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GDC 2010 Coverage

Fri 12 Mar 2010 11:30pm GMT / 6:30pm EST / 3:30pm PST

All the news, insight and comment from the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco

For this year's GDC 2010 event, taking place all this week, we're using a new system for our coverage which is taking the form of an event blog. Every time we hear something interesting - either formally or less so - we'll post it here, with the latest updates at the top.

Updates will include interesting snippets from lectures and panel sessions, any announcements we get wind of, plus the general buzz on the show floor - what people are talking about, the issues being discussed, and so on.

But we also want to hear from you - if you're at GDC, or you want to react to things we're writing, drop us a line and we may add your thoughts to the blog as well!

Saturday, March 13

18:13 PST / 02:13 GMT (Kath): This final update concludes our GDC 2010 coverage as the event wraps up in San Francisco. We hope you've found it informative whether you've been here with us, or following news on the PlayStation Move, OnLive and much more from afar.

For the former, we're sure you'll agree it was a fabulous industry event, particularly in terms of organisation and the sheer size of the turn out. Expect plenty of interviews over the coming weeks from key industry people we had chance to catch up with while here at the conference. In the meantime, we welcome any comments or feedback on our blog-style coverage of the event, and whether it worked for you.

17:30 PST / 01:30 GMT (Kath): Dave Perry has said that he's as surprised as everyone else by the business model announced by OnLive earlier in the conference.

Monthly subscriptions to the service will cost users $14.95 per month with the price of games on top. Perry said that Gaikai isn't in direct competition with the OnLive – in fact, he says it would be good if OnLive was successful and gave streaming a good reputation – but he stressed the benefits of Gaikai. Namely that users of it won't be paying a subscription and that – if they choose to buy a game after playing it on Gaikai - they'll own the game as normal. They won't need to keep paying monthly subscription in order to access their games.

Gaikai's beta test across Europe showed up a few surprises, he said – in particular that many people had lower spec machines than expected, which resulted in a server redesign. But the service now sounds on track to launch in the US imminently – a lot of accounts will be handed out at E3, said Perry – presumably a launch date is likely to come out of it too.

A deal just signed with TriplePoint – server provider for YouTube and Facebook – is going to pay for the server infrastructure, said Perry.

Most excitingly for publishers, Gaikai can revolutionise what it costs them to get their product played by consumers. Enabling potential consumers to download entire demos – and it's been shown that a sizeable percentage of those consumers don't even click play after downloading the demo because they've gone off to do something else too – is far costlier than the Gaikai system, which charges publishers in relation to how long a user tries a game after clicking on it. If they don't like it and abort, it's cost one cent, said Perry.

The ability for a user to tweet links to a game they're in to friends, enabling them to join in has been mentioned before – but it now seems particularly relevant at a GDC which has had such a big focus on social gaming. If a publisher works with us, we can get them transported into exactly the same spot in the game as their friend, explained Perry.

OnLive has played its hand, and with Gaikai set to follow in what looks like the next couple of months, it won't be long before we all find out if cloud gaming can deliver what many said it couldn't.

15:02 PST / 23:02 GMT (Kath): There's been plenty of talk about mobile gaming at this year's GDC – and the Windows Phone 7 series is clearly going to be a big player in the market this year. Microsoft announced the new XNA Game Studio 4.0 at the conference start, and I've been given a demo of what it can do.

The new toolset integrates Visual Studio 2010, but most importantly it supports 3D hardware acceleration for the new Windows Phone 7 series.

And the resulting games demoed by App Platform manager Charlie Kindel and XNA's Michael Klucher – built as concepts within three weeks using the new tools – showed that the tools can certainly deliver an impressive 3D experience.

They also demonstrated the Windows 7 series game hub. The way the service will work is by offering premium, high quality and managed games from partners, which will be compatible with Xbox Live features such as avatars, friends lists and achievements, and an unmanaged collection from indies.

