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GDC 2014: Sony's virtual reality steals the show in San Francisco

The Verge reported live from the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The annual gaming event has played host to a number of announcements this year, led by Sony's dive into the world of virtual reality. Project Morpheus, Sony's prototype VR headset, was unveiled on March 18th at the company's GDC press conference. Other influential players like Oculus and Valve are also on hand, and we've gathered all of the conference's biggest news here.

  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 28, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Sony vs. Facebook: the battle for your reality has just begun

    Virtual reality is truly coming. There’s no longer any question. In the span of a single week, two titans emerged to proclaim that VR would be the future of their industries. Facebook and Sony, companies which respectively defined social networking and personal electronics, each validated what plucky startup Oculus VR had been saying all along: that virtual reality will be a bold new medium for gaming, for communication, and much, much more. Facebook’s play was to buy Oculus outright, spending $2 billion to bring an array of impressive talent under its wing, while Sony spent untold millions to introduce Project Morpheus, its own spin on the Oculus headset.

    But just because virtual reality is a multibillion-dollar idea doesn’t mean that it’s ready for consumption today. We’re coming to the realization that when the first commercial VR headsets hit the market, they probably won’t deliver the vast, Matrix-like experiences you might expect.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 27, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Here's how Sony unveiled its vision for virtual reality

    At the 2014 Game Developers Conference, Sony proclaimed that virtual reality was the future of gaming — and introduced the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset to back up that claim. Perhaps you were following along with our live blog, but if not, you can watch the reveal on YouTube today. Sony has uploaded the full hour-long presentation, which includes insight into the company's entire VR strategy alongside the reveal, as well as answers to burning questions from reporters like yours truly. If you're eager to know how Sony might position itself vis-a-vis Facebook in the VR space, look no further.

    For even more perspective on VR, watch this presentation by Valve virtual reality expert Michael Abrash after you're done, and check out our hands-on impressions of Sony's Project Morpheus.

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  • Andrew Webster

    Mar 26, 2014

    Andrew Webster

    The rock stars of gaming start their solo acts

    Last week, iconic Castlevania designer Koji Igarashi announced that he was leaving Konami. After more than two decades with the company, most of them spent on the same franchise, he decided to venture out on his own. Last year, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune did the same, leaving developer Capcom to start an indie studio called Comcept, while Populous creator Peter Molyneux made a similar decision one year earlier. All are considered rock star designers. And all three have left the relative comfort of a major game developer to do something they otherwise couldn't — make the kinds of games they really want.

    "This has been a want, and almost a need, of mine to do that," Molyneux says of working on his new game. "And that's why I left my fantastic job at Microsoft, which was so comfortable and lovely and secure."

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 22, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    The GameFace shows why Android isn't ready to power a VR headset

    Since day one, Oculus has promised that its prototype virtual reality headset would one day support Android tablets and phones, but the company has never explained precisely how such a system might work. Now, we have some idea: GameFace Labs is showing off a prototype of an Android-based VR headset here at GDC 2014.

    Unfortunately, the GameFace Mark IV prototype is pretty terrible in its current state. Though it uses a crisp 1080p screen like the latest Oculus Rift — and the exact same lens design as the original Oculus developer kit for a fairly wide field of view — it's downright uncomfortable to wear, laggy to use, and repeatedly lost track of where I was looking in virtual worlds. It genuinely made me sick. And yet, wearing the device completely untethered from a computer, walking around with a virtual world on my face was a genuinely intriguing experience.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Mar 21, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    'BioShock' creator Ken Levine wants to make infinitely replayable video game plots

    The words "combinatorial explosion" have probably never come up in a video game storytelling talk as many times as they did with BioShock creator Ken Levine's "Narrative Legos." At the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Levine outlined an ambitious — if vague — idea for endlessly replayable, systems-based stories that he compares to a player-driven episode of Game of Thrones. When a slide deck offhandedly lists "build a web of nearly infinite relationship states" as a prerequisite, you're in for something that's at least compelling listening.

