to provide their colleagues with tips on bringing queer characters and issues into their projects.

The session, titled "How To Subversively Queer Your Work," was lead by writer Samantha Allen, a doctoral Fellow at Emory University and a contributor to The Border House.

First to give advice was Mattie Brice, a game critic and developer. By focusing on fantasy, Brice said, those who make games can provide inclusive spaces that...

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First the choir, then everyone else: GDC needs to incentivize attendance of the advocacy track (correction)

Which is why the organizers of the show, if not the people who run the studios themselves, should be encouraged to incentivize attendance at these talks. You can't fix a problem if you don't know it exists, and you can't learn if you stay inside the bubble of the mainstream development community. GDC is a big show, but it's important that people visit both sides of the game development community.

A Tale of Two GDCs

That's not hyperbole, GDC can often feel like two shows. There was the GDC of the advocacy track — which centered on the ways we can make gaming a more inclusive space for more...

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Blizzard on character design across game genres

At his panel on character design across game genres, Blizzard concept artist Arnold Tsang discussed some of the particular requirements of character designs in fighting games, online arena titles and third-person shooters as he took suggestions from the audience and worked out a character concept on stage.

After letting the audience decide what kind of concept he would work on, Tsang began his fighting game character, a stealth-based pirate. As he worked, he took a number of suggestions from the audience on character attributes to fold into his design. This began with a basic outline of...

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GDC 2014 attendance hits 24,000, GDC 2015 set for March 2-6

More than 24,000 individuals attended the 2014 Game Developers Conference last week, announced conference organizer UBM Tech Game Network today.

That figure represents a new record for GDC, which hosted more than 23,000 attendees last year. GDC has been running in some form since 1988, when it began as the Computer Games Developers Conference with 27 people. (Check out our feature on GDC for more on the history of the show.)

Highlights of GDC 2014 included Classic Game Postmortem sessions with speakers such as Eugene Jarvis (Robotron: 2084) and Yu Suzuki (Shenmue); the return of the...

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Sony looks to the 'social screen' to make virtual reality popular

Last week, Yoshida unveiled Sony's Project Morpheus during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Project Morpheus is a virtual reality headset that rests on a user's head and slips onto their face like ski goggles or a snorkel mask. Inside the mask is a single high definition screen that displays a view of a virtual world. Tracking technology allows the user to look around by moving their head. The still-experimental device is designed to plug into a PlayStation 4.

While Project Morpheus isn't the first functioning virtual reality headset designed for gaming, it's certainly the...

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Fantasia: Music Evolved shows magical world and multiplayer

Mickey Mouse, the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Walt Disney's 1940 animated feature Fantasia, famously splashed around in a spectacular of light and color, using what little magic he knew to marry visuals and sound.

This image is exactly what Harmonix is seeking to recreate in its Fantasia: Music Evolved, except with the added underscore of movement and interactivity. At GDC last week, developers were showing new sections of the game, including multiplayer.

Two-player multiplayer gameplay is much the same as single-player. Users stand in front of the camera and use their arms and bodies to...

Ecuadorian studio's To Leave coming to PS4 and PS Vita

Palacios showed the latest version of the game at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which has undergone some significant changes since we first saw it last year. The game's storytelling and cutscenes have been streamlined, and there is now a greater focus on environmental storytelling.

In To Leave, players take on the role of a young boy named Harm, who is trying to leave the city of Candice. According to Palacios, the game is a metaphor for the challenges of life, and the team of developers at Freaky Creations hopes that players will be able to relate to it in some...

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Burden: A tower defense game built on giants

Burden, a tactical tower defense game that plays out on the bodies of colossi, will be available on Steam Early Access before May, according to developer PixelPickle Games.

The Linux, Mac and Windows PC title tasks players with juggling multiple battle arenas simultaneously to protect the giant beasts. Set in the kingdom of Mhoroa, players have to guide and protect the mythical giant machines as they head to anointed locations to save the land from earthquakes and floods. The player's fellow countrymen react in fear and take up arms to kill the colossi, launching attacks on them, so it is...

Vertiginous Golf: where dystopian steampunk meets mini-golf

First-person, physics-based exploratory mini-golf game set in an alternate dystopian steampunk universe, Vertiginous Golf, will launch on Linux, Mac and Windows PC later this year, according to developer Kinelco and Lone Elf Creative.

The game takes place in a world that has been ravaged by the industrial revolution, where cities are enveloped in smog and only the wealthy can afford to live on islands elevated above the clouds and darkness. A Tesla-like inventor has created a device that allows commoners to experience these above-the-clouds islands virtually, and offers the city's workers...

Backflip aims to be choosy with the mobile games it publishes

Backflip Studios' newly formed publishing house, Backflip Publishing, aims to be selective with its partner choices, rather than cast a wide net, CEO and founder Julian Farrior told Polygon during a recent interview.

According to Farrior, the company's publishing work actually started about a year ago, after it was approached by LightBox Interactive president Dylan Jobe and HandCircus founder Simon Oliver. Farrior said that the company is seeking partners who have interesting products and ideas that aren't quite in the mobile space already. Backflip agreed to publish recently announced...

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The stupid, ridiculous fun of Goat Simulator

The people-licking, goat rocketing, open-world madness that is Coffee Stain Studios' viral hit gives players the chance to experience what few games offer — pure comedic chaos. During a recent hands-on session with the title at Game Developers Conference 2014, I experienced all of the following in a span of about 30 seconds: headbutting humans, tongue-lashing basketballs, plowing into cars, cars plowing into me, pool trampolining and shooting through the air like a poorly aimed missile.

My experience was nothing if not varied.

Already the studio's most popular project to date, Goat...

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How Naughty Dog created a partner, not a burden, with Ellie in The Last of Us

Ellie, the spirited and foul-mouthed heroine of post-apocalyptic action adventure game The Last of Us, was designed to echo the player's experience in the game's world while acting as a useful partner, Naughty Dog's Max Dyckhoff said at Game Developers Conference 2014.

The gameplay engineer explained the character's design choices in the GDC panel "Ellie: Buddy AI in The Last of Us." The first step, Dyckhoff said, was to treat the character as a person.

"To me, Ellie is my second child, and everything I did about her, I was thinking about what she was going through as a character and a...

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Games about sex, dance, shapes and relationships shown at Experimental Gameplay Workshop

The Experimental Gameplay Workshop — a curated showcase of some of the most exciting experimental game design in 2014 — featured works that spanned themes like sex, the use of the body in games, forced perspective and subversion of existing game rules.

Both independent and established studio developers took to the stage to talk about and show 13 titles, all of which were experimental in some way, and many of which were still works-in-progress.

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales showed The Cosmos and the Cave, a game that Harvey described as a research project about the...

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Avoid barriers to make gaming accessible

Hamilton explained that disability occurs when a medical condition interacts with a barrier that keeps a person from going about their day. "If we're aware of these barriers we can avoid them or remove them," he said. Using examples from his own research — including an example wherein working with a very simple game helped a young boy with profound cognitive and physical impairments reach out and learn to communicate — Hamilton made a strong case for the "human benefit" of making games more accessible.

He also made the business case for doing so. Developers who have made their game...

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Game designer cracks through myths about women in the games industry

A Game Developers Conference 2014 panel tackling the myths surrounding women in the gaming industry, lead by Storm8 senior game designer Elizabeth Sampat, offered insight on why these beliefs are false and how to work through them.

Sampat kicked off "Women Don't Want to Work in Games (And Other Myths)" by sharing the results of an informal poll of women in the industry, taken through social media, mailing lists and word of mouth. According to her findings, 45 percent said they've always wanted to work in games.

"That's almost half," Sampat said. "Or, to put it another way, that's less...

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Angry fun in local co-op with side-scrolling shooter Enemy Mind

Mike Traficante of Schell Games dreamed up the idea for side-scrolling shooter Enemy Mind after another horrible commute.

"I had a strange dream that there was some way to commute to faraway places by casting your consciousness into robots," he told Polygon. "It's weird. I have a long commute and I think that's what started it. I had the dream a long time ago, and it's a thought that always occurs to me.

"Once a year, our company does game jam week, where we do our own thing. So I made a prototype of side-scroller shooter and thought, 'I'll do that thing from my dream and make you jump...