It basically gives the platform the best of both worlds – indies will have access to the same powerful toolset as the premium developers but the premium partners will be able to offer a greater range of features as well as feature more prominently on the store. Obviously prices are going to reflect the two tiers, but Kindel said a pricing structure was yet to be announced.

Other features are also still being bashed out. For instance, in-game micro-transactions won't be supported in this first version, but they will later on. And Microsoft is also working out how it can integrate real-life friends alongside Xbox Live friends.

They've been talking to developers for a long time about what they want from the platform, said Kindel, and features such as multiplayer between a 360 and mobile are all things that have been asked for and which could be included further down the line. At the moment though, the initial features-list is impressive and the battle between the big smartphone three – iPhone, Android and Windows 7 – should be an interesting one to follow over this next year.

13:58 PST / 21:58 GMT (Kath): The Unity booth has been showcasing the company's latest development suite iteration – Unity 3.0 – which is due out this summer. It has also announced the tools will soon be made compatible with Xbox 360, PS3, Android and iPad, with the latter appearing first, in time for the Apple device's launch next month.

Speaking with Unity's CEO David Helgason it seems that, while 360 and PS3 support will obviously expand the reach of Unity, he is more excited by the mobile platforms, predicting that the next important gaming platform will be a mobile one.

Android is the first real competitor to iPhone, he said, although Unity doesn't need it to become more successful than Apple's portable device. It's enough if the company can just offer its customers 20 per cent additional revenue on top of their iPhone games with an extra click, he said.

While he says he doesn't expect Unity to triple in size again in the space of one year, he said that it had a lot of trends to ride with the shift of gaming to web and mobile. He added that other trends he expects to prevail includes 3D – one day 3D technology was likely to become an effective way to create lots of media, he explained. And since Unity's tools are used for a range of media development, with traditional games accounting for just one-third of business, it's obvious the company will be keeping a close eye on such trends.

Friday, March 12

17:09 PST / 01:09 GMT (Phil): But there's more - in part two of the session, Jesse Divnich unveiled an analysis of achievements on Xbox 360, based on 32 million data points mined from Microsoft. From that data, 100 games were selected at random, and - with the caveat that generalisations shouldn't be made - there was some pretty unexpected results.

  • Only 4% of consumers attain 100% of the achievements
  • Less than 10% of consumers attain 80% or more achievements
  • Only 27% of consumers get as far as 50% of achievements

In total, 21 per cent of consumers collected less than 10 per cent of achievements - the biggest single block in the breakdowns - while for triple-A games the 100 per cent completion rate is just 2 per cent.

"Does this mean achievements are too hard?" pondered Divnich, going on to pinpoint a general trend that - for core games - the higher the review score average, the more achievements were unlocked. Some food for thought for game designers, there.

16:48 PST / 00:48 GMT (Phil): One of the final sessions of today was an interesting analysis of new IP by EEDAR. As you'd expect, the session was pretty stat-heavy, but I'll round up some interesting points of note.

Firstly - new IP is actually increasing year-on-year, between 2006 and 2009 (although that may well change this year, by all accounts). In that time it jumped from 16 per cent to 22 per cent across the three living room consoles.

But - the majority of that new IP is on the Wii, which accounts for 27 per cent of all new IP, compared to 17 per cent for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined.

In terms of genre, action games and shooters boasted the most new IPs on next-gen platforms to-date, but as a proportion of new IPs, it was RPGs that topped the list - almost 40 per cent of RPGs were new IP, compared to just 7 per cent fighting titles.

And if you're wondering which publishers have worked the hardest on trying to bring new intellectual property to market? You might be surprised to find out that Electronic Arts ranks as highest third-party publisher on 360 and PS3, while Destineer tops the Wii chart.

16:33 PST / 00:33 GMT (Kath): Ben Cousins of EA has compared the transition from high quality packaged games to lower quality digitally-delivered ones to the shift from the arcade to the home console, or from high street specialist shops to supermarkets.

