Recently we sat down as a team to look back on our experiences at GDC 2016. Our immersive G Prime booth was a big hit at the conference, though being non-immersive, our booth stood in stark contrast to the almost inescapable promotion of VR (make sure to check out our micro-documentary, “People Wearing Headsets“!)

For us as developers the conference represents a kind of bookend to the year, and we thought now might be a good time to reflect.

We’ve embedded a player so you can have a listen. Otherwise there is a transcript below. Enjoy!

In this talk: Chris Skaggs, Gavin Nichols, Erin Kays, John McGlothlan and John Bergquist




Chris Skaggs: We wanted to talk about how GDC went. Gavin, I wanted to get kind of just your top level, three big takeaways from GDC?

Gavin Nichols:: Everyone is obsessed with VR. It is a cool experience but I never really found anything in VR that was like “This critically change the gameplay in such a way that the game could not exist without it.”

Chris: Okay Lennie, you’re up.

John M (Lennie):: I think my biggest takeaway was also VR. The industry loves VR because they think it’s going to be the answer to the woes of not having something new. They’re trying to target a new audience.
I don’t think that targeting is going to work very well because sooner or later, people are going to believe it’s just really advanced 3D.

Chris: Okay. Erin, what about you?

Erin Kays: I spent time exploring different games that were displayed and the different technologies. I did experience a little bit of VR but not a whole lot.

I was so much more excited about the alternative control section and the indie section.

I think it felt so much more personable where it was the developers who are presenting their projects versus the marketing people. It was the opposite of what a lot of the VR side oriented bigger companies had.

It felt so much more personable when a couple of people from a small team showing projects they had worked on.
I enjoyed being a part of that.

Chris: JB, what about you?

John Bergquist (JB): I enjoyed the VR. It was probably my first experience with VR. I played three games. I went to the Google booth and looked at their Cardboard which I just  bought yesterday so that should be coming next week.
The one game I did play was the bird game called Fugl from Norway. (
It was really cool. I got a little sick when I flew down to the canyons but I loved it.
I said this in the Flurry Friday (link) and some of the updates. As I look at VR, if it’s going to separate people, isolate people, – then it is bad. If it’s going to connect people – good.
I’ve been thinking about how you could connect folks using VR. I did see one booth using it to help people, anyone with Asperger or other conditions where they had a hard time reading people’s emotions.
From seeing that at CES and other places to what it is now – it has made huge leaps. They had a clay model that you could change. The VR even picked up the faintest emotions.

Chris: Right on. One of the biggest booths and by looks and the most expensive was the Clash of Kings. You’re like, “What the heck is going on here?”

John B: It was funny.
Chris: It was as huge for a mobile game. That was so strange and I can’t figure what the point was.
John B: It was giant. It took up almost as much real estate as the Oculus Rift booth.
We’re talking millions of dollars for this little iOS game and all it was was a set with actors playing a princess and some knights.

Chris: Yeah, it was strange.

John B: It was really kind of goofy.

Chris: It makes me think “Did they make their money on that?” GDC is not a consumer show.
I noticed around VR, I heard a lot of people complaining about the conference in general because they felt that the experts were a lot less accessible.
We made this joke on the video about all these people standing in line to put a sweaty pair of goggles on. So you have just a bunch of lines and you can’t even see what they’re doing.

John B: I went over to the Oculus Rift building (a two-storey building inside the convention center). Gavin and I went over there several times during the show.
Every time there was a long line, there’s no way we’re going to stay in the line. I don’t even know who’s behind the black curtain or whatever.

Chris: The other thing is that for all the air time VR had, we kind of accidentally did the exact opposite.

John B: Yeah, we went all immersive at our booth.

Chris: We took our virtual space and made it into a real space which was a big hit. And then we had the RealSense table which was a tactile game. You had to touch the thing which people really appreciated.

Erin: Even if you didn’t actually interact, you could still see the interaction.

John B: Right. We were a part of it, not a person with the black goggles isolated from every other participant.
Chris: “What’s going on here?”

John B: With the VR booths, sometimes there’s a screen to the side showing what the person wearing the goggles is looking at but they give no reference really to what the person is experiencing.

Chris: We posed a question about VR on the Redwall Facebook page. The response was interesting.

I think with VR, at least It seems to me that with the cost of the headsets being so huge, who participating? When it’s already too expensive for most developers to get involved with, who are they going to sell the product to?

