We climbed Mount Everest, walked a tightrope between the twin towers and fought Stormtroopers on Tatooine — all without leaving the Moscone Center in San Francisco. This year's Game Developers Conference (GDC) put a special emphasis on virtual reality, with developers showing off their very best immersive experiences for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.
This year's GDC was more than just a VR fest, however. With a slew of inventive indie games, a handful of fun AAA experiences and some exciting new PC hardware, there was something for every type of gamer. Here's the very best of GDC 2016.
Best of Show: PlayStation VR
Even with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive about to land in gamers' hands, it was PlayStation VR that had the biggest presence at GDC. Sony's VR headset made big waves with its $399 price, which, despite some missing accessories, is still far more affordable than the $599 Rift or $799 Vive. PlayStation VR titles such as Rigs, Rez Infinite and Golem prove that the PS4 is more than capable of providing memorable virtual-reality experiences, and the headset's theater mode adds a new layer of immersion to your regular games and movies.
The Rift, Vive and PlayStation VR are all special in their own way, but with an attainable price and a PS4 installation base of 36 million gamers, Sony's offering just might be this year's winner when it comes to bringing VR to the mainstream. - Mike Andronico
Best Innovation: Sulon Q
Whether it's a high-end cellphone, a top-notch game console or an expensive PC, it seems that every VR headset requires some kind of powerful system to power it. Enter the Sulon Q, which is a completely stand-alone solution. The Sulon Q is a VR headset that requires no external content source, running ambitious programs on a device only a little bit larger than the more familiar wearable peripherals. Stand-alone functionality is not the gadget's only innovation; it will also introduce ambitious digitizing technology that can turn almost any real-world location into a realistic VR environment. There's no price or release date for the device yet, but it probably won't come cheap. - Marshall Honorof
Best VR Hardware: Vortx
Virtual reality can warp us to some strikingly believable digital worlds, but we're often limited to seeing the environments without really feeling them. Whirlwind VR's Vortx device has the power to change all of that. This cylindrical VR accessory can control the air around you, allowing you to feel a burst of heat when a dragon breathes fire at you, or experience an actual gust of wind in the middle of a virtual storm. Vortx launches this summer as a $299 developer kit, and has the potential to make virtual-reality games and movies feel not so virtual anymore. - Mike Andronico
Best VR Game: Raw Data (HTC Vive)
When you think about the future of VR, you may imagine things like creative multiplayer, gameplay that mimics real-world actions and concepts that simply wouldn't be as much fun with traditional controllers. Raw Data is one of the first games to check all of those boxes. It casts two players as cybernetic heroes tasked with fending off wave after wave of malicious robots and drones. At their disposal, they'll have a variety of futuristic weapons, from beam swords to hybrid shotgun/grenade launchers to rapid-fire bows. Each weapon requires a different, realistic motion to activate, making Raw Data one of the most immersive games we've tried. - Marshall Honorof
Best Indie Game: Elsinore (PC)
O horrible, horrible, most horrible! Tragedy has come to Castle Elsinore, and there's only one hero who can prevent it. No, it's not the wishy-washy Prince Hamlet, but rather his beloved Ophelia. In this point-and-click adventure version of Shakespeare's beloved play, Ophelia finds herself stuck in a time loop. This gives her the opportunity to prevent her brother's death, her betrothed's obsession and her own madness, but fixing the rotten state of Denmark is not as easy as it sounds. Each time Ophelia uses her foreknowledge, she tangles the time stream even further. Combining gorgeous storybook graphics with clever temporal mechanics and inspired dialogue, Elsinore is sure to delight both adventure fans and drama aficionados. - Marshall Honorof