    The hallmark of Levine's BioShock series is carefully paced, twist-driven story lines, but that's something he seems finished with for now. That's partly because those plots require keeping secrets from the audience, a practice Levine sees as outdated in an age where games like Minecraft and DayZ make a name by selling alpha and beta access. Things like the climactic reveal of a character aren't endlessly repeatable. "Once those key story bits are revealed, that's kind of your special sauce," said Levine. "I think right now audiences want to be part of [development]. They want to play alphas. They want to be giving their feedback along the way."

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 21, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Microsoft's gaming chief is optimistic about virtual reality

    Phil Spencer, Microsoft EVP
    Phil Spencer, Microsoft EVP

    Virtual reality is the talk of the town at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, with Sony's Project Morpheus and a new Oculus Rift driving the conversation. But just because Microsoft didn't bring its own virtual reality headgear to GDC 2014 doesn't mean the company isn't interested. We cornered Microsoft Game Studios boss Phil Spencer before his panel today, and he tells us he actually believes VR could be commercially viable for gaming.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Mar 21, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    Stand by for plot points: 'Titanfall' doesn't need a story

    The 2014 Game Developers Conference is full of people who are conspicuously not playing Titanfall. Asking about what level someone reached is a simple yet effective bonding opportunity, as is talking about how much you'll play when you get home. And yet Titanfall, released less than a week before GDC, aptly demonstrates a recurring question from the conference: how do you give gamers the story they say they want in big-name titles, while dealing with the fact that we’ll probably ignore most of it anyways?

    Unlike the vast majority of first-person shooters, Titanfall does not have a single-player mode. Instead, its story campaign plays out as an episodic radio drama that airs during loading screens and multiplayer matches. There’s a scrappy militia, an evil corporation, and a strange climactic debate about the nature of human worth. I couldn’t tell you much more than that, and I’m not sure most players would do better. Most of the plot is shouted out while you’re busy watching your back or calling a Titan, and regardless of whether you win or lose, it chugs towards the same conclusion. It’s as ignorable as the character profiles and backstory you used to find in CD-ROM user manuals in the ‘90s, except that unlike a user manual, you have to play through Titanfall’s story twice in order to unlock vital equipment.

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  • Ross Miller

    Mar 21, 2014

    Ross Miller

    This is weird Nintendo

    If we can glean anything from Nintendo's 124-year history, it's a willingness to experiment. The company, which originally sold playing cards, has at various points owned a taxi company, TV network, and even a love hotel chain. It wasn't until 1966, after over 75 years in business, that Nintendo released its first toy. The Ultra Hand was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, who would go on to make both the Game & Watch and Game Boy systems.

    The Videogame History Museum is a traveling exhibit that tours the various gaming shows that happen throughout the year — including E3, PAX, and DICE. At this year's GDC, the museum set up a display showing the very weird and diverse world of Nintendo from 1966 onward — from Las Vegas casino tie-ins to multiple 3D headgears (hello Virtual Boy) to yes, most famous of all, the Power Glove.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 20, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Microsoft claims DirectX 12 will improve Xbox One games, won't require new PC components

    Microsoft just announced DirectX 12, the latest version of the company's graphics APIs, at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. The reveal wasn't a surprise. What's surprising is that Microsoft says that existing computers, smartphones, and the existing Xbox One game console will see boosts in performance when the new tools arrive. Typically, new versions of DirectX have triggered hardware upgrade cycles, promising gorgeous new graphics for your games if you pony up cash to buy the latest chips. But with DirectX 12, four major chipmakers — Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm — announced that the new APIs would run on their existing chips. It's still possible that Microsoft could use DX12 to drive gamers to purchase Windows software, though, as the company declined to answer whether DX12 would support Windows 7, and the company may have a Windows 9 to sell by the time DX12 is released.

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  • Andrew Webster

    Mar 20, 2014

    Andrew Webster

    Meet gaming's punk rock label

    It was far from a typical promotion, but Devolver Digital isn't your typical video game publisher. This is the closest thing gaming has to a punk record label.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 20, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Could throwing fireballs with your eyes be the future of PlayStation?

    Sony's virtual reality headset already stacks up nicely against the Oculus Rift, but the company could also have a secret weapon. Last year, Sony revealed it was working on technology to let you control games with your eyes — technology that we just tried here at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. The same Sony team behind the Project Morpheus VR headset, the PlayStation Move, and the PlayStation Camera are also showing off a modified version of Infamous: Second Son where your eyes control where your character is looking.