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Double Fine's Hack 'N' Slash arms you with a USB sword and the power to debug

Originally pitched in 2012 during Double Fine's company-wide game jam, Amnesia Fortnight, Hack 'N' Slash gives players control of an elf named Alice. (Though in true adventure game form, players can rewrite her name.) Armed with a USB sword and using some of Double Fine's own internal debugging tools, Alice can hack objects in the game world and manipulate the variables that govern the game's objects, reverse engineering the game itself. Blocks, barrels, moving platforms, even the enemies that populate the game's dungeons can all be hacked to bend to the player's will.

"It borrows the...

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Koji Igarashi talks Symphony of the Night, how to make a Metroidvania game

Game designer Koji Igarashi is a pioneer of the Metroidvania game — these titles, which include his own Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, are action adventure hybrids mixed with exploration elements and lots of backtracking through levels to find additional content. Speaking at GDC today, Igarashi detailed his career in video games and what he thinks makes a good Metroidvania experience.

Igarashi said in game development, too many action franchises fall into the trap of catering only to mature, dedicated fans. This results in the company making changes that spike the series' difficulty...

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BitSummit director celebrates 'exponential growth' in the conference's second year

Speaking at the Game Developers Conference, Mielke revealed that while 2013's BitSummit included 45 devs and under 200 attendees, 2014's event saw 5,000 attendees checking out games from 130 developers. That included one day of the event that was exclusive to media and two days that were open to the public.

Comparing the indie scenes in the West and in Japan, Mielke noted that Western independent developers are often known as individuals and create games that feel like the work of individuals. This goes against Japanese culture's "village mentality," which discourages individuality. Mielke...

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How the 2011 earthquake in Japan changed Rain

The 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan changed the direction of Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio's game Rain, according to producer Ken Suzuta and director Yuki Ikeda.

Presenting a post-mortem of the studio's puzzle adventure game at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Suzuta said when the studio first began working on Rain, the game was much darker and had a greater sense of hopelessness. Showing video footage of the game's early iterations, Rain was a much more suspenseful, stealth-focused experience. It had more traditional video game features, like a...

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Phil Spencer: a 'renewed focus' on Windows PC gaming from Microsoft is coming

Microsoft is working toward a "renewed focus on Windows and PC gaming," Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer said at GDC 2014 today, the fruits of which will become more evident later this year.

Responding to a question about Valve's move into the living room with SteamOS and Steam Machines, Spencer said he respects the company's work in the PC space, something Microsoft itself plans to dedicate more effort to.

"I think Valve's an incredible company," Spencer said. "They've been the backbone of PC gaming for the last decade, and as the Windows company, I appreciate what they've done. They...

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Ken Levine reveals new game development ambitions

Last year, Levine began talking about "narrative Legos" or ways in which NPCs could be created to react to the player on an almost molecular level, rather than merely following scripts.

At GDC today, he offered more details on what this slightly esoteric idea means in practice.

Speaking to a large audience, he said that his ideas, at this point, do not gesture towards any specific game ideas or even genres. He was not at GDC to reveal a new game. He just wanted to talk about how narrative based games could be built differently, in such a way that they are deeper, broader and, crucially,...

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Adam Orth: Developers who speak against online abuse can 'inspire others to action'

Orth gained infamy last spring, when he tweeted about Microsoft's always-online policy for Xbox One. During the time, Orth was an employee at Microsoft Game Studios, and his comments caused a massive controversy. Orth began his talk by explaining the circumstances and expressing frustration with himself for making the comments that he did. "This is a conversation I should have had with a friend, over a beer," he said.

Angry comments soon snowballed. "Immediately after publishing, I was hit by a tsunami of abuse," he said. "Every social network I belonged to became a primal pipeline of...

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A passion for games drives GDC's second #1ReasonToBe panel

A group of game developers, scholars and media recently spoke at the #1ReasonToBe panel at the Game Developers Conference, telling a packed room of attendees why they entered the video game industry and, more importantly, why they've chosen to stay.

The speakers on this year's panel included writer and consultant Leigh Alexander, veteran game developers Laralyn McWilliams and Brenda Romero, game designers Anna Kipnis, Deirdra "Squinky" Kiai and Lauren Scott and educator Colleen Macklin.

The common thread of the panel was that of a passion for making games and the desire to belong. The...

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The Choosatron turns choose your own adventure books into their own game console

"This is the Choosatron," the words on the thermal paper read. "I'm a new way to share and create interactive fiction. Would you like to..."

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The Choosatron uses an Arduino system rigged with a thermal printer and those four buttons to share tales that amount to choose your own adventure stories. The printer works quickly, you're given your choices, and when the story is over you get to tear off the receipt-like paper and...

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Watch an extended demo of Super Time Force, direct from GDC

Capybara Games's co-founder & president Nathan Vella and lead programmer Kenneth Yeung demoed a nearly complete version of their latest game. It's clear a good deal of Super Time Force's structure has changed since the first time we saw it, a couple years ago. Russ Frushtick talks with the duo about how their game's evolved and what it's like developing for Microsoft's new indie program.

But for me, this video is a solid excuse to watch a lot of pretty pew-pew-pew-bang-crash!

Eve: Valkyrie is a Rift exclusive, a PlayStation 4 exclusive and an amazing ride

You begin in the cockpit of your ship, and you can look around, check out the controls, and even lean forward to get a closer look at the instruments now that positional tracking has been added to the Oculus Rift development kit and the game itself. Valkyrie is one of the prettiest virtual reality games on display at GDC, and the sense of actually... too late. The alarms begin to ring in your ears.

The moment you get comfortable inside the ship, the battle itself begins. The alarms sound; the ship you're inside spits you out a long tunnel and into space. And space is much more crowded in...

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Industry talents on the importance of voice acting on indie games

Voice acting in indie games is not a necessity, but a way to help players form an emotional connection and bring narrative to life, according to several gaming experts within the community.

During a recent panel discussion at Game Developers Conference 2014 called "Rulebooks on Fire: Looking at the Impact of Indies on the Voice Industry," industry talents discussed the advantages of voice actors and how they're cast. David Chan, audio director at Hinterland Studios — creator of the upcoming post-apocalyptic survival game The Long Dark — believes it's important for smaller games to form...

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The evolution of the virtual soldier: Hands-on with the latest version of the Virtuix Omni

In the case of the Virtuix Omni, a sort of virtual reality treadmill, the issues include a harness that's awkward to put on and take off. It takes a few minutes for one of the company's representatives to get me strapped into the machine, but I was promised this issue was temporary.

"I regret that we don't have a new belt at the show. This is still a prototype belt. It's functional, but not comfortable, it's not good-looking, it's not ergonomic," Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk told Polygon. The final version would be like a wind-surfer's harness: padded and easy to use.

The next step was...

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YouTube star Northernlion gives advice on how indie devs can succeed on video

Letourneau started by noting that YouTube stars have become "some of the biggest influencers and biggest personalities out there" in the world of gaming and yet simultaneously "a niche that's still untapped."

To prove his point, Letourneau put up logos for major gaming publications like IGN, GameSpot and Kotaku. "You probably all recognize these," he said. Then he put up logos for three of the top gaming video creators on YouTube: TotalBiscuit, OfficialNerdCubed and TheRPGMinx. He pointed out that together these three reach millions of viewers, but they aren't as instantly recognizable —...

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How Eugene Jarvis created arcade masterpiece Robotron 2084

Robotron was a significant departure for Jarvis and his team, who had previously worked on Defender and Stargate, both of which were side-scrolling space shooters that gave the player lots of freedom of movement. Robotron limited the player to rooms, filled with hostile robots and humans that needed saving. Each level was one room, that needed to be negotiated.

"After the sideways scrolling space shooters, I was burned out and wanted to do something completely different," he said. "Games really are about limitations. In Robotron you are trapped and surrounded on all sides."

One of the...

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How the Fukushima Game Jam fosters healing after disaster

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in April 2011, Toshifumi Nakabayashi — president of the International Game Developers Association Japan chapter and CEO of tech consultation company Cyberz, Inc. — and a dedicated group of people have striven to bring about healing in the region through video game development.

The theme of the annual Fukushima Game Jam — a spin-off of the popular Global Game Jam now in its third year — is "revival from disaster." In a panel at GDC today, Nakabayashi spoke about how the game industry is helping those and the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and...

