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All You Need To Know About This Year's VR-Heavy Game Developers Conference

The GDC was held in San Francisco this week, and virtual reality dominated every conversation.

All You Need To Know About This Year's VR-Heavy Game Developers Conference
[Photo: Flickr user Ms. SmittyB]

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this week, thousands gathered to discuss the art and tech of creating video games. But the first two days were dubbed VRDC, a sure sign that virtual reality had grown into an important component of gaming's future. With everything that was announced this week, it is not difficult to see why.

Sony revealed that PlayStation VR would be released in October, at $399. Preorders will start Tuesday 3/22. The camera and PlayStation Move controllers would need to be bought separately, for those who don't already own them—a $499 bundle adds them to the headset. The final design and specs of PSVR were also shown, though those did not differ much from previous prototypes.

All in, PlayStation 4 owners will need to spend about $500—which is pretty competitive with Oculus Rift's $599 price point (without the Touch motion controls coming later this year) and HTC Vive's $799 price tag, though both require a ~$1000 PC as well. A handful of games were shown, like Rez Infinite (a psychedelic shooter), Xing: The Land Beyond (an exploration adventure game) and Tumble (a physics-based puzzle game), with more likely to debut in June at the annual E3 video game convention.

Sony wasn't the only one to debut hardware. Computer chip maker AMD announced the Sulon Q, a standalone virtual reality headset powered by the company's hardware. It will support Augmented Reality as well, where graphics are overlaid on top of the real world and react to your movement. It will be untethered to a PC, which will likely make it more expensive, but far more mobile. AMD has said the Sulon will be released in the Spring.

Other hardware announced was Samsung's Entrim 4D, prototype headphones that work with the already released Gear VR, though without the Samsung phone requirement. And in a bit of science fiction made real, sends electrical pulses through the ears to influence how your body moves, making you feel virtual reality.

Razer also announced that its Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) headset is now updated to version 1.4, with improved lenses. Popular game engines CryTek and Unreal are both supporting OSVR going forward, meaning an increased likelihood that games will support that headset.

Beyond the actual headsets, some control hardware was announced. Nod Labs revealed its own motion controllers and camera to be used with existing mobile VR tech like Gear VR and Google Cardboard, codenamed Project Goa, with a Q4 of 2016 release. And Manus announced its motion control gloves for VR would have a development kit released in Q3 of 2016 for $250.

But virtual reality hardware will only succeed with good software to run on it. Oculus revealed a list of the 30 games that would be available when the Rift launches in two weeks. It is a mix of titles exclusive to the Rift (like cartoon platformer Lucky's Tale), upgrades of GearVR games (such as haunted house game Dead Secret), and conversions of existing PC games (driving game Project CARS). There are smaller experiences for casual users (puzzle game DarkNET) and longer, more in-depth games (action roleplaying game Chronos). Prices range from $5 to $60, seemingly depending on the length and complexity of the game. The company has said there will be over 100 games by the end of year.

Another sign of the fledgling tech's growth are the game announcements from traditional game publisher. Ubisoft announced an Assassin's Creed VR game tied to the upcoming Michael Fassbender film, which is an adaptation of the game franchise. There also showed off Eagle Flight and Werewolves Within, two multiplayer games for virtual reality.

HTC's Vive had two big software announcements, with HTC partner Valve demoing The Lab, a collection of smaller VR experiences, with each focusing on particular aspects of using VR. In one such demo, you use a slingshot to fire talking spherical robots at stacks of boxes. Another puts you on a hilltop as an archer, vanquishing the forces attacking your castle.

But the biggest VR game reveal was Trials on Tatooine, a short experience where you play as Luke Skywalker, defending the Millennium Falcon as it prepares for take off. Players use the Vive's motion controls as a lightsaber, handily teleporting fans to the Star Wars universe. No other single demo may as crucial in convincing consumers about the power of virtual reality.

All in all, the announcements at GDC emphasize that VR as an entertainment medium is here. The two leading headsets will be out in a few weeks, with more hardware coming later this year. And a variety of games and other software will come with it. It won't be long until many are exploring virtual worlds, watching Netflix in a virtual theater, or chatting with avatars of friends in imaginary places.

Related: Virtual Reality's First Person Shooter Problem

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