Plugged In

Virtual reality, indie gaming to dominate Game Developer’s Conference 2014

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(Credit: GDC)

Middleware, post-mortems on game design, and discussions on ways to improve monetization in free-to-play titles generally aren't the sorts of things that rev up players. And, on paper, the annual Game Developer's Conference might seem a little too 'inside baseball' for the average person.

But in the detail-obsessed gaming world, GDC is one of the highlights of the year. It lacks the pomp and circumstance of E3 -- as well as the big game announcements, generally -- but it's one of the best ways to get a sense of where gaming is going.

That's especially noteworthy this year, as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 begin to establish themselves in the market and Nintendo struggles to shore up Wii U sales. Amid all this console noise, the mobile market continues to explode.

If you can't make it yourself, here are some of the themes and topics we expect to dominated this year's show.

Virtual reality explosion

The big rumor going into GDC 2014 is that Sony will finally reveal the virtual reality headset it has reportedly been working on for some time now. That would be a notable push for the VR movement, as people in the know have given the headset high marks. Sony, to no one’s surprise, isn't saying a word. But the company is hosting a panel called "Driving the Future of Innovation at Sony Computer Entertainment” on Tuesday evening, which many expect will be the VR system’s coming out party.

Meanwhile, VR leaders Oculus will be on hand with its latest hardware and software to show developers how far the Rift has come in the past year. Don't expect any announcements about availability, though.

The new Indie sensation

The Independent Games Festival, which takes place at GDC, is often likened to the Sundance Film Festival. Titles showcased there often go on to much greater things; games like Limbo, Fez, and Minecraft all won awards here and went on to bigger things.

The IGF Awards will hand out over $50,000 in cash to small game makers this year, and all of the nominated games will be playable at the show. Expect the big winners to show up soon on your PS4, Xbox One, PCs, mobile device – pretty much anywhere you play.

Lessons from the past

Some of the most popular GDC sessions are the post-mortem talks that look back at classic titles. This year is no exception.

Yu Suzuki will look back on the making of Dreamcast classic Shenmue. Eugene Jarvis will talk about arcade classic Robotron. Dave Lebling plans to relive the early days of text-adventure masterpiece Zork. And a team of developers from LucasArts (R.I.P.) will look back on several of that studio's titles. For fans of classic games, it's a rare treat to gain insight into some of the most beloved games of all time.

Games as tools to promote social change

Gaming culture is much more influential on the broader population than it once way, but there's still a lot of work to be done amongst ourselves. This year's GDC will feature an advocacy track, which will cover several equality issues and address the topic of in-game bullying.

Among the notable sessions are how misogyny, racism and homophobia are addressed in games and the community, embracing sportsmanship in online games, and the sometimes toxic nature of online communities (and their effect on game makers).

Heavy stuff, but as games grow up, gamers need to grow up with them.

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