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Free-to-play on PS4: aggressive monetization is not the way to go

The free-to-play business model can work on consoles, but in order for it to succeed, developers have to make a fun game first, according developers from Zombie Studios and Digital Extremes.

Speaking on a panel at the Game Developers Conference about whether free-to-play can succeed on the PlayStation 4, Digital Extremes' James Schmalz and Zombie Studios' Jared Gerritzen said their studios' games Warframe and Blacklight: Retribution — both of which are free-to-play titles on the PS4 — are proof that console users are willing to spend money when first offered a game for free. But there's...

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Animating BioShock Infinite's Elizabeth to foster emotional connections

Elizabeth, the heroine and driving narrative force of Irrational Games' BioShock Infinite, is more than just the sum of her parts. In a session at GDC today, animation director Shawn Robertson discussed how every department at the studio was involved in Elizabeth's creation, and what narrative techniques and other systems went into bringing her to life.

To create Elizabeth's humanity, Robertson said, her character needed not only a narrative force but art and other systems — combat, movement and the like — working in tandem.

Humans in the first BioShock were introduced in...

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Watch FTL: Advanced Edition, direct from GDC

They showed us a run-through of FTL: Advanced Edition, and also talked about the upcoming iPad release. Both the update and iPad version, they say, will release at the same time.

It's funny returning to a game like FTL that had consumed my life. I know that if I play it again, it will be the game I play, not a game I play. And you know what, I think I'm okay with one more trip through the galaxy.

Why multitasking in The Sims 4 makes characters feel 'more believable'

A sim's ability to perform more than one task at any given time helps make the character feel more natural, according to software engineer Peter Ingebretson during a recent Game Developers Conference 2014 panel.

In "Concurrent Interactions in The Sims 4," Ingebretson explained that Maxis' goal with the upcoming game was to make it "the most natural iteration" of the series. Part of this required implementing one of the series' most frequently requested features: multitasking.

"When we looked at the sims and tried to decide what would make them feel more natural and more believable, one...

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Eve Online game designer recalls game's hot mess of a policing system

Massively-multiplayer online game Eve Online is known for having a fairly robust policing system, but this wasn't always the case, according to senior game designer Matt Woodward.

Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today, Woodward said until the studio rebooted its Crimewatch system, versions 1.X (all iterations between 1.0 and 2.0) were highly problematic, overly complex and oftentimes broken.

The world of Eve Online is divided into three dominant regions: high security space, which is regarded as a safe place where the game's non-playable characters enforce...

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Blame the popularity of Twitch for the lack of PS4 cameras

The reason it's so hard to find the PlayStation 4's camera is because Sony officials massively underestimated the demand that Twitch broadcasting from the console would create, PlayStation president of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida told Polygon.

"It was a total miscalculation by our marketing guys," Yoshida said.

To estimate the demand for a peripheral on a new console, he said, the team looked at which launch titles supported the PlayStation Camera. Then they looked at the sales projections for those games and calculated a predicted adoption rate of the camera.

"They came up with the...

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Lucasfilm Games vets look back on the earliest days of George Lucas' game company

Some of the first employees at Lucasfilm Games — the studio that later became LucasArts — looked back at the creation of George Lucas' game company during a classic postmortem at this week's Game Developers Conference, reflecting on the freedom and constraints imposed by working for the people that created Star Wars.

In a talk moderated by veteran game designer Noah Falstein, former Lucasfilm Games designers and programmers David Fox, Peter Langston, Steve Arnold, Chip Morningstar and Ron Gilbert waxed nostalgic about starting the interactive game division at Lucasfilm.

Langston, a...

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Ability to dim DualShock 4 lightbar coming, but you'll never be able to turn it off

An upcoming PlayStation 4 firmware update will allow users to dim the lightbar on the DualShock 4 controller, but it's not possible to completely turn the light off, PlayStation president of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida told Polygon.

"We are working to dim it," Yoshida said. "I'm not talking about the percentage, but you'll be able to make it very, very dark.

"We need to keep it on, even if it's dark, because that's the only way to tell the controller is switched on. It's kind of required."

The lights in the lightbar can be tracked by the PlayStation 4 camera. It can also light up in...

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Don't Starve developer: don't be afraid of polarizing design

Don’t Starve started life at an internal Klei game jam, and was long slated to be a casual free-to-play title, a far cry from the unforgiving final product, the "survival horror crafting death simulator" that Forbes likes to call it. Early versions of the game were extremely casual — and not terribly exciting.

The team found their way when they embraced the survival theme whole-heartedly. "We found inspiration in the roguelikes we were playing when we weren't thinking about free-to-play," said Forbes. "In order to emphasize the point, on a whim, we just threw in permadeath," he said,...

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Sony gives indie devs the stage to praise PlayStation 4's developer support

The panel was opened by Sony developer relations account manager Shane Bettenhausen, who provided a brief history of Sony's relationship with independent developers. He said that the platform creator has been allowing indies to publish titles on the PlayStation 3 since 2008, including the ability to set their own price and date and no fees for getting licensed.

Bettenhausen stressed that his job exists as part of Sony's efforts to provide smaller developers with networking and PR help. He said Sony wants it to be easy for developers to bring PC and mobile titles onto all of its platforms,...

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Drakengard, Nier director discusses methods for telling powerful, strange stories

The Drakengard role-playing game series and its spinoff, Nier, could be considered unconventional titles by some; the games tackle fantasy topics with interesting twists, such as attacks that require collecting enemies' blood; sexual themes of subservience and incest; and violent, bloody deaths.

In his panel at GDC today, "Making Weird Games for Weird People," director Taro Yoko discussed his methods for telling "weird" stories that will elicit emotional responses from his audience and build a dedicated fan base. He began by telling the audience the conclusion to the panel: Story and...

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Brenda Romero blasts game industry culture of blaming sexual harassment victims

She said that comments from men who offer robust suggestions on how to handle harassment are almost always unhelpful. Romero referenced an ugly incident earlier this year, in which a male reporter made vulgar comments to a woman in the game industry during an online conversation.

In the aftermath of the event, many commentators felt able to offer suggestions on how the victim ought to have handled the situation, even though few of them had been through a similar experience.

The GDC rant sessions allow a panel of speakers to address issues that make them angry, sometimes in a humorous way,...

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Naughty Dog explains the combat systems that did and didn't make it into The Last of Us

At a panel during GDC this morning, Naughty Dog designer Anthony Newman described how the melee system was created for The Last of Us and how developers worked to make the mechanics an extension of the in-game world.

Naughty Dog designed melee combat for two playable characters — Joel and Ellie — and for three types of characters, including the two main characters and Bill with his machete, as well as five enemy types. The team worked to make each style unique and powerful, and yet comfortable so players felt combat was realistic.

The Last of Us draws its aesthetic from its story of human...

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New Toy Soldiers for PS4 and Xbox One in development

Signal Studios is working on a new Toy Soldiers, the action strategy game that pits miniature toy soldiers against one another, for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Becky Taylor, community manager at the studio told Polygon today.

The announcement comes just weeks after the studio reacquired the rights to their property from Microsoft.

The original Toy Soldiers hit the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade in 2010. In the game, players controlled armies of World War I toy soldiers battling in a diorama set up in a child's bedroom. The studio released a sequel to the game, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, in...

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PlayStation 4 camera sales hit 900K, still 'supply constrained'

Around 15 percent of PlayStation 4 owners have also purchased a PlayStation Camera with the new console, according to Sony Computer Entertainment America, and the camera accessory remains in short supply at many retailers.

Chris Norden, senior staff developer support engineer at SCEA, mentioned the 15 percent attach rate at his GDC 2014 talk, Creating Unique Interactive Experiences with the PlayStation 4, putting sales at about 900,000. Sony announced in March that it had sold 6 million PS4 consoles worldwide since its launch in November.

The PlayStation Camera has been hard to find at...

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Keiji Inafune’s tips for marketing Japanese games to Western audiences

Keiji Inafune and his company Comcept utilized Kickstarter to market a Japanese game to a predominantly Western audience; Mighty No. 9, the spiritual successor to Mega Man, is the designer's first indie project, and it's already slated for success. After blowing past its Kickstarter goal shortly after the game's announcement at PAX Prime 2013, Inafune and Comcept have been in the spotlight, a poster child for a Japanese indie seeking Western appeal.

