Recap of the GGC 2013

My visit to Gotland has come to an end. Back to the drudge of daily work, I guess. Well, maybe not so much, but the time in Visby was great fun, and I hope I’ll be invited over again next year.

Ulf Benjaminsson, the mastermind behind the conference, emailed all the speakers and jurors after the event was over, asking them to write something on their experiences and take-aways from this year’s edition. So here I’d like to outline my answers to his questions, preceded by some more general thoughts on the conference and some of the games I played.

The overall theme for the lectures this year was ‘Minorities in games’, both in game development environments as well as in games’ target audiences. I attended a couple of interesting lectures, with topics ranging from ‘Organising gamejams for girls in Palestine‘ by Andrea Hasselager to ‘A breakdown of the role masculinity plays in games‘ by Derek Burrill. I think a number of thought-provoking things were said during most of those lectures, which mostly set me thinking in the direction of ‘How can I include more target audiences in my game from the get go?’.

The student games are the main reason I attended the conference. The first years students (whom I was assigned to judge) were to work with a constraint that forced them to include a non-standard input mechanism in their game. I’ve seen my share of Kinects, dance mats and even mind-control devices for another year! Three games that deserve special mention are ‘Cobots‘, which is just downright cool, artistically well-done and innovative, ‘Tribal Marathon’, with no link that I could find (if someone knows a website for this game, let me know), which is a multiplayer competitive temple-run-a-like game, and ‘Torn’, also with no link that I could find, where you build wizards’ towers using just your mind. And it even works (well, not on me, I guess my brainwaves were on the down low during my visit).

So, Ulf’s list of questions on my takeaways from the conference:

  • The new things you’ve taken away from the conference

    Not really new, but once again good to see that the first years students designed a number of very interesting, playable and very fun games using specific restrictions (non-conventional hardware). This included getting to know how to program new input devices like Kinect sensors and dance mats, something I can imagine is pretty scary in your first year of university.

  • What you’ll re-evaluate having been here

    This has more to do with the thoughts I got after attending some of the lectures. How can you broaden your game’s target audience from the very beginning of development? Also, I’ll re-evaluate what kind of communication regarding game-related events (such as gamejams) needs to be specifically catered towards girls, in order to get a larger amount of them to be comfortable to attend.

  • What, if anything, you’ll do differently

    Not something I’d do differently, but I’ve seen being re-affirmed that input-restrictions can bring about very cool game experiences (Shark Punch, Torn, Fly or Die).

  • Three things you’d like to tell our students

    – When in your first year, don’t shy away from the control restriction (I saw a number of games did that and just used an arcade stick and buttons for controls). Now you still have the chance to experiment!
    – If I could do university all over again, I probably wouldn’t sleep for the four years in school; I’d just experiment and try to build as many different games as I can. And then, I’d keel over. Make the most of your time, you won’t have this amount of freedom when you get into the industry.
    – Finish your games! Better to skip some features and polish a little longer, but make sure the user experience is complete, well-rounded, immersive and stable.

Oculus Rift – first experience

Yesterday we hooked up and experimented with the Oculus Rift VR goggles devkit for the first time. It was first and foremost very cool. I can now finally relate to a first-hand experience with the VR goggles and formulate some initial feedback on it.

Starting out

Installation of the hardware is a breeze. This is how you’d want a consumer to setup virtual reality. A USB and DVI plug into the computer, some power to the headset, set your graphics card to clone the image across monitors and you’re good to go. Major props.


We tested a couple of applications:

Epic Citadel rollercoaster
The first demo we tried. Starting off with a painstakingly slow hoist to the highest point of the track we’re launched into a high-speed rollercoaster ride. I’ve been on a couple of real ones before, and the expectancy of experiencing G-forces combined with the immersive visuals threw me off guard almost immediately. Motion sickness was moderate at some of the tight bends but all in all very cool to race around in.

Planet 1 demo
At first glance this demo struck me as a nausea-generator, but it was actually the least discomforting demo we tried. You’re navigating around on a planet surface in some kind of hover-/spacecraft while avoiding incoming meteors. You can fly in every direction, look around you while flying the other way, do 360 loops etc. It’s great to just look around over your shoulder and see the rear side of the plane. What helped greatly here (I think) is the presence of a metal frame around the view position. When you look around you always have a frame of reference (which is similar to the rollercoaster demo; there the motion sickness is not caused by a lack of this frame of reference (the cart’s there, after all) but by the body not experiencing what you think it should, based on what you see).

Team Fortress 2
Once again the experience was very convincing. Looking down to see your virtual body holding a minigun or a bazooka is particularly nice, as is the ability to change the way the headset orientation affects the HUD and camera-behaviour. TF2 also has an in-game calibration method for setting the inter-pupillary distance. Don’t skip out on that step! It changes the image to completely fill up your own vision-boundaries and ‘pulls you in’ even more.

With this game I had the most trouble, motion sickness-wise. We played around with the different configurations camera behaviour and all that changing around, combined with the higher speed of gameplay and running in different directions than you’re looking in left me pretty sick in the end.

TF2 also makes the limited resolution of the displays apparent. Navigating the game’s menus and reading the in-game interface messages is quite hard, even with anti-aliasing up all the way and motion blur and V-sync turned off. The screen-door effect is fairly noticeable as well. Hopefully that will be changed with later iterations of the hardware. I’m also quite curious to see if that would affect the degree of motion sickness I get.


I was most surprised about the motion sickness effects. In all my history of playing games I have never experienced it before, but that turns out to be no guarantee. The resolution of the displays is also a possible optimization.

All in all I think the Oculus Rift delivers a very good virtual reality experience. Installation is very easy, the headset is comfortable to wear and we didn’t have any technical trouble with it whatsoever. We will definitely be experimenting with using this headset for one or more serious game projects.