John M (Lennie): I know. There’s a company right now, RocketJump, and they’re making a game called “Hover Junkers” and it’s going to be 100% designed for VR.
While the game is much more beautiful and the idea is great, it boils to a hover ship which is a square that can move around and you can shoot people which is a cool idea. But VR doesn’t bring anything that is specifically different than a game where I had a mouse and keyboard.
We recently got our first development rig that can run VR.
And it is what is required for every single person that ever wants to use a VR headset. It costs 1200-1500 dollar machine. And then you have to spend an additional 400-800 dollars for VR headset and then pay another 60 bucks to play a single game.
You’re looking at $2,000 plus the price of the game, for something that most people, either get sick from the movement or blur. Some of the headsets were terrible for me because of my glasses. They’re uncomfortable, and they’re never going to be comfortable.

John B: And the technology is going to be completely new in just a few months. You’ll invest $2,000 and potentially something entirely new and improved will come out in a short period of time.

Chris: Just a quick vote from a consumer perspective (from the sake of argument take the market as it is) – is VR is something you’re excited about.

John B: Like today or –

Chris: Today. Erin is middle which is better than I can do.

John M (Lennie): For me, I’m not really excited for VR but I am excited for Hololens.

Chris: What’s the difference?

John M (Lennie): With VR you’re going to be in a box and get to experience the world and with Hololens you are wearing a visor and the world is around you at all times. It’s the idea of taking augmented reality and making it your perfect experience.
Because it’s not looking through a phone or looking through a screen or whatever, it’s – “I get to put it on and walk around.” And it’s wireless. It’s a full computer.
Yes, it’s going to be more than a VR headset but it’s the whole thing on your head which means you are not tied to this five or eight foot box that you can’t move from. You’re free to move about.

Chris: We got very tepid response for VR as a consumer.
What about as a developer? GDC is the developer’s conference. I would I am interested.”

Chris: I think that there are experiences that would be fun from a developer’s perspective but it’s like a kid playing with toy stuff. I don’t see it from a business perspective – it’s in the toilet. For me in geek perspective – it could be fun.

John M (Lennie): I think a lot of people are geeking out on it and not really thinking, “Well no, I’m not going to spend $2,000 to use it.”
And so I think that’s why it shows so well on the floor and when you go to all these conferences. It’s the perfect thing to geek out on that once you get home you’re like, “No, I’m not going to spend $2,000 to play.”

Gavin: As a developer the VR is really, really cool in the first 5-10 minutes. But it doesn’t add anything critical.

John B: Go back to the games you’re pointing out earlier.

Gavin: I don’t need VR playing these games. For me, I haven’t come up with anything personally that I need VR in order to make a game work better.

Chris: If you had some really cool VR experience with whatever – let’s say Redwall.
Let’s say you had a cool VR walkthrough of Redwall at GDC or PAX or something like that – would that make you more likely to buy the console game? Like as a marketing piece?

John B: This is something I would go to a museum to see.
These would make theme parks amazing.

Chris: That’s a good point. And so maybe we’re imagining VR in your living room and maybe it will never be there.

John B: Part of that really scares me as far as the isolation. There’s that film called – was it “The Valley”?

Chris: The Uncanny Valley. (link)

John B: Uncanny Valley. Yeah. It was a short film about VR. It just freaked me out.

Chris: That’s a heavy movie.

John B: The implications of isolation but then also manipulation of people who were addicted to VR was scary.

Chris: Close the chapter on VR. What else stood out to you about GDC? Any other big takeaways that you want to kind of dive into?

John M (Lennie): I have to say the independent games were really awesome this year.

Chris: Totally agree.
John: There was a lot more diversity both in game types, developers, and where they came from

Chris: All over the world.

John M (Lennie): There is this really cool iPad game called Sneaky Ninjas.
You had to get both of them across the screen avoiding obstacles. It was only two-finger control.
It was really cool because it was part of the
gameplay experience. Erin was talking about Crank Tank and their alternative controls. Dude, I loved game.

Erin: That was a great game.

John M (Lennie): They had two-and-a-half foot towers. On each side was a big round cylinders that you would move and each one would represented the tank. You had to move around and then hit a button on top to shoot.
It was great fun. The first time I played it, I totally dominated. It was great.

Chris: I would agree, indie games were like really much better.

John M (Lennie): And then another one, it was in the independent game festival
– I don’t know what it was called
– but you’re a little gorilla and moved through and broke down walls and then running into people.
There was just three levels. Dude, it was so much fun.

Chris: Right on.

John M (Lennie): I sat down and probably played that for about an hour.

Chris: You (Erin)? Anything?

Erin: I really liked what was the game that had the really weird control – The Sewing Machine.

Chris: The Sewing Machine game, right.

