GDC16 Day 2: Highlights & Trends

Just like yesterday, the VR sessions were very popular. Even with the change to bigger rooms, lines for popular VR talks would start at least 20 minutes before the session started. The longest line I was in snaked up and down the hallway at least 4 times. The wait was well worth it though!

Today was packed. Many sessions overlapped one another. Wish I could have cloned 3 of myself 🙁

Throughout each session, I noticed points that have been repeated from yesterday’s daily roundup. There are definitely trends and general practices that the game industry has picked up on, especially in virtual reality. I’ll talk more about these trends later in this post.

Big announcement


The Playstation VR headset launching in October.

PlayStation revealed the price of their new VR headset at $399! It’s said that Playstation VR has over 230 developers on board and 160 diverse titles in development. 50 of those games will be available this October. More info as the PS VR launch event tomorrow 🙂

There is a game called Rez Infinite developed for the PS VR. The line to try out the game was long! I wanted to take a picture of someone playing the game, but they asked kindly for no film or photography. Instead, here is a picture of the Day of the Dev banner!

Most popular VR demo so far

Aside from Eagle’s Flight, also built for PS VR, EverestVR lets you climb up Mt.Everest from the comfort (and warmth) of your living room. I overheard that being able to experience the climb with the HTC Vive controllers was booked out for the rest of the week!

Check out previews for both. Here’s Eagle’s Flight:

And Everest VR:

Session highlights

Immersive cinema with Lucasfilm. The entire sessions was a dream come true for fans of Star Wars and cinematic film as well as audiophiles. Anyone who’s watched Season 4 of Arrested Development on Netflix is familiar with the ability to watch parallel storylines within the same episode. Lucasfilm allowed us to experience that same interactive narrative with VR and Star Wars Episode 7!

They also let us in on their creative process for Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine. They reiterated the creative process espoused in many other game making session: (a) define the desired experience first then test it (b) simplify the interaction. VR is still new. Right now we are trying to get players to believe they are in another world. Slow the pacing at the beginning and allow them to explore the world. We don’t want complicated interactions to distract them from whats happening around them. Let them enjoy the immersion. (c) Apply positive fail throughs. If the player does something wrong in-game, don’t let the game script make them feel bad by telling them they did something wrong.

What “affordance” really means. Since the Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, the term “affordance” has been overly used and misused. He updated his 2012 book with some clarification on the terminology. Affordances are not signifiers. Affordances define what actions are possible. What we think those those objects can do can be right or wrong. To ensure that affordances are clear, we use signifiers as a clue to indicate what we can do. For example, a door, with no doorknob or handle, is an affordance. It can open or close. Placing a pull bar, a signifier, on the door clues us into the notion that we can pull it open.

Virtual World Fair. The team behind the first 3D theme park ride for Universal Studios talked about how brands and other consumer products can take advantage of VR. They introduced the Virtual World’s Fair, a theme park in VR that is eerily similar in concept for Disney World’s Epcot.


Brands, Countries and Organizations can own a pavilion in the world, like shops in a mall, where players can explore and shop the latest and greatest.

Film vs. Games vs. VR. Repeated in many sessions today was that the rules that guide films and games are not applicable in VR. We have to create our own language and build best practices specific to it. For example, close up shots in movies will not work. In VR, we would end up invading the player’s personal space. In VR, we are the camera.

Ambisonic vs. biaural audio. Use an ambisonic mic to capture sounds and use biaural audio in VR. Ambisonic is a full surround sound capture technique. It’s equivalent to lightfields, sound pressure from all directions. Biaural audio is the equivalent of stereoscopic video. A common mistake people make is that biaural is not the same as spatialized audio. Biaural is for headphone playback. Ambisonics are for specialized speakers. Biaural has issues with coloration and rotation. Ambisonic has a flatter frequency and works if the player’s head is static.



“Presence”. The biggest buzzword since the “cloud.” Presence is hard to get and hard to achieve. There was a study done on rats wearing VR and they had trouble too! To achieve presence, we should think about how our world absorbs the player and what might distract them:

  • Use diegetic cues to nudge their attention. If something is too interesting, the player has no reason to look away or try anything else.
  • Design with the vestibular system in mind. Nausea sucks. We do not want dizziness to be associated with VR.
  • Flow. What we’re doing should perfectly match with the skills required to do it.
  • Immersion. Give the brain a reason to feel what it is feeling. We do not have to feel like we’re somewhere in order to be engaged.

Redirected walking. Redirected walking came up in 3 sessions I was in again today! With the hype surrounded room tracking, it is important that we implement illusions that keeps users safe and nausea free! Vision dominates vestibular sensation. 3 types of redirected walking were introduced:

  • Rotational gains. The players rate of rotation can be greater or less than their physical rotation, e.g. turning 90 degrees in real life = turning 80 degrees in VR.
  • Curvature gains. The virtual world rotates as the player walks in a straight line. With this technique, players can walk in a complete circle in the real world while perceiving themselves to walk a straight line in VR.
  • Translation gains. The player can walk faster or slower in VR compared to real life, e.g. walking 9 meters in the real world can translate to 6 meters in the virtual world.

For anyone interested this 2010 study discusses thresholds for each type of redirected walking. Because the study was done before the VR devices we have today, another study is needed since there could be new thresholds.

Enabling hands in VR. Hands are the most important input for interaction. A large proportion of your sensory and motor cortex is devoted to the hands. The dominant hand is used for precise control, while the non-dominant hand can be used as a point of reference or for gross movement. Hands can be used synchronously to pull a heavy lever and asynchronously to climb a ladder. Currently, simple virtual hands are somewhat useful for selecting small targets, targets in cluttered regions and moving targets. Ray extenders (extensions of our hands in VR) are better for distant targets.

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