Convenience ultimately wins over quality of experience, he said in a talk entitled What Walmart Tells Us About The Future Of Gaming, predicting that years from now the only market for games-specific hardware will be niche and games for that hardware will cost hundreds of dollars.

The key differentiator for games in recent years has been quality, he said. Packaged goods are expensive, meaning that the consumer consults experts – such as Metacritic – on what to buy, and highly rated games sell the best.

Online, where shelf space is limitless and the push to free means that customers don't expect such high quality, different factors determine a good game from a bad one, he pointed out.

Using a graph showing the numbers of users downloading Battlefield Heroes, Cousins showed there were two clear spikes in popularity – the first when the game went from closed to open beta, meaning it became more accessible. The second was when paid content was introduced to the game. When EA introduced pure game-enhancing features – new classes and an additional map – it saw a negligible increase in the game's popularity.

15:39 PST / 23:39 GMT (Phil): A host of industry icons were on-stage in the "Connected Future" session - Valve's Jason Holtman, Zynga's Brian Reynolds, Bioware's Ray Muzyka, Nexon's Min Kim and Blizzard's Rob Pardo. Plenty of interesting views on what each company thought the future would hold for connected and online gaming, but here are some snippets.

One of the news releases this week revolves around Valve's commitment to give players the option of playing different platforms for Steam games. To explain more: "People don't want to be a PC-buyer-of-a-game, they don't want to be an Apple-buyer-of-a-game. They want to be a fan of a game."

So somebody who buys Portal 2 on the PC will automatically be able to play it through Steam on a Mac - "I do think it's a very important part of living on this world." But what about buying it on Xbox 360, and then playing it through Steam on PC or Mac?

"You'd have to ask Microsoft." I bet I know what they'd say.

Another interesting comment came from Rob Pardo, talking about Battle.net 2.0 that's currently being developed as a platform for Blizzard games. Specifically, on the question of whether all publishers should set up their own version of Battle.net to provide for their own communities:

"Maybe, but it's a lot of work," he said. "One of the things we try to do with that is have a deeply interwoven experience," noting that Xbox Live can do stuff at a platform level, but can't go deep into the in-game experiences in the same way that Blizzard can, thereby helping the community to stay with them from game to game.

"For anybody that wants to have an online game and stay in the space for a long time, it's worthwhile."

14:45 PST / 22:45 GMT (Kath): Neil Young of ngmoco:) has delivered an exceptionally enlightening overview of the digital space today, explaining in depth his business's discoveries since starting in iPhone development and how the freemium model is far more effective in that space than the paid one.

Most interesting was his comparison of the freemium model – where the few users (around 2 per cent) paying for additional goods fund the game for everyone else – to the early days of the arcade, when the players feeding hundreds of dollars into arcade machines were supporting the more casual players.

He also highlighted the importance of the emerging social model, saying that you'd be much more likely to keep feeding coins into arcade machines if your friends were watching and you were trying to impress them.

Free does not mean you don't make any money, he said. To deliver its new business model, ngmoco:) had to learn all about daily active users and the average spend of each of those users, he added.

But while this way of thinking isn't the norm for game designers yet – he said that fast, fearless, adaptable people will find the transition the industry is currently in is the most significant shift since its creation.

Game design is becoming directly correlated to market performance and business success - socially relevant, well designed games can supercharge reach and retention, he said, adding that free-to-play revenues can put those made in the handheld space and using other business models to shame.

12:40 PST / 20:40 GMT (Kath): In a packed keynote entitled The Psychology of Game Design: Everything You Know Is Wrong, Sid Meier has explained to his audience key lessons he's learnt during his extensive game design career.

Drawing on the results of focus testing for games like Civilization, Meier began explaining a concept he called 'unholy alliance' – meaning the relationship between the player and the game designer.