At a previous conference, Inafune said "Japan is over," noting that Japanese developed games aren't doing so well in the market. During a...

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Microsoft reveals DirectX 12

Microsoft and partners from Nvidia, AMD, Intel and Qualcomm showed off the next version of the DirectX gaming API, DirectX 12, at the 2014 Game Developers Conference today.

According to Microsoft officials, DirectX 12 will offer major improvements for developers across all Microsoft platforms: Windows, Xbox One and Windows mobile OSes. DirectX 12 seeks to enhance graphics efficiency for modern games by allowing developers to more easily spread tasks across multi-core CPUs, while reducing CPU "bottlenecks" that can reduce theoretical performance from dedicated video hardware.

Microsoft is...

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A talk with Steve Gaynor about life after Gone Home

So what's life been like since then? The Fullbright Company's co-founder Steve Gaynor was kind enough to make time during GDC to chat about life after Gone Home. The conversation extends beyond that, naturally, digging into his experience designing the layout of Gone Home's home, reading those early reviews and changing the set up of The Fullbright Company. Originally, the crew shared a home in Portland, but now, thanks to a successful game, they've found their own homes.

Looks like I've hit my "home" allowance for the day. That's a wrap, see you tomorrow when we invite the creators of H...

How Riot Games encourages sportsmanship in League of Legends

That was the message from Riot Games' lead designer of social systems Jeffrey Lin at GDC yesterday, as he talked about ways in which designers have sought to reduce unpleasantness and complaints among players of its successful League of Legends game.

In his speech, Enhancing Sportsmanship in Online Games, he showed how simple techniques can be used to encourage good behavior among players, and to discourage abuse and bad language. "Sportsmanship can pave the way for a really positive experience," he said. "So we encourage it early."

Much of Riot's work on this issue stemmed from research...

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Papers, Please awards haul is a big win for gaming

This small game, in which the player takes on the role of a border-guard working for a violent and oppressive regime, is a long way from the mainstream view of games, so often assumed to be frivolities and dumb escapism.

As the player, you represent the full and awesome power of bureaucracy, with power over the lives of others. You are also tasked with preserving the future of an evil regime. You can do things that make you feel like a better person, like reuniting families who lack the correct papers, but you are putting the lives and safety of your own family at grave risk.

It's a...

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Watch Vlambeer demo Nuclear Throne, direct from GDC

Today, co-founders Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman stopped by to demo their latest game, Nuclear Throne. "Latest" being a funny word to use, considering the studio released Luftrausers today. In three years, they've been prolific, hopping from one project to the next.

Conversation with the guys reflects that rapid-fire style. You don't talk about their game; you talk about the industry and open development and origin stories and marketing and other game makers, because if there's one thing they love to talk about, it's the other fantastic people and projects within the indie game...

Big Fish: social is not the same as viral

Social games should be more about connecting people rather than viral user acquisition, according to Chris Williams, the general manager of casual game development studio Big Fish.

Williams recently spoke to Polygon at the Game Developers Conference and discussed Big Fish's strategy for deepening casual games. While he was not ready to discuss the studio's forthcoming titles that were built with this strategy in mind, he was able to share its approach to making its games social.

According to Williams, many people associate the social component of casual games with viral tactics, and so it...

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Godus will use actions, not words, to foster communities

Godus developer 22Cans deliberately omitted a chat function in its upcoming god game to foster a community, according to studio founder Peter Molyneux.

Speaking to Polygon at the Game Developers Conference, Molyneux said allowing players to chat could potentially lead to a strange sort of passive bullying where casual players are intimidated by more experienced players.

"Passive bullying is the big problem when you're trying to get casual gamers to play with core gamers," Molyneux said. "Now the last thing that would enter my mind is to bully you, but the very fact that I say I play...

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How The Witness devs design to both imitate and iterate on life

Luis Antonio, senior 3D artist at independent developer Thekla, has an interesting approaching to artistic design. In a talk at GDC this morning, Antonio explained how the studio's tiny art team studied artworks of realism and real-world geography to make the visuals of Jonathan Blow's The Witness an extension of the exploration puzzle title's gameplay.

Antonio explained Blow wanted to minimize the amount of noise players are exposed to; there is no ambient audio in any of the game's several environments. Additionally, the art must support and extend the gameplay principles — building on...

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Watch Tim Schafer talking about Psychonauts, Kickstarter and eating clowns

Double Fine founder Tim Schafer sat down with Polygon this week to discuss the company's history of experimental financing, their good fortune with Amnesia Fortnight projects and lots and lots of other things.

Among the topics of the free-ranging, more than 30 minute conversation were Double Fine's future, what Schafer would want to do with a future Psychonauts project and why exclusive Kickstarter backer updates don't always make sense for a game publisher.

Final Fantasy 14 killed by Square Enix’s stubbornness, reborn by a new approach

What went wrong

Beginning with a history of Final Fantasy 14, Yoshida noted that the game originally launched in 2010 to an extremely negative reaction from both fans and press. It had a Metacritic average of 48 and suffered from unstable servers — up to 400 crashes per day! a lack of content and minimal story in a franchise known for having plot as one of its core parts.

Yoshida pointed to three main reasons for Final Fantasy 14's failure in that first form. First, the team had an "unhealthy obsession with graphical quality." In a series of videos comparing the original version of F...

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The Last of Us cleans up at the 2014 Game Developer Choice Awards

Developer Naughty Dog cleaned up at tonight's 14th annual Game Developers Choice Awards, winning three of its five nominations for PlayStation-exclusive The Last of Us, including Game of the Year, Best Design and Best Narrative.

Going into the ceremony with five nominations, The Fullbright Company (pictured above) accepted Best Debut for Gone Home. Lucas Pope was awarded with the Innovation Award and Best Downloadable Game for Papers, Please, while Squad was presented with the Audience Award for Kerbal Space Program.

For the first time at the GDC Awards, recently passed members of the...

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Splinter Cell Blacklist designer: "Watch HGTV"

Cox worked on Splinter Cell Blacklist, and was teaching at Seneca college when he had his epiphany. "I was watching a lot of HGTV with my wife and I found it really entertaining," he said. More importantly, he found inspiration in the techniques interior designers use to make a space interesting. "Level artists are interior designers," he said. "Our fundamentals are so much closer than might be obvious."

After listing techniques and going through examples from interior design — with plenty of examples of kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, Cox launched into direct applications for level...

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Ouya to make free-to-try feature optional in April

Ouya's free-to-try component, which allows users to play games on the console without first paying, will be made optional in April, the company's head of developer relations Kellee Santiago said at the Game Developers Conference today.

According to Santiago, the console's makers have learned many lessons from their missteps launching a new console, and have spent the past year implementing changes and improvements. Among them are changes to the console's free-to-try component. Currently, all Ouya games are required to have some kind of free-to-play aspect, whether it be in the form of a...

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Papers, Please wins big at the 16th annual Independent Games Festival awards

Papers, Please, a game that has players taking on the role of an immigration inspector in the Kafkaesque communist state of Arstotzka, took home nearly half of the Independent Games Festival Awards at tonight's show.

The Windows and Mac game, developed by Lucas Pope, won the awards for excellence in design, excellence in narrative and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

After winning the final award of the night for the 16th annual Independent Games Festival Awards, held during the Game Developers Conference, Pope thanked his family and admired the prize.

"You're looking at the peak of my...

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Mass Effect developer makes emotional plea to eliminate social injustice in games

An hour-long speech delivered by Manveer Heir, a veteran of the Mass Effect series, laid out in stark relief the social injustices present in modern games and proposed ways to work against them.

In what can only be described as a call to arms, he challenged the crowd of industry professionals present at the packed hall at San Francisco’s Moscone Center to push back, to stand up and help change the way minority groups are represented in games.

"Wherever we may stand today as an industry," he shouted into the lectern at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, "I am confident that we will stand...

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How Alone With You's dev plans to avoid creating a 'weird love simulator'

Indie developer Benjamin Rivers wants to create a romance game with attachment. Or, as he jokingly calls them, "real feels."

