Best of GDC 2017
Whether you're into indie games or just love awesome hardware, the annual Game Developers Conference is a chance to see a bunch of really cool stuff that's off the beaten path. GDC 2017 was no exception, filling San Francisco's Moscone Center with arresting indie titles, engrossing VR experiences and charmingly quirky games that could be controlled by books, kinetic sand and even cardboard boxes.
Independent developers of all kinds showed big support for the new Nintendo Switch, while a variety of hardware companies found ways to make virtual reality more social, immersive and flat-out fun. After meeting with developers both big and small for a week, we chose these as our favorite gadgets and games of GDC 2017.
Best of Show: Tobii eye tracking for VR
Tobii eye tracking is a neat bonus feature for regular PC gaming, but in VR, it’s an absolute game changer. Thanks to Tobii’s tech, you can aim your shots and sift through a pile of virtual objects without even moving your head — the natural movement of your eyes takes care of all that.
But what’s even more significant is the way Tobii eye tracking can change the way you interact with your friends in VR, because it allows your virtual avatars to blink, wink and express themselves in a way that simply wasn’t possible until now. Tobii eye tracking is slated to arrive on mainstream VR headsets in the near future, and it can’t come soon enough.
Best Innovation: VReal
Watching other people enjoy virtual reality is rarely as fun as doing it yourself, but VReal has the potential to change that. This tool allows streamers to completely engross their audiences into their VR broadcasts. For example, you can hang out in the operating room while your favorite streamer plays some Surgeon Simulator. Even if you're watching from Twitch or YouTube on a regular monitor, you'll be able to enjoy immersive camera angles set up by the broadcaster instead of having to view a static headset feed.
VReal already allows for immersive live VR productions such as Hyper RPG's "ER VR," and we can't wait to see what kinds of social experiences streamers come up with when the free app rolls out widely later this year.
MORE: Hands-On with VReal
Best VR Tech: Rock Band VR
Harmonix's Rock Band VR looks like a pretty ambitious game in general, re-envisioning a multiplayer classic as an immersive single-player campaign. However, what’s really impressive about Rock Band VR, which will launch later in March exclusively for Oculus Rift, is that it lets you take a physical peripheral into the game world with you.
When you connect the Oculus Touch controller to almost any Rock Band guitar, the controller will re-create the peripheral in-game, which means you’ll get to see every button press, rhythmic strum and vertical shred. By itself, Rock Band is a fun addition; in the grand scheme of things, we wonder what else we might be able to take into VR with us.
Best VR Game: Sprint Vector
Survios' Sprint Vector seems to do the impossible: allow you to blaze through a wild VR obstacle course at insanely high speeds without feeling a hint of motion sickness. This first-person platformer (slated for the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift later this year) utilizes a unique motion system that lets you run hundreds of miles per hour, climb up walls and even soar like Superman by using intuitive hand gestures.
With physically demanding gameplay and support for head-to-head races, Sprint Vector is both a great workout and a polished competitive game that will have you hooked on beating your friends' best times.
Best Indie Game: Songbringer
If The Legend of Zelda and Proteus had a baby, it would look a lot like Songbringer. You play as a space adventurer who crash-lands on a harsh world that you must explore and survive. Here’s the twist: Everything about the game is procedurally generated, from the dungeons to the upgrades, to the music.
No two trips through the world of Songbringer will be alike, but no matter what, you can expect to empower your character, tackle fierce bosses and solve devious puzzles. A lush, pixelated art style makes the whole thing feel pleasantly old-school, too. We look forward to playing more of Wizard Fu's one-of-a-kind adventure when it comes to PC, PS4 and Xbox One this summer.
Best Overall Game: Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight is the retro gift that keeps on giving. Specter of Torment is a new stand-alone chapter of the beloved indie platformer, and it puts the grim Specter Knight in the spotlight. Like the original Shovel Knight, Specter of Torment is all about 8-bit charm and precision, but it adds a modern focus on smart storytelling and upgradable powers.
There’s no single thing that makes Specter of Torment such a fun game; it’s simply a well-designed, challenging, full-length adventure with a lot of heart. Available now for the Nintendo Switch (with more platforms to follow), it works equally well in marathon sessions at home or short bursts on the go.