    With a special camera and software from SensoMotoric Instruments, setup is a breeze — you simply look at two different points on the screen — and then whenever you look at anything in the game, the camera rotates to center it in your view. We actually found it quicker and more accurate to aim at things than with the analog stick itself, no mean feat, and we were quickly wreaking havoc by throwing fireballs with pinpoint precision at traffic signs, trash cans, and the occasional enemy.

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  • David Pierce

    Mar 19, 2014

    David Pierce

    Strapped into Sony's new virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus

    The Oculus Rift has been the talk of the virtual reality industry for more than a year, but Sony hasn't just been sitting idly by. This week at the Game Developers Conference, it pulled the veil back on Project Morpheus, its own virtual reality headset promising everything from incredibly immersive gaming to an entirely new way to watch movies.

    Like the Rift, Project Morpheus is a long way from actually hitting store shelves, but Sony's raised the stakes: there's about to be a very real battle for virtual reality supremacy. And Sony's showing up lights a'glowing.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Mar 19, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    Sony's VR headset is a worthy competitor for the Oculus Rift

    Yesterday, Sony suddenly became one of the most important players in virtual reality. At the 2014 Game Developers Conference, it unveiled Project Morpheus, a VR headset for the PlayStation 4. This isn't just a piece of hardware, it's Sony putting its weight behind virtual reality, supporting developers and working to build out an ecosystem for the technology. Today, we got to try out a rough version of that ecosystem, and despite obvious caveats, it's a promising start.

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  • Chris Welch

    Mar 19, 2014

    Chris Welch

    Sony's virtual reality headset won't be released this year

    Sony thrilled PlayStation gamers last night when it unveiled Project Morpheus, the company's own take on a virtual reality headset that will eventually be paired with the PS4. But if you were expecting to see it in the form of a consumer product this year, you're in for disappointment. Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Worldwide Studios, today told The Verge that the final version of Project Morpheus will not see release in 2014. At this early stage, the company isn't even discussing what that finished product will look like. "As of today, we are not talking about a final product," Yoshida said. "But what I can say, what we can say, is because we are still working on the tech, we can safely say that we will not be releasing the product this year."

    The news isn't altogether surprising; Sony has repeatedly emphasized that the device on hand at Game Developers Conference 2014 is an early prototype — the "culmination of our work over the last three years to realize our vision of VR for games, and to push the boundaries of play," said Yoshida. Similar to the approach Oculus has taken, that prototype will serve as a reference to help developers get acquainted with the VR technology. In a blog post on Sony's PlayStation Blog, Yoshida also told commenters that "we are not talking about our final product yet."

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  • Nathan Ingraham

    Mar 19, 2014

    Nathan Ingraham

    Valve's revamped Steam Controller feels less traditional than it looks

    Just a few short days after revealing its revamped Steam Controller, Valve is letting gamers and developers try it out for themselves on the GDC 2014 show floor. As Valve revealed last week, the new controller does away with the proposed touch screen and instead adds eight front-facing buttons, much as you’d see on an Xbox or PlayStation controller (the ABXY buttons mimic the size, layout, and general feel of the Xbox One controller). When asked about the touchscreen’s removal, a Valve representative told us that the company made the decision as a way to cut costs after tests revealed that users really didn’t need the flexibility that the touchscreen prototype offered.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 19, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Epic drastically drops the price of Unreal Engine game development

    Epic Games, the company that created Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and the popular Unreal Engine for developing game titles, has been rather quiet as of late. The firm's most prominent recent announcements have been around selling off that Gears of War franchise to Microsoft, and delivering a fancy new tech demo which hasn't helped the new Unreal Engine 4 achieve the wide adoption of UE3. Today, however, founder Tim Sweeney is announcing a new business model: Epic will charge just $19 a month, and 5 percent of a game developer's gross revenue, for access to the complete Unreal Engine set of tools and even its source code.

