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GDC 2011: What to expect

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In terms of big splashes, the Game Developer Conference generally pales in comparison to E3. But even though it might lack a circus
atmosphere and onslaught of new product announcements, that doesn't mean
there's a lack of news.

This will be the 25th time industry developers and executives have gathered to network, seek inspiration and learn more about the
industry of making games. Started in a developer's living room in 1988 with
roughly 25 people attending, this year's show is expected to welcome more than
18,000 attendees to the Moscone Center in San
Francisco when it kicks off on Feb. 28.

Here are a few of the topics you're likely to see make the headlines:

Nintendo's big surprise

There's no guarantee, per se, that Nintendo will make any
major announcement at this year's GDC, but if history is any indicator, we
could hear something quite interesting from the company when global president
Satoru Iwata delivers the show's keynote address.

A former developer himself, Iwata has given three previous
keynotes at the show — and has announced new products each time. (In 2005, it
was the Wii. And in 2006 and 2009 he revealed new Legend of Zelda titles.) That
has everyone wondering what he'll have to say this year.

The bet is some last minute surprise for the 3DS; whether
that's a new feature, big title (Mario 3DS?) or new partner (the tease of being
able to watch movies on the device, made at last year's E3, hasn't been
followed up on yet) is anybody's guess. But if Nintendo has taught us anything
this generation, it's that it's impossible to predict.

Wii 2? Who knows?


More on Sony's Next Generation Portable

While Sony has already pulled the wraps off its upcoming Next
Generation Portable
device, there are still plenty of unanswered questions
about the follow-up to the PSP. The company last week announced plans to talk
about the device publicly at GDC for the first time since its unveiling.

David Coombes, platform research manager at SCEA, will
discuss the system's "broad range of input and connectivity options and
how these create exciting new opportunities for game designers." Brochure-speak
translation: we might mention some new nuggets of info.

The next big game no one has ever heard of

If you've got an Xbox 360, you're probably familiar with
2010 breakout hit Limbo, and the million-selling Minecraft is one of the
fastest growing games for the PC these days. But just a year ago, no one had
heard of either of them.

Independent games that make a big splash at GDC have a way
of becoming familiar titles to gamers -- especially with the advent of Xbox
Live and PlayStation Network. Other games that have started their rise to fame
at GDC include award-winning hits like Braid, World of Goo, Castle Crashers,
Darwinia and Alien Hominid. Chances are we'll see the next indie smash at the

The future of mobile/social gaming

Titles for Facebook and the iPhone might not get as much
respect among game developers as a Halo or Call of Duty, but no one dares
ignore them.

The two biggest names in those industries will lead panels
at GDC, and everyone's curious what topics will be discussed. Will Zynga,
makers of Farmville, talk about their next big games? And will Rovio, the team
behind Angry Birds, finally unveil a full sequel?

Meanwhile, Google plans to present at the show as well,
fueling speculation that the company might finally be ready to announce its
long-in-gestation social network forum, which is expected to have a heavy
emphasis on games.

Untold stories of beloved games

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show,
organizers of this year's Game Developer Conference have gathered the people
behind some of the industry's best-known titles to share how these games came
about and some of the untold stories behind their development.

Among the highlights: Toru Iwatani will discuss how he created
Pac-Man, arguably the best-known video game ever. John Romero and Tom Hall, who
helped found id Software, will show never-before-seen material from the
original Doom. Peter Molyneux will detail the history of Populus, and PopCap's
Jason Kapalka will tell how Bejeweled came to be.

Think of these as analogous to the director's commentary on
a DVD. Sometimes, it can be years before you learn the most interesting thing
about a pop culture icon.


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