The latest project from the Home creator is billed as a "psychological romance" game. Announced officially earlier this month, Alone With You follows the last surviving crew member of a failed terraforming project. Players have only an AI companion to keep them from getting lonely, at least to begin with; as the game opens up, players will discover new characters. It features exploration and adventure, but it's also a love story intended to mess with your head,...

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Super Time Force shooting for summer release, Below 'hopefully' playable before E3

Capy Games is aiming to release Super Time Force this summer, while the company's roguelike-like game, Below, could be available to play before E3, co-founder and Capy Games president Nathan Vella told Polygon at Game Developers Conference 2014.

"It's really tough to tell with Q&A and the certification process, but we're really hoping for May or early June," Vella said. "As soon as possible."

Super Time Force was delayed from its Xbox 360 2013 launch in favor of a simultaneous launch for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Vella said the team is currently working on "jokey voice command stuff," for...

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Facebook seeks new ways to add gaming to social mix

Well, OK, perhaps it's not exactly cause for jubilation, especially if you are one of those grumpy individuals who dislike being bombarded with invitations to match gems, solve puzzles and discover new realms. But, to be fair to Facebook, the new systems are designed to deliver "quality, not quantity," according to head of games engineering Vishu Gupta.

Speaking in a media briefing attended by Polygon, he explained that developers can now customize the language in a request. For example, alerts that used to say "John sent you a request" will now have specific information about the game,...

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Publishers like EA's Chillingo scramble to find the next big mobile hit

For every hit mobile game that floods gaming culture and enriches its creators, there are thousands that sit, unloved and unprofitable, in the sorry bowels of app stores.

Yet developers all over the world continue to seek ways to get their games noticed. One route, slightly old-fashioned in our age of self-publishing and creative autonomy, is to go with a publisher. This comes with certain pros and cons. Publishers have expertise and access to app store marketing lanes. But they have their own ways of doing things, and they come with no guarantees of success.

Chillingo is Electronic Arts'...

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Creator Yu Suzuki shares the story of Shenmue's development

In a Classic Game Postmortem session at the 2014 Game Developers Conference today, Yu Suzuki — director, producer, designer and writer — spoke about the origins and development of 1999 Sega Dreamcast adventure role-playing game Shenmue.

After joining Sega in 1983, Suzuki focused primarily on creating arcade games, where the ideal experience was three minutes long. After years working on these games he decided he wanted to make a game that didn't have that kind of time limit. He began researching late 1980s role-playing games, using these as the formula for the game he would build.

"When I...

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Why the death of a game should be part of the planning process

Games that run as services will inevitably shut down — and developers need to have a plan ready to go well before that point, according to a talk given by Microsoft executive producer Kevin Perry at Game Developers Conference 2014.

"I have bad news for you," Perry said. "Whatever game you're currently working on or dreaming up, it's going to pass at some point."

Titled "The Inevitable Sunset," the talk brought up the financial, legal and community-related questions developers need to ask themselves while considering their game's end. It starts with the trigger point, or the cause that...

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Xbox Live players with 'good social behavior' may soon earn rewards on Xbox One

In an effort to promote better behavior on Xbox Live, Microsoft is planning to give rewards to Xbox One owners who contribute positively through their online interactions. Instead of simply penalizing players for bad behavior, the Xbox maker hopes to "actively encourage them to be better" in future Xbox Live updates.

During a talk at GDC 2014 aimed at ID@Xbox developers, Frank Savage, partner and development lead at Microsoft, said that rather than just ding players for poor, unsportsmanlike behavior on Xbox Live, players may be rewarded for exhibiting exemplary behavior.

If your...

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Report: EA lands deal for Titanfall 2, sequel won't be Microsoft exclusive

Electronic Arts will be the publisher for the next Titanfall game from Respawn Entertainment, according to a GameSpot article and Polygon sources.

Our sources also tell us that the next Titanfall will not be a Microsoft exclusive. The original Titanfall was exclusive to Microsoft platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows PC.

An Electronic Arts representative declined to comment specifically on the rumor.

"We do not comment on rumor or speculation," the representative told Polygon. "Right now all our focus is on supporting all the fans worldwide enjoying Titanfall."

Respawn founder...

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Project Morpheus, Sony's PlayStation 4 virtual reality helmet, is much better than expected

The post-Oculus world has a minimum level of quality for virtual reality that new products have to at least match, if not clear, and Sony’s push into console-based virtual reality could poison the well for other companies if their high-profile hardware isn’t up to the task.

Luckily, it works well. Very well.

Going inside

The headset itself looks like it was sneezed on by a character from Tron, and it rests on the top of your head before you tighten straps to keep it in place. The optics can be moved towards or away from your head, I was able to keep my glasses on and still be...

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf director says team diversity, communication core to its success

Her colleague at Nintendo, Animal Crossing producer Katsuya Eguchi, echoed that opinion, saying diversity on the New Leaf team contributed not only to the diversity of content in the game, it better represented the game's target audience.

"When I was starting in the game industry, it wasn't uncommon to be the only woman on the entire team," Kyogoku said. "I always felt welcome and I never felt awkward. In my years at Nintendo, I have come to discover that when there are women in a variety of roles on the project, you get a wider [range] of ideas.

"So when you are trying to create...

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GameFace is the surprisingly unterrible self-contained Android-based VR headset

The display is a "a full HD screen" split between two eyes. The development kit, coming at the end of this year for an estimated $500, will have an upgraded screen. This is a very early proof of concept for that development kit, which means a retail product is likely quite a ways away, and could be a large step up from the hardware we demoed at GDC.

"I can’t say exactly what resolution [the final version] is going to be, but it’s pretty fucking awesome," Ed Mason, the founder and CEO of Gameface said with a laugh.

We played through a series of demos, including many that will be familiar...

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Watch a long demo of Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition, direct from GDC

For example, Jimmy the Polygon Video Guy played through the game twice on two different Vitas — he lost both. But let's not mourn the woes of Jimmy; let's talk about the new version of the game, Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition. It includes the original game's downloadable content, plus new levels and bosses.

Drinkbox co-founder Chris Harvey and designer Chris McQuinn join us to talk about the new features and the process of making a game they love even better.

Finally, Jimmy the Polygon Video Guy will have a chance to play Guacamelee! — again!

Why not knowing is Alien: Isolation's most powerful scare

"We built a technical demo," says creative lead Al Hope, when asked how Creative Assembly managed to convince Sega to give them this chance in the first place. "It was more of a mood piece. We recreated the medical lab from Alien, but then we duplicated it and smashed it up. All of a sudden there's a story going on: Why has this one been left but this one has been wrecked?"

At this point design lead Clive Lindop interjects to explain that this isn't the regular Creative Assembly team people might be thinking of as well. "A substantial number of people on the team building the game came...

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The real-life holodeck didn't work quite as well as advertised

The product is called the Cortex, and it delivers a combination of augmented and virtual reality.

"They’re not mutually exclusive," Balachand said. "They can combine to create some really crazy experiences."

The 30 minute demo was plagued with technical difficulties, but as a proof of concept the Cortex was able to deliver what was promised, although the execution has a ways to go before it becomes an attractive product.

Some assembly required

The head mounted display doesn’t actually come with a display, you have to provide your own by sliding in an Android device with a six inch or...

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Oculus is hoping that Sony's Project Morpheus headset delivers a great VR experience

We met with Oculus before Sony announced its own virtual reality headset, but Oculus' Nate Mitchell wasn't worried about the existence of the hardware as much as he was concerned about the quality. In fact, it's in the best interests of Oculus that the rival headsets offer the best experience possible, especially if they're coming from large companies.

"I think there's space for multiple VR headsets, definitely," Mitchell said.

"We're excited to see what announces later this week," he continued. "My biggest fear is that someone delivers a VR headset that's bad. What we can't have happen...

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Developer of 10000000 shares game data and inspiration with other mobile devs

Ninety seconds. That’s the average amount of time players spend in a session of Luca Redwood’s mobile game 10000000. It’s a minuscule amount of time, but players do it over and over again — more than 60 million times to date, says the developer.

In his talk Tuesday at the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference, Redwood detailed the evolution of his hit game, and used that story to draw conclusions about the fiercely competitive mobile space.

10000000 is a dungeon crawler powered by a matching game. Players assemble strings of swords to attack monsters, or shields to defend themselves. But...