    That's a drastic reduction in price, for sure: while a subscription might wind up costing more than the previous $99 license, Epic used to ask game developers for a whopping 25 percent of the money their game made after the first $50,000. Epic founder Tim Sweeney says it's a reaction to changes in the game industry, like the rise of indie game development. "We succeed with this only if developers succeed in making great games," says Tim Sweeney, comparing it to the old shareware game development model. Sweeney says Epic will still negotiate with big game companies that wish to avoid game royalties whatsoever for a larger upfront fee, but believes the new model can enable free-to-play and even hobbyist game developers to explore the worlds that Unreal Engine can build.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Mar 19, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    World-builders, rejoice: the final Oculus Rift VR dev kit is here

    One year ago today, Oculus introduced the first version of its prototype virtual reality headset that wasn't literally held together with duct tape and glue. The $300 Oculus Rift Development Kit showed the world that inexpensive VR headgear was capable of being mass produced. Now, at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, the company is introducing development kit number two.

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  • Sam Byford

    Mar 19, 2014

    Sam Byford

    Sony reveals Project Morpheus, its VR headset for PlayStation 4

    Sony has revealed its plans for virtual reality technology on the PlayStation 4. Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Worldwide Studios, showed off a prototype headset at a Game Developers Conference 2014 event entitled Driving the Future of Innovation. "Nothing delivers a feeling of immersion better than VR," said Yoshida. "VR has been a dream of many gamers since the computer was invented. Many of us at PlayStation have dreamed of VR and what it could mean to the gaming community."

    The VR system is currently codenamed Project Morpheus, and will work with PlayStation 4. While still in prototype form, Yoshida says that Morpheus is the "culmination of our work over the last three years to realize our vision of VR for games, and to push the boundaries of play." The headset uses a 1080p LCD, offers a 90-degree field of view, and will integrate with the PlayStation Camera for tracking and PlayStation Move for motion control. It connects via HDMI and USB; while the current prototype uses a 5-meter cable, Sony would like to make it wireless. The company says the headset doesn't put weight on your nose or cheeks, and its design allows for airflow without the lenses fogging up.

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  • Aaron Souppouris

    Mar 17, 2014

    Aaron Souppouris

    Google wants to let Android and iOS gamers play together

    Google Play game services, the backend that powers online features for many Android games, is expanding significantly to iOS. In an announcement timed for the Game Developers Conference this week, Google says it's bringing turn-based and real-time multiplayer capabilities to iOS. Should developers choose to integrate the service with their games, they'll be able to enable gamers with Android and iOS devices to play against each other cross-platform.

    Play Games already supports iOS through a plug-in for the Unity game engine that supports achievements and leaderboards, and that plug-in will be updated soon adding the multiplayer element. An early version of a separate SDK for non-Unity games is also being released, but at launch it won't support multiplayer gaming. As we exclusively revealed recently, Microsoft is planning to expand Xbox Live to mobile platforms in order to facilitate multiplayer matchmaking, achievements, and friends lists. Xbox Live already powers some games on Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, but the new mobile push will focus on iOS and Android.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Mar 17, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    'Asphalt 8' for iOS is the first mobile game you can stream on Twitch

    Last week, streaming service Twitch followed through with its promised launch on Xbox One; now, it's showing up on smaller screens. Well-reviewed arcade racing game Asphalt 8: Airborne, developed by prolific mobile studio Gameloft, is the first game to use Twitch's recently announced mobile SDK. Players will be able to stream games live while recording themselves through a front-facing phone or tablet camera, as well as watch live chat and share archived streaming sessions. Twitch has long had viewing-only mobile apps, but it's recently been expanding the scope of its recording service: both Sony and Microsoft's new consoles have built-in streaming support, and mobile devices are apparently the next focus.

    Unlike on desktop computers or consoles, Twitch support must be built into individual games, so it's up to developers to decide whether to implement it. Asphalt 8 is so diligently cross-platform that it's even available on BlackBerry 10, but Gameloft is only launching Twitch in the iOS version, with no word on Android or Windows Phone support. If you're playing on an iPhone or iPad, you'll be able to get it as part of a larger game update later this week. Gameloft will be showing off mobile streaming before that, though — it's hosting a 24-hour live stream starting later today, coinciding with the start of this week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

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