GDC 2018 Preview: Ataribox, Magic Leap and More

You don't have to wait until E3 to hear about some of the coolest games of the year.

The annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the best gaming show that you might not be following yet, attracting developers of all sizes to show off experiences that are decidedly quirkier than what you'd see at a traditional expo. It's indie game heaven, and it's one of the only places where you'll find games that you control with a bookshelf or cardboard box.

GDC 2018 runs from Mar. 19 to 23 at San Francisco's Moscone Center, and we'll be on the ground to cover it all. Until then, here's what to expect from gaming's biggest developer event.

The Return of… Atari?

Atari will be taking to GDC to show off its Ataribox, a mysterious hybrid console that aims to play both classic Atari games and newer titles. Is it the next SNES Classic, or just another piece of vaporware? We'll know when we get our hands on it.

Indies, Indies, and More Indies

Since GDC welcomes creators of all shapes and sizes, its an absolute goldmine of indie games. Both Nintendo and Microsoft are hosting indie game showcases, so expect to hear about a bunch of smaller-scale titles headed to your Switch, Xbox One and PC. That's not to mention the trove of great indies scattered throughout the show floor from mobile, console and PC creators of all sizes.

VR and AR Awesomeness: Including Magic Leap

Virtual reality always has a strong presence at GDC, and we expect this year to be no different. Oculus will be on the show floor to show off new games and experiences, and there will be no shortage of cool new immersive games on display for Rift, Vive and Microsoft Mixed Reality.

But perhaps augmented reality (AR) is the bigger conversation here. According to SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen, lots of developers are still looking to capitalize on the success of 2016's Pokemon Go on bout iOS and Android platforms.

"The success of Niantic’s Pokémon GO has opened the floodgates in terms of creative firms looking to leverage the ARKit (Apple) and ARCore (Alphabet)," said van Dreunen.

Moreover, Magic Leap is hosting a special session that will hopefully shed more light on the company's mysterious (but seemingly compelling) AR platform. The much-anticipated headset has a sleeker design than that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and promises to deliver stunning AR images that put all kinds of cool experiences right in our living room.

"People are definitely excited about AR being the thing in the long term," said Simon Carless, Executive Vice President of GDC. "Maybe in 10 years time we won't be using our phones -- we'll be manipulating things in AR. There's a lot of opportunity for games to be a big part of that."

Behind the Biggest Games

GDC is an excellent opportunity to learn more about our favorite AAA games. Last year, we got an illuminating behind-the-scenes look at how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was made, and this year will be host to a similar event for 2017 smash hit Nier: Automata.

New, Weird Ways to Play

One of the absolute highlights of the show is Alt.Ctrl.GDC, a special section of the floor dedicated to games that rethink the concept of the controller.

At last year's event, we played games that were controlled with bookshelves, cardboard boxes, lyres and even piles of sand, so we can't wait to see what kinds of off-kilter experiences developers come up with for this year's GDC.

Where (and What) to Watch

GDC isn't as widely broadcasted as, say, E3, but there are a handful of events from the show that you can enjoy from home. The big ones are the Independent Games Festival Awards and Game Developers Choice Awards, which celebrate the best games and creators at the show. You can catch both shows on Wednesday, Mar. 21 on the official GDC Twitch channel starting at 6:30pm PT.

Nintendo will be livestreaming its Spring showcase of indie games coming to Switch on Tuesday, Mar. 20 at 9am PT, which you can catch right here.

While GDC's plethora of speaking sessions aren't livestreamed, you'll start to see them pop up on the GDC YouTube channel in the weeks following the show.

Credit: GDC


Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.