Game turns you into a 1920s phone operator, complete with vintage switchboard

It must be difficult for a game made on 89-year-old hardware to stand out anywhere, let alone at a conference brimming with excitement over upcoming virtual reality headsets like PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive—it wouldn’t help that this game assigns the player with a menial day job that’s now handled by computers, either. But when Kill Screen’s Jess Joho visited the alternate controller exhibition at this year’s GDC, she found herself most interested not in Sony and Valve’s latest technology, but rather Hello Operator, a game played with an actual telephone switchboard that first saw use in 1927. Hello Operator has…


Playing with touchtone phones and old TV sets at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop

It was an early afternoon on the final day of the Game Developer’s Conference this year. Everyone scuttled into one of the larger panel halls of the Moscone Center, most looking exhausted over one of their busiest weeks of the year (or maybe just hungover). As everyone swiftly got seated, the panel hall buzzed with anticipation for the 14th annual Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Curated by Funomena’s Robin Hunicke and independent game designer Daniel Benmergui, the Experimental Gameplay Workshop celebrates the best of the weirdest innovations of what it means to play. This year’s workshop celebrated 16 games, cherry-picked from nearly…


Inside Please Knock on My Door, a new perspective on depression

“This could be anyone.” This is the premise for game designer Michael Levall’s upcoming game, Please Knock on My Door. It’s a choice-driven narrative, with three paths awaiting the player on exploring the realms of depression, social anxiety, and general phobia.  The game begins almost as any working person’s day would. The player drowsily wakes up from their noisy alarm, and slogs out of bed. Then an omniscient, The Stanley Parable-esque narrator pipes into the game, and urges the player to eat breakfast and speed off to work by 7:30am. This is where player choice comes in, as they can listen to…


The peculiar future of videogame history

The history of videogames maps directly onto the history of computation. At least, that’s how speakers cast it at GDC this year. Chelsea Howe, Chris Crawford, Dave Jones, Graeme Devine, Ken Lobb, Lori Cole, Luke Muscat, Palmer Luckey, Phil Harrison, Raph Koster, Seth Killian, and Tim Schafer (phew) each talked about one aspect of videogame history in which they were personally involved. The keynote was both an homage to GDC, the event, and to GDC’s prime mover, that repugnant, beautiful monstrosity known as ‘the videogame industry’. At the 30th iteration of an event that has become one focal point for…


Synesthesia and vibrators: a history of innovation from Rez

There’s a moment in the demo of Rez’s PlayStation VR inception (retitled as Rez Infinite) where I accidentally transgressed my professional demeanor and said “holy shit.” Not a lone “holy shit this is kinda cool,” as I glanced around the technicolored space of Area 02. Nor a woozy “holy shit I feel nauseous,” as I dizzyingly locked onto rockets flying towards me. But an awe-inspiring “holy shit, this is VR.” VR at its most realized. Rez is VR. And honestly, it kinda always has been. Game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez was always on the cutting edge of not just experiencing…

The Gallery

The simple pleasure of tossing bottles and listening to sea shells in virtual reality

Virtual reality is absolutely everywhere at GDC this year. On the expo floor, a man strapped at the waist to a treadmill-like device runs in place. At the lunch tables, a woman’s jaw drops as she experiences some simulated haranguing of her sensory organs. Everyone is goggled up. Despite being my first time at the Game Developers Conference, I’m inclined to believe that the nigh ubiquitous presence of virtual reality gear is a first for the event. I was ecstatic just to walk around the world But even with an excess of hardware, there’s only so much actual content to go…


Planet Licker, a game that you play with your tongue

By far the most innocent game with the smuttiest implications at GDC this year was the alternative controller entry entitled Planet Licker. In the game’s fiction, you are a monster who eats planets made of popsicles. As the player IRL, you are also a popsicle-licking monster of sorts, only instead of planets your tongue is manhandling an edible controller. Planet Licker not only puts your tongue to the test; it’s also a race against time. You have to schlurp up six planets before the clock runs out. As part of the annual ALT.CTRL.GDC showcase, Planet Licker was an unusual experiment for creator Frank…


Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and the art of videogame lighting

“We always want more control,” said EA DICE’s Fabien Christin, Senior Lighting Artist (and a man who is very particular about reflections), who led a fruitful panel at the Game Developer’s Conference on Thursday morning. In his technical talk, “Lighting the City of Glass – Rendering Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” Christin listed off the successes and many challenges he and his team faced over the course of developing the as-of-yet-unreleased Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. “Getting the right white was a challenge” Christin talked of everything in the realm of lighting, from the “natural” light dependent on the in-game skies, to the reflections…


Chambara aims to capture the tension of samurai films

Esteban Fajardo and his team have been devouring samurai films while crafting their competitive action game Chambara. They were particularly drawn to the work of Akira Kurosawa, the renowned Japanese director known for films such as Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), and Rashomon (1950). This last of those films has come to inform Chambara‘s visual style, if not its tone, the most. “These strange impulses of the human heart would be expressed through the use of an elaborately fashioned play of light and shadow,” Kurosawa wrote on Rashomon. The title of Chambara refers to Kurosawa’s own film genre, the samurai film, but it’s…