The Best of GDC 2022: Games, Gadgets & Web3

Finally, after several years of hosting virtual events due to the COVID pandemic, the Game Developers Conference (GDC) held its annual event in San Francisco, in person. And gmw3 was there to scout out all the latest and greatest virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and Web3 content and hardware being demonstrated for the first time.

GDC 2022 - Unity
GDC 2022 – Unity. Image credit: gmw3

While great to see one of the biggest events in the industry calendar back on, it was clearly noticeable that GDC 2022 wasn’t going to be able to match pre-pandemic levels just yet. The main South Hall was nowhere near full capacity and crowds had plenty of space to walk around, making for a far more relaxed event.

Even so, there was plenty to keep GDC attendees occupied during the course of the week-long event, with the first couple of days dedicated to developer talks covering all the latest topics; from core sessions like game engines, monetization and diversity to more VR centric talks on OpenXR or using live VR actors in projects.

But that was just the warm-up to the main event, the sprawling expo held inside San Francisco’s Moscone Centre. And it’s here (mostly) that gmw3 found new VR videogames to keep an eye out for, AR hardware that provided some exciting gameplay opportunities and a rise in Web3 companies showcasing their latest Blockchain titles.

GDC 2022 - Altair Breaker

VR, AR & Beyond

So let’s get straight into the fun stuff, what VR videogames were on show worth a mention? Firstly, Japanese developer Thirdverse Inc. was there showcasing its follow-up to Sword of Gargantua with Altair Breaker. This is another sword fighting experience from the team but with more of an emphasis on arcade-style battles rather than precision sword fighting simulations. That’s not to say features such as parrying with a shield for a tactical return attack aren’t there, just this time around you’ve got more moves to play with. Keep an eye out as gmw3 will be doing a deeper dive later in the week.

Next up is Bootstrap Island by Maru VR. This is a roguelite survival experience placing you on a desert island, back in an era of flintlock pistols and dodgy rum. The demo on the show floor provided some basic mechanics, gathering wood to start a fire, smashing open a locked chest to find a pistol inside then quickly learning how to load and use said weapon as night fell. Clearly an early demo, one aspect that was very clearly important to Maru VR was visual fidelity. Bootstrap Island was gorgeous, with golden sandy beaches, crabs scuttling around and the wreck of a ship off in the far distance setting the scene. Bootstrap Island will only be coming to PC VR by the looks of it.

For those that love a bit of VR horror, there was Do Not Open for PlayStation VR. Designed to be an old school survival horror, you play an infamous zoologist trapped within a warped version of his own house. For demonstration purposes Do Not Open ran on an Oculus Rift S but the final version won’t support PC VR. The demo section took place around the kitchen, challenging players to solve a knife puzzle within a set time limit, failing to do so saw a giant creature appear to end the session. Had a similar feel to Intruders: Hide and Seek, so definitely worth a watch.

GDC 2022 - Tilt Five
GDC 2022 – Tilt Five. Image credit: gmw3

There were several other VR titles but one of the show highlights came from the AR corner. Having announced a content partnership with Asmodee Digital at the beginning of the week, Tilt Five had its AR glasses on hand, providing one of the best hardware demos on the show floor. With the lightweight glasses on, Tilt Five presented three games to test, a third-person fantasy adventure where I held the slimline controller horizontal – just like the Wii remote – to hack through several enemies. Held in a vertical pointer fashion, a shooting gallery where you had to hit green blocks offered a fun distraction whilst the third title offered a platforming experience where I had to precisely build my own platforms.

All simple yet effective games, what really impressed me with Tilt Five was the clarity and depth of the visuals. Graphics on AR glasses can tend to be a bit washed out, but because the system requires looking at a specialised mat, that effect was greatly reduced. If you love the idea of AR, then Tilt Five could well provide a breakthrough gaming experience.

Sticking on the hardware side of things, French company Actronika was at GDC to give guests a taste of its haptic vest, the Skinetic. Currently running a Kickstarter campaign, Actronika demoed Skinetic with a range of software; from its own simulation environment that shot bullets at me, saw rain clouds shower me in water, and even dropped a nuke, the haptics work exceptionally well. A demo built inside a Half-Life: Alyx mod gave some on-the-fly haptic feedback and they’d even got the vest rigged up to the movie Avatar.

GDC 2022 - Skinetic
GDC 2022 – Skinetic. Image credit: gmw3

The highlight of the Skinetic demo, for me, was the laser, getting shot whilst simulating the effect that the beam was going right through me thanks to the front and back haptics. This kind of accessory isn’t easy to pull off but Actronika is going in the right direction.

The wonderful world of Web3

There was no doubt that Web3 and Blockchain gaming were going to be a part of GDC 2022. As mentioned, the previous GDC physical event was that long ago that this area of the videogame industry simply didn’t exist. Whatever your feelings towards blockchain gaming – a very divisive subject that even GDC’s own State of the Game Industry Survey shows most developers don’t have a love for – the sector is here and it’s here to stay by the growing number of booths.

Now, this is a best of GDC roundup and to be honest, none of the blockchain stands had a demo to play, unfortunately. Mainly because most were already available to download and start playing on your mobile or PC. Some like Seascape, for example, showcased their own titles as well as helped developers look towards this industry as a way to increase revenue.

And that was the overriding reason most were at GDC, education. Web3 gaming is so new that it can be a bewildering minefield that does offer genuine opportunity – not just scams.

Behind closed doors…

GDC isn’t purely about what’s on the show floor as any veteran will tell you, some of the most interesting demos and info lay behind closed doors. While gmw3 can’t talk about a couple of the things it was privy to during the event (at the moment), you’ve probably already heard about the one giant reveal that the press wasn’t allowed to see, the PlayStation VR2.

The below tweet from StrayBombay’s Chet Faliszek confirmed Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) and the headset was there, with select developers getting a chance to see the device – although there was no indication it was in its final form. To know that it was so close yet so far away…

And that’s it for this roundup. Keep an eye on gmw3 later in the week for several previews from GDC 2022.