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ID@Xbox finally shows Xbox One's indie credentials

We're at Microsoft's GDC event for ID@Xbox, the company's attempt to allow developers to publish their own games on Xbox One. In this slightly grubby room, six blocks south of the Moscone Center, the air is thick with the noise of babbling games journos and pitching indies and, of course, indie game sound effects.

Mika's indie game is simple and it's fun. It's a multiplayer platformer with a ball and two goals. Players jump around, try to score, seek to bully one another to secure possession. Up to eight people can play together at the same time. Two months ago, the project didn't exist....

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Invisible, Inc. gameplay: Polygon Live at GDC

I've enjoyed checking in on the turn-based tactical espionage since then. In some ways, the public process reminds me of the development of Klei's previous hit, Don't Starve, which quietly incubated on the Chrome App Store, growing and evolving into one of my favorite games of 2013.

Now the game looks especially slick, like it's ready for the sort of audience its predecessor attracted. Once you've watched Frushtick and Klei's designers James Lantz and Jason Dreger chat, be sure to check out that story about Klei. You'll get an idea of how the studio nurtures these kinds of games.

Here's The Division's amazing game engine in action

"Wii U is not a console we are developing Snowdrop on," said Rodrigo Cortes, brand art director at Massive Entertainment. "It would have been possible if we wanted to, but we would have been ruling out things we didn't want to take out."

Development on game engine Snowdrop started about five years ago, Cortes said, before The Division was in development and before the specifications were known for either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One.

Initially it was an engine built on PC for PC and next-gen development by Massive Entertainment.

"We decided to not develop for current gen," Cortes...

New Oculus Rift dev kit goes on sale for $350 today, likely ships in July

Oculus showed the hardware to the press yesterday at the Game Developers Conference, and the hardware has grown in impressive ways since CES. The breakout box is gone, you now connect the headset to your computer using a single cable that includes an HDMI and USB connection, and the exposed infra-red lights have been hidden behind the black plastic.

The system will go "on sale" today, for $350 along with the external camera that allows for positional tracking, with an estimated ship date of July of this year. The weight has increased a bit since the first version of the dev kit was...

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Turning Walden into a game and how narrative can lead to 'sublime' gaming

And it is through narrative that games have the best chance of delivering experiences that aren't just dramatic and meaningful, but sublime, she said.

It is in pursuit of the sublime that Fullerton, in her work with the lab, helped create a trio of games that reexamined the traditional form of in-game storytelling.

Cloud, the first work by some of the team who would later go on to become thatgamecompany, creator's of Journey and Flower, was one of the lab's earliest experiments in narrative when it was released in 2006.

The original concept for the game included an elaborate backstory...

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What's next for Koji Igarashi, the man who left Castlevania and Konami behind

Known widely for making Castlevania games, mostly single-player, 2D scrolling action games in the "Metroidvania" style for consoles and handhelds, Igarashi found it a difficult transition to make.

"The more hardcore the game... the less suitable it is for the casual market," Igarashi told Polygon in an interview at this week's Game Developers Conference. "Unfortunately, I'm good at making core experiences, so it was two years of making a game that leaned too 'hardcore' for the social market. So it was canceled. Then I'd try again and be canceled. And again and be canceled.

"That happened...

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Creating compelling AI NPCs for an open world

Open-world games are designed to allow players to explore and interact in it at will; creating compelling AI characters and enemy types for these games can be difficult when everything is built to scale and adapt to what the player does.

Jeet Shroff, senior programmer at Avalanche Studios, addressed this topic in their GDC 2014 talk, "Free-Range AI: Creating Compelling Characters for Open World Games." He discussed how open-world titles present the challenge of needing dynamic non-playable characters to help players immerse themselves in the game. Design decisions had to be made that...

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Building story and gameplay simultaneously makes for better narrative

Developers can build game stories that better mesh with mechanics by building them side-by-side incrementally, setting up small chunk of gameplay and layering in narrative elements as they go along, according to Frictional Games' creative director Thomas Grip.

Speaking at a panel at GDC today Grip — head of the studio responsible for survival horror games in the Penumbra and Amnesia series as well as upcoming title SOMA — explained how instead of creating gameplay that provides an engaging narrative, developers can solve both design issues at once by building in shorter stages. This kind...

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CCP states EVE: Valkyrie's Oculus co-publishing deal was exclusive to the PC, game coming to PS4

It's rare to see a game published by one platform holder be used in the marketing of another, but it seems as if Oculus' publishing deal was only for the PC.

"We partnered with Oculus VR to bring EVE: Valkyrie exclusively to the Oculus Rift on PC and we are thrilled to be working with Sony to bring EVE: Valkyrie to the PS4 with Project Morpheus," a CCP spokesperson told Polygon. We reached out to Oculus for comment, and have yet to hear back.

EVE: Valkyrie is a multiplayer action game that exists in the universe of EVE Online. It was designed specifically for virtual reality, and has...

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Next-gen consoles may be getting horror game seen through the eyes of a child

Krillbite Studio, the studio behind the game, said they're already in talks with Sony about potentially bringing the game to the PlayStation 4 and would like to also bring the game to the Xbox One as well, though they haven't had any talks with Microsoft about the idea yet.

In the game, which received nearly a quarter of a million dollars last May through a successful Kickstarter, players take on the role of a 2-year-old boy navigating the horrors created by his young imagination. The game is played from a first-person perspective and players can't ever fight back against the creatures...

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Pillars of Eternity deal built from mutual respect, says Paradox and Obsidian

The recently-announced partnership between Paradox Interactive and Obsidian Entertainment to publish Pillars of Eternity began with mutual appreciation.

Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester already knew designer Chris Avellone, co-founder of Obsidian, after a meeting at a conference a few years prior. Obsidian head Feargus Urquhart also knew several members of Paradox's team, and through them the two companies began murmuring about a role-playing game partnership.

"I'm an old-school PC game player," Urquhart told Polygon. "The old games and the old RPGs. I've always seen the stuff Paradox has done...

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How Plants vs. Zombies 2 overcame the hurdles of China

Before PopCap's plant-based strategy game Plants vs. Zombies 2 became one of the biggest mobile hits in China, the studio first had to deal with piracy, a fragmented mobile market and attacks from rating manipulators, according to the general manager of EA Mobile in China, Kun (Leo) Liu.

Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today, Liu said China is a very large and powerful mobile market, but it also has its own challenges. One such challenge is that of competitors manipulating the game's star rating on app stores in an attempt to discourage people from buying it.

P...

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Sony announces Project Morpheus, a virtual reality headset coming to PlayStation 4

"The industry has grown by creating technological advancements for video game players," Yoshida said. "Advancements that people maybe weren't expecting or thought was possible." PlayStation, he said, is focused on "pushing the boundary of play," and "it's this focus that drives how we innovate and create the experiences we deliver to gamers."

Some of those technologies, like Blu-ray, have since become standards.

"Virtual reality is the next innovation from PlayStation that will [shape] the future of games," Yoshida said.

Yoshida showed a short demonstration of Sony's early VR attempts,...

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Paradox Interactive to publish Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity

Paradox Interactive will publish Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of EternityCEO Fredrik Wester announced during GDC today.

The Kickstarter-funded Pillars of Eternity is slated to launch later this year, sometime between summer and Christmas 2014.

"We are looking at this as a along term relationship because we share a lot of vision with the Obsidian guys," Wester said. "As you know, their pedigree is unmatched in this industry."

"We've loved Paradox games for years and we are really impressed with how they care about what they do," Obsidian head Feargus Urquhart added. The companies...

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1001 Spikes, Guacamelee and CastleStorm among first wave of ID@Xbox indie games

At GDC today Microsoft unveiled more details about its first wave of independent Xbox One games, launching under the ID@Xbox umbrella.

Originally announced last year, the scheme allows indies to publish games for Xbox One. "Our goal is to make the process as easy as possible so developers can focus on what matters most: creating the games you're beginning to see today," said games director Chris Charla.

Firm release dates have not been announced, but among the games coming "soon" include the following, some of which have been released in some form or another on other platforms. Polygon...

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Massive new influx of Chinese gamers predicted in next few years

A Chinese mobile gaming growth explosion is expected in the next few years, according to media giant Tencent, with core genres like RPGs, shooters and strategy likely to benefit.