The designer's job, he said, is to pretend the player is good. Flight simulators aren't fun because they're unrelentingly difficult, he pointed out, and players need to be made to feel good about themselves.

For their part, the player's role is to suspend disbelief – to inhabit their character and take on that character's role. The designer needs to aid that, he said, and old time designers have an advantage in doing that since they've have to persuade players they are a part of complex world using 16 colour graphics in the past.

Meier admitted that he's been guilty previously of having a mind that's too rational and analytical – something he realised when conducting play tests for Civilization.

He found that when a player was shown they were entering into a battle with stats that gave them a 3/1 chance of winning, they felt cheated whenever they lost. They thought they should win because of their advantage, despite the mathematical odds – which led Meier to adjust the game so it wasn't actually a 3/1 outcome.

A similar discrepancy arose with odds of 20/10, he said. While players understood 2/1 odds – that there was a 50/50 chance of winning and losing – when the odds were 20/10 they were upset when they lost because they felt they had a massive 10 point advantage. They also became disillusioned if they lost more than one 2/1 battle in a row, which led to the game being programmed to take into account previous battle outcomes. If things feel wrong to the player – even if they're not wrong – the player will quickly stop playing, said Meier.

Other issues he addressed were randomisation and grey moral choices. “Any kind of randomness needs to be treated with a great deal of care,” he said. Players want to feel in control and can get paranoid if they don't get something they know they thought they were going to.

Likewise ambiguous moral choices – they plant the idea to the player that they might be on the wrong path or a bad one. The game then has to make clear that cool things will happen whichever choices they make, he said

Meier also gave advice on how to save money when designing games using several techniques. Firstly, use the player's imagination, he said. Don't show things if you don't have to – players can often imagine something more dynamic and energy can be saved for things that can't be imagined and have to be brought to life.

You can also tap into what the player already knows, he said. In Pirates, players saw a swordsman with a curly black moustache and they instantly knew he was a bad guy to fight – no back story was needed.

Other issues raised were cheating – Meier isn't a fan of putting a cheat option on the main menu and thinks cheats should be saved for after a player completes the game. And save/load options – he said players also shouldn't be able to keep saving before a battle then reloading that save if they lose.

He called the next year the year of Civilization – Civ V is coming, as is the game on Facebook. And the social platforms open up a whole lot of possibilities for the game, he said, with people playing on an interesting time schedule and with friends. Beyond that he didn't make specific predictions, just saying that it was a time of great dynamism, which is the best part of being in the industry.

Thursday, March 11

20:48 PST / 04:48 GMT (Phil): ...Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Congratulations again to Naughty Dog - another stack of endorsements for Nathan Drake and friends.

But that's not it - show host Warren Spector announces that there's another Deus Ex being made... Deus Ex: Human Revolution, followed by a trailer. Definitely a nice surprise to end the night!

20:45 PST / 04:45 GMT (Phil): So this is the big one - Game of the Year. The nominations for this one are:

  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Dragon Age Origins
  • Demon's Souls
  • Assassin's Creed II

Yep, that's right - no place for the biggest videogame release of all time. Not really been the best few weeks for Infinity Ward, you'd have to say. Anyway, the winner of the Game of the Year Award is...

20:43 PST / 04:43 GMT (Phil): And the final high five is the Lifetime Achievement Award, which this year is being given to id Software founder John Carmack. Again, no introduction needed.

The award was present by Will Wright - himself the first recipient of this award - who added one of his brilliant trademark Powerpoint presentations. Brave, considering Gabe's bad luck with technology a few minutes ago - but all was well.

A standing ovation greeted Carmack himself: "It really has been an amazing couple of decades that I've been working in here," he said, revealing that he still writes lines of code every day.

"The truth is, the best is yet to come," he promised, speaking not just of himself, but of the entire games business, adding that he's more proud to be working in the industry now than at any point in the past.

