Game developers pour into San Francisco's Moscone Center for conference

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As rain poured into the streets, about 26,000 game developers poured into the Moscone Center in San Francisco for the second day of the Game Developers' Conference. (KGO-TV)

As rain poured into the streets, about 26,000 game developers poured into the Moscone Center in San Francisco for the second day of the Game Developers' Conference.

"We kind of take over the city," confessed GDC general manager Katie Stern.

Though the electronic entertainment world has numerous events aimed at unveiling games and technologies to the public, GDC is strictly an industry affair.

"This is about every aspect of the game, whether it's music production, graphic design, artistry," said Ben Howard, VP of content for GameSpot.com.

While Wednesday will see the opening of the expo floor and announcements by big players in the industry, Monday and Tuesday are quieter, allowing more attention to focus on the smaller players: indie game developers.

"You're seeing much more of it as an art form, so you're seeing a lot of beautiful games or really creative gameplay," Stern said.

In some games, winning is no longer the point. "Skye"-a game about a friendly dragon-is all about relaxing, said its developer, Sam Donaghey.

"Dandelions that you can dash through, pianos that you can play, creatures that you can sing to," said Donaghey, who's visiting from Scotland for the conference.

Indie games are rarely meant to be blockbusters-though it can sometimes work out that way. Minecraft began as an indie game long before it turned into the worldwide sensation that was acquired by Microsoft.

"These people are doing it for the love of it first and foremost," Howard said.

And without a big company behind them, he said, they can afford to take risks-like Ryan Brolley's game called "A Tofu Tail."

"It's a puzzle game about a man that's turned into a cube of tofu by a deceptive fox," Brolley said, adding that the fox gods in Japanese mythology are said to like eating tofu.

This is Brolley's first game-selected among a few to be shown at GDC's Indie Megabooth. It's a sprawling array of couches, TVs and bean bag chairs spread out in the lobby of the hallowed hall where Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPhone-and it has developers from ten different countries.

"This new mix of games being developed by interesting, diverse people, the storylines are becoming more interesting and diverse," Stern said.

And that, in turn, has created another shift: Games are starting to appeal to a much broader audience, said the Indie Megabooth's CEO and founder, Kelly Wallick.

"You might not think you like video games because you don't like twitchy stuff where you're running around shooting something, but there's so much more out there," she said.

That includes virtual reality-though Howard says it's been slow to take hold.

"It's not a very good experience right now," he said. "The headsets are bulky, there's a lot of wires."

That inconvenience for players is magnified for developers-who have to go back and forth between the virtual world and the computer screen while building their games.

"I'm just taking off my glasses, putting (the headset) on my face, taking it off, putting the glasses back on," said Alan Dang, a VR game developer from Los Angeles.

But a format that's rough around the edges makes it a perfect fit for passionate indie developers, Wallick said, and the indie games community is embracing VR-even as they're still trying to figure it out-and even as the next frontier, augmented reality, is ahead in the distance.

"VR, you put on a headset and you get transported somewhere else. AR is projecting interesting, sophisticated graphics onto the world around you.

Pokemon Go showed the concept in its infancy-but it also showed us a new way to game-with friends.

"I think there's an idea that technology kind of separates people," Wallick said. "You're looking at your phone, looking at your phone-but i think games can really bring people together."
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