Addressing an audience of developers at GDC today, Tencent Games' executive in charge of production Steve Gray urged Western developers to find ways to launch their games in China.

"In 2014 many Chinese phone manufacturers will release very cheap models," he said. "They will sell 300 or 400 million handsets. That's a lot of new users. A very high percentage of them will play games."

He added that sales trends...

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Monument Valley: the quest for a game everyone can finish

Developer ustwo has been working on Monument Valley for 10 months. The team of 8 has a wide breadth of experience from across the U.K. development scene, including Gray's own past at Hello Games and Lionhead. But it seems safe to say that this project is not quite like anything they've done previously. The goal is a short, easily consumable game that not only appeals to a broad audience but is able to be finished by anyone in that audience.

And it all started with a single piece of M.C. Escher-esque concept art.

"We looked at the piece of concept art that inspired it now that the game is...

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The cold comfort of Hyper Light Drifter

I'm drifting up a mountain made of pixels, climbing an ascending maze of brightly-colored craggy cliffs against a melancholy chiptune soundtrack.

I'm playing Hyper Light Drifter, the upcoming action role-playing game from indie developer Heart Machine. The game is a love letter to retro SNES games, all the way down to the comforting old-school soundtrack with its minimalistic tones. Hyper Light Drifter is somewhere between thatgamecompany's Journey, Studio Ghibli film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and a game pulled straight out of the 90s.

In Hyper Light Drifter, you are the titular...

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Velocity 2X gameplay: Polygon Live at GDC

My pal Russ Frushtick is the cyborg who managed to perfect Velocity Ultra, the previous game in the series released on Vita. But I suspect this might be the game with which I surpass him. Because where prior Velocity games merged puzzle-solving, muscle-memory and shoot 'em-up games, Velocity 2X adds an additional layer: on-foot platforming.

It's an interesting tweak that recalls Master Blaster. And that's the problem. Just saying those two words triggers a flurry of nostalgia, fogging my mind, causing my eyes to glass over with delight.

The game looks great, but I also enjoyed speaking...

How Super Time Force solves time paradoxes with science that 'feels' good

Capy Games' 2D run-and-gun title Super Time Force is built on the basis of time travel, but still relies on science — or, more accurately, science surrounded in air quotes.

During "Super Time Force: Solving the Time Travel Paradox," a panel discussing the design problems associated with time manipulation, Capy Games technical director Kenneth Yeung said the developer landed on science that "feels good."

"When we're talking about time building, [it's a] complicated, paradox filled mess," Yeung said. "[...] You can have a solid engine, but without these fun systems in place to handle the...

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N++ gameplay: Polygon Live at GDC

A few years ago, I noticed annual franchises lost their coolness amongst people who play gobs of games. Of course, annual games were never outright praised for their regularity, but the idea of say Call of Duty or Madden reappearing time and again scanned cynical and money-grubbing.

But recently, I often hear a counterpoint to that opinion coming from indie game developers. The N series is a perfect example, with N++ representing the progress that can be made by improving upon an original game time and again.

And that notion of gradual improvement goes beyond features layered upon...

Rebuild: leading a civilization around the undead

Sarah Northway's Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville isn't just about survival, the developer recently told Polygon. It's a zombie game about growth, ideals and shaping a new civilization.

The game is the third in a series about forming a new civilization after a recent zombie apocalypse. According to Northway, Gangs of Deadsville is the most strategic and in-depth title in the series, which allows players to approach it as a pure strategy title, a kind of role-playing game or a bit of both.

Players begin the game in a part of town with only a few other characters. Every character has his or her...

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Game designers talk about making the transition to academia

Game designers who have made the move to academia include Warren Spector (Deus Ex), John Romero (Doom), Brenda Romero (Wizardry) and Richard Lemarchand (Uncharted). At GDC's education summit yesterday they shared their experiences of teaching the next generation of game makers.

"For many students this is the first class they have ever taken in game development," said Brenda Romero. "I see the first time they are in the classroom and someone is validating what they want to do. To see their passion is like a drug to me."

Romero and her husband John are in charge of a program at the...

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Epic Games working on new, unannounced IP (update)

During the "Animation Bootcamp: Animation Prototyping for Games" panel at this year's Game Developers Conference, lead animator Jay Hosfelt detailed the studio's revamped design philosophies as it builds its new game without a publishing partner. No name or release timetable was given, though concept art and character models shown during the panel resembled the unnamed hero of Epic's 2011 "Samaritan" technical demonstration.

"Samaritan" was unveiled during GDC 2011 as a proof of concept and target for the "3.5" version of Epic's Unreal Engine 3, ostensibly aimed at "next-generation"...

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Firewatch developer: suspend disbelief by 'going on a date with the player'

Vanaman began his talk by asserting that narrative and gameplay need not — and in many cases, shouldn't be — be so alienated from one another.

"I reject the notion that the player should have to ignore certain parts of the experience to find value in the narrative or connect to the story," he said.

He and the other developers at Campo Santo — who are in the process of developing Firewatch, a first-person adventure — have a metaphor they like to use for creating interactive stories. They liken it to going on a date with the player.

"The player is at the table with you, and for the date to...

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How Kerbal Space Program's modular design enabled success

The vast complexity found in the latest version of Kerbal Space Program is the result of the team’s willingness to throw out the hard work they’d previously done and start again.

The space exploration simulation invites players to build and fly rockets and other types of craft. The allure of the game comes from the simple mechanic used for building. Simply pick a piece, move it to the right position and it snaps into place. Players are given a clean slate, a collection of parts and an entire universe to explore.

The initial development was incredibly fast, and the code was buggy....

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The Oculus Rift launch window could be a gateway to new, non-linear games like Soundself

You put on the headset, hum or chant into a microphone, and are placed into a sort of rhythmic tunnel of light and sound. Your own voice is fed back through the headphones and becomes a sort of endless, limitless loop as the game rewards changes in your pitch and rhythm with images. It’s impossible to describe, but it feels like falling into a sort of comfortable pit of pure consciousness.

Soundself creator Robin Arnott seemed frustrated when it took me a while to learn how to change my pitch in order to get the tunnel speaking to me. When everything is working it feels like the game is...

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Games can preserve indigenous stories and oral histories

One way to pass along a culture's oral history is to transform them into games. Building quest-like tasks based on cultural content also gives players not native to these traditions the chance to reflect on them, according to independent game designer Elizabeth LaPensee.

LaPensee makes "indigenously-determined games," which are developed in collaboration with cultural groups and designed to have a social impact. LaPensee has worked on board games and other non-digital space games as well as touch screen titles that cope with historical trauma.

Speaking in a panel at GDC today, LaPensee...

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Rogue Legacy developers: use solutions that are cheap, fast and reusable

"We'll never make the perfect game, but we're OK with that," said Lee, launching into Cellar Door's history. They made eight smaller games before Rogue Legacy, each for less than $1,000. They applied the lessons learned on smaller projects to inform their process on the more ambitious roguelike.

Throughout the course of Rogue Legacy's development, the team constantly cut features that were too ambitious and salvaged the parts that they felt they could make good on. They made sure to work with other people that are autonomous, to create a custom editor for each game (including Rogue Legacy)...

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Narrative designers discuss benefits of ditching the three act structure

The classic three act story structure — a setting and character setup followed by a confrontation that ends in a resolution — is popular among writers in all media. But ditching this convention, despite having been proved a successful storytelling method, is a beneficial move for video games because of the medium's unique demands.

Speaking in a panel at GDC this morning, Riot Games narrative lead Tom Abernathy and Microsoft Game Studios' designer Richard Rouse III said video games have storytelling opportunities that film and TV aren't as suited for. Because of this, games require...

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Vlambeer details Nuclear Throne's public development process

In a presentation today at the Game Developers Conference, Vlambeer's Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman spoke about their experiences developing their latest game Nuclear Throne in the public eye.

The game, essentially a cartooney overhead shooter that Vlambeer describes as an "action roguelike-like about mutants that spend their workdays trying to fight for the throne in a post-apocalyptic world," originated as a 72-hour prototype at the Mojam game jam early last year. As part of that process, the pair was "forced to livestream" their development on the prototype, said Nijman with a...

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Why in-game dialogue and character conversations matter

Conversations in video games exist as the foremost way to guide the player through the game, according to a recent talk at Game Developers Conference 2014.