Erin: A game where they had a sewing machine as the controller (Threadsteading) and it’s played on the map that was on a piece of cloth that they had printed out. It was really cool, really fun idea.
I have never imagined seeing a sewing machine used as a controller for a game. It was really cool and it was something that you didn’t need to have a sewing machine to use but it’s really cool how they got it to work.
I kind of mentioned it before but I was really impressed with what people had come up with to show.
And then some other games cool puzzle games that are is now officially my parent’s favorite – it’s called
. It’s basically a puzzle game where you just smoosh these color blobs together and partly match them in an area.
I showed it to my mom. It’s like “Mom, I think this is your new addicted game.” About a week later and she’s like “Erin, I’m in trouble. I finished it.”

Chris: Now what do I do?

Erin: That was really fun and to bring it back and actually share it with family. But then there are a couple of other ones that were also really cool to play through.

Chris: Too cool.

Erin: Also seeing how people reacted to our game was cool.
I really enjoyed being able to talk with people about it, talk people through it, figure out what they like or what they didn’t like. It was hard to just let them play it without jumping in a telling them what to do.

Chris: Yeah, because you won’t be there.

Erin: It was a lot of fun.

Chris: What about you, JB?

John B: One thing that just stood was the difference between the large huge studios as opposed to the indie area. Large companies tend to have flashy loud booths.
After experiencing that side of the conference and then back to the north hall which was the independent games, it was night and day. It was really enjoyable walking around, playing the indie games, talking to developers/students. So that was one thing.
The other cool part was looking at unity’s booth which is this giant now with huge big screens. The first time I went to GDC, I think was 2008-2009, they were just a startup – barely a startup. Just to see them progress now into this huge industry giant of change was really cool.

Chris: That’s a big deal. What about you, Gavin?

Gavin: Talking with people about G Prime. It’s really interesting to kind of get reinforced that G Prime really is a thinking game. The people who really enjoyed the game were the ones that took the time to really slow down and think about it.
It was also really interesting because the people who didn’t usually play video games and didn’t have any confidence that they would do well, actually did it better because they slowed down and tried to understand what was happening before they did anything.
Whereas, people who are really confident in their abilities to play video games didn’t do as well because they just went right at it and started launching rockets. That was actually the less effective way to go about it.
It was interesting because it’s a very complicated technical game but newbies do better at it than veterans.

Chris: That is interesting.

Erin: One of the things I’ve seen as a consistent theme in most games is to just have you dive right in and have you just go at it and that’s not what G Prime is about.
G Prime is “sit back, wait, be patient”. So the people who are newbies, they come in and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do.” Then if they actually do take the time because they’re trying to figure out what to do first.

Chris: Maybe it’s a humble game in that regard.

Erin: Yeah. And then people who aren’t like that who have played games, they’re feeling confident about trying any game they want. They will go ahead and play it in front of people.
They’ll dive right in without trying to think through the game first, without taking that time and they can get a lower score because of it.
They do better when they figure out how the game works, and they try a level a second time.

Chris: Right on. I like that.
One of my big observations and huge takeaways really had nothing to do with the conference. They had to do with our team experience there.
In the past, it’s always been such a hurry. You’re in the hotel room, you’re unpacking and it’s a rush. You’re meeting up maybe for a taco or somewhere later.
But the house we rented gave us the ability to retreat every day after the conference and kind of decompress, unwind and talk about stuff. That was a radically better experience for me, just to be able to sleep and not be in a rush.
And that was from a culture perspective what I’ve wanted to do for a long long time and it felt really good.
That was actually my biggest takeaway. My head was way more in that experience than it was in the games. I found that really cool.

Erin: I second that. I know I’ve told you this before but compared to last year, where I had my own hotel room, because I’m not going to be in the room with you guys, no offense, but not going to.
In that situation I was like “Well, what do I do now? I don’t have anyone to talk to. I don’t have anything to work on.”

Chris: It’s lonely.

Erin: It’s seven o’clock, “What do I do the rest of the day?” And I was too exhausted to go out.
I’m so overwhelmed that everything was new and just dead tired.
I think that was the nice thing about this year. I was able to come back to an apartment where I could retreat to my room but there were also people I could just relax and talk with.
It was really nice having that. It was lonely last year and this year it was not.

Chris: That was cool.

John B: One thing I will do next time is bring Sam (our film guy).

Chris: Anyways, that’s what we want to say on GDC 2016. It was fantastic. I can’t wait to do it again. John is right now making some plans for CGDC 2016 (The Christian Game Developers Conference in Portland this July and PAX Prime in Seattle this fall.
To that. We’ll see you next time. Hopefully at GDC 2017

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