"Engineering Better Dialogue" featured insight from founder and CEO of Zombie Cat Studios Sheri Graner Ray and former Dragon Age writer Jennifer Hepler. According to Ray, developers and game writers need to have a common understanding of what in-game dialogue is for.

"Conversations are there to move the player forward in the game," Ray said. "Conversations are a hallmark of story-driven game and adventure games. They are there to keep...

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Battlefield 4 Dragon's Teeth expansion delivers two-handed ballistic shield

A two-handed ballistic shield is coming to Battlefield 4 as part of the upcoming Dragon's Teeth expansion pack, according to a GDC talk given by an EA DICE animator.

Initially, the team were hoping to include the ability to equip a ballistic shield in the game and shoot from behind it with a selection of handguns, according to senior animator Ryan Duffin. But after trying a number of approaches, the team realized that the best way to deliver the bullet-stopping piece of equipment to the game was to make it a two-handed, movable piece of cover.

The shield will be part of the Dragon's Teeth...

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Finding treasures in the code: Why the source code of classic games matters, even to non-coders

Kazemi gave a talk at Critical Proximity during the Game Developers Conference to discuss the importance of looking at the code of games as part of their history, even for those without background in programming.

"I’m absolutely not saying that source code is the only important factor when looking at a game," he stated. "I am saying that it’s ridiculous not to look at source code if you have it at your disposal."

Where to start looking, and how to look

Finding the code itself can be a challenge, although the modding communities of each game is a good place to start. Finding the Jagged...

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Framed lets you pivot and turn to tell a story

Loveshack Entertainment's narrative-based, panel-shifting game, Framed, will allow players to pivot, rotate and reuse panels, in addition to changing their order, studio co-founder Joshua Boggs told Polygon today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

When the game was first shown publicly last year, it featured painterly panels of noir imagery that players could rearrange to change the game's order of events and context. In a demo of the latest build of the game shown today, certain panels could be rotated, which not only changed the actions depicted within the panel, but...

How Little Inferno's burning desire to state a message got lost in the smoke

That was the takeaway from today's Independent Games Summit session at GDC on Tomorrow Games' quirky fireplace simulator Little Inferno. Kyle Gray, one of the game's designers, walked attendees through "the many mistakes" the team made during development.

"If you have a message in your game, the chances are people aren't going to get it," he said. "A lot of people thought Little Inferno was about global warming or a critical commentary on freemium games, but it wasn't."

In Little Inferno, which was an indie launch title for Wii U and has since been ported to Windows PC, Mac, Linux,...

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Hearthstone's AI targets the intermediate level player

The AI of Blizzard Entertainment's card-based game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, was designed to pose a challenge to players without overwhelming them, former Blizzard Entertainment senior AI and gameplay engineer Brian Schwab said today at Game Developers Conference 2014.

Speaking about his work on the game during "AI Postmortem: Hearthstone," Schwab explained that Blizzard's work on Hearthstone was "quite the experiment." Blizzard wanted to build a game that featured intelligent AI — but remained accessible to players of any skill level.

"There's this stigma of most card games that...

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How Assassin's Creed 4: Freedom Cry's subject matter influenced mission design

Making players uncomfortable is a good way to engage them in a game's story; but the desire to create that discomfort can inform how game developers construct missions and stages within their game.

In a talk at the Game Developers Conference this morning, Ubisoft Quebec level design director Hugo Giard and narrative design director Jill Murray discussed how using difficult narrative subjects can inform game mission design and strengthen player immersion. Giard and Murray, who have both worked on a handful of Assassin's Creed titles, spoke about Freedom Cry, the now-standalone DLC for A...

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GDC love story culminates in conference's first wedding

Game developers Heidi McDonald and Alex McPhearson are tying the knot at the conference this week, during an invitation-only event in the Conference Associates Meeting Room. It's an appropriate setting for a couple who met during the annual gaming event two years ago, while working as GDC volunteers.

Heidi tells the story...

"I was a student intern at Schell Games in 2012. I saw that everybody from the office was going to GDC and I thought I should go too. So I joined the conference associate program. I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people and network. Never in my life...

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Google makes Android more friendly to game developers and players

Google's mobile platform, Android, still plays second fiddle to Apple's iOS when it comes to gaming: Most developers still target iOS first and bring their game to Android afterward, and there can be a lengthy delay between those releases. But that began to change over the past year, and Google is trying to push that trend along with a suite of updates this week to Google Play game services and the Google Play Games app, both of which the company introduced in 2013.

"Last year was all about delivering the core platform experiences to help developers build up their own amazing game...

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Ouya showing new titles at GDC

Game Developer Conference in San Francisco next week offers Ouya an opportunity to showcase a slew of new games including local multiplayer titles, widely regarded as a particular strength of the console, following its shepherding of the much admired Towerfall.

Toto Temple Deluxe from Knightmare Tower-maker Juicy Beast is a 2D platforming local multiplayer game in which up to four players must hold on to a goat for as long as possible, while their friends jump and dash around trying to knock it out of their hands.

Landon Podbielski's Duck Game continues the animal theme in this local...

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Here's a closer look at Valve's latest Steam Controller

Valve will show off its latest Steam Controller prototype at the 2014 Game Developers Conference next week, and you can see an image of the updated controller above.

Announced during the first-ever Steam Dev Days, a developer conference that Valve put on in its hometown of Seattle last month, the redesigned Steam Controller appears to offer a more conservative design — one that's more similar to existing controllers. (The original prototype can be seen in our article about Valve's original announcement of the Steam Controller.)

The device no longer features a touchscreen display. In its...

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History of Lucasfilm games playable exhibit premiering at GDC

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) will feature a playable showcase of Lucasfilm and LucasArts games at GDC 2014 in honor of its upcoming exhibit, "The History of Lucasfilm."

The exhibit, which opens March 17, will be on display of the second floor of Moscone West. Former LucasArts Games employees will hold postmortem discussion of the studio that coincides with the display. Attendees will have access to the following titles:

  • Afterlife
  • Ballblazer
  • Habitat
  • Loom
  • Maniac Mansion
  • Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
  • Star Wars: Rebel Assault
  • Star Wars: X Wing
  • Star Wars: TIE...

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PlayStation Move creator to discuss 'future of innovation' for PlayStation at GDC

The senior director of research and development at Sony Computer Entertainment America, Richard Marks, will discuss "the future of innovation" at SCEA in a sponsored session at GDC 2014 later this month.

Marks is best known for his contributions to the EyeToy camera and PlayStation Move controller, PlayStation accessories that introduced new control methods for existing platforms. Last November, Marks appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, showing off the DualShock 4 and PlayStation 4 game The Playroom just prior to the launch of Sony's new console.

Joining Marks at GDC will be Anton...

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GDC Awards to honor Feminist Frequency, League of Legends

The 2014 Game Developer Choice Awards will honor Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian and League of Legends developer Riot Games co-founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, organizers announced today.

Sarkeesian will receive the Ambassador Award for her work, which has "explored the representation of women in pop culture, with a particular focus on representation within the medium of video games." You can watch her Kickstarter-funded videos on Polygon, which examine damsels in distress in two parts, dudes in distress and what she calls the Ms. Male Character.

"I'm both surprised and...

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'Father of the PlayStation' Ken Kutaragi receiving Lifetime Achievement Award at GDC

Ken Kutaragi, known as the "Father of the PlayStation," will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Game Developers Conference this March, event organizers announced today.

Kutaragi will be awarded for his contributions to the games industry at the 14th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards, to be held on March 19 at 9:30 p.m. ET at San Francisco's Moscone Center. The award will be presented to Kutaragi by Mark Cerny, lead architect on the PlayStation 4 console.

As an engineer at Sony, Kutaragi created the SPC700 sound chip for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System....

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The Last of Us, Tearaway, Gone Home lead 2014 GDC Award noms

Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, Media Molecule's Tearaway and The Fullbright Company's Gone Home lead the pack of 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards nominees, with each game getting nods in five categories.

The full list, which can be found below, runs the gamut from indie titles by tiny teams to the biggest-budget productions in the industry. Other multiple-nominated games include Lucas Pope's Papers, Please; Starbreeze Studios' Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons; and Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto 5.

The 14th annual Game Developers Choice Awards will follow the 2014 Independent Games...

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