He's also going to tackle nuclear fusion once his aerospace company has cracked space flight.

20:29 PST / 04:29 GMT (Phil): The next honourable mention is the Pioneer Award, and it's been handed to Valve's Gabe Newell. I don't think I need to explain who he is.

"This really is an award for everyone at the company," he said. "That's how we work, we're a collaboration." He went on to give a little presentation, cut short - tragicomically - by a Windows blue screen of death. He used to work at Microsoft, you know.

20:16 PST / 04:16 GMT (Phil): But before that - some honourable mentions. The Ambassador Award is given to people who "advance the art of making videogames" - this year the award was given to three people: Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik and Robert Khoo - the people behind Penny Arcade and PAX.

They also set up the Child's Play charity, which raised $1.78 million alone in 2009 from the gaming community. Worthy recipients, for sure. "Thanks for not giving it to Uncharted 2" - quote of the night?

20:12 PST / 04:12 GMT (Phil): Okay - the last collection of award winners before the big one. Best Technology award was another shiny prize for Uncharted 2, Best Downloadable Game went to Flower, Best Visual Arts was given to Uncharted 2 while the Innovation Award was presented to Scribblenauts.

So... bets on Game of the Year? I think my money's on Uncharted 2 - a few weeks ago I sat at the AIAS Awards as part of the DICE Summit and saw the Naughty Dogs grab an unprecedented collection of prizes. It's up against some big-hitters though - nominations to follow.

19:54 PST / 03:54 GMT (Phil): Another batch of gongs! Best Writing was handed out to... Uncharted 2, while a new category called Best New Social/Online Game went to Farmville. Best Handheld Game was awarded to Scribblenauts.

19:43 PST / 03:43 GMT (Phil): So the first few Choice Awards have been handed out - Best Debut went to Torchlight, Best Audio to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (the first of many?) and Best Game Design to Batman: Arkham Asylum.

19:19 PST / 03:19 GMT (Phil): The IGF Awards have just taken place, with the Game Developer Choice Awards are next - but first a mention (and congratulations) to the winners of the main award: The Seumas McNally Grand Prize, which also brings with it $20,000 in cash.

The nominees were Joe Danger, Monaco, Rocketbirds: Revolution!, Super Meat Boy! and Trauma, but the winner was...

Monaco.

15:39 PST / 23:39 GMT (Phil): One of today's best-attended sessions was - unsurprisingly - a design session by Blizzard's Rob Pardo, in which he outlines some of the company's key design principles, plus a selection of examples when they'd been successful, or not.

Among the interesting highlights were the friction between lore and practicality - in Warcraft III lore the only class and gender that could be a druid was a Night Elf male. But in order to have Druid as a class in World of Warcraft, it needed to be opened up - Chris Metzen (Blizzard lorekeeper) was resistant, but in the end practicality won out, and it was extended to Tauren and Night Elves, both male and female.

Another snippet involved player expectation for what a character would be able to do, based on what it looked like. Would a race and class combination make a player feel good? Interestingly, Blizzard's a big fan of making everything feel overpowered, so that a player feels unstoppable when playing. Of course, that feeling has to be consistent across classes, but rather than make the differences between classes careful, Pardo extolled the virtue of celebrating those differences and making them feel unique as a result.

Pardo linked his thoughts to dozens of examples from Blizzard's back catalogue - probably the design 'failure' that resonated with the audience the most was WoW's Green Hills of Stranglethorn quest, which involves collecting numerous pages to combine into chapters, then a book.

The intention was that players would collect pages while completing other quests in the zone, but in practice people just went right to the Auction House and picked them up there - not a great way to explore the story behind it, but an interesting learning experience... one I can certainly relate to...

"Players will find the path of least resistance" was a phrase that Pardo used in the GamesIndustry.biz retrospective published earlier this year, and a phrase that he used again today - crucially, he says, that path needs also to be the most fun path.

12:50 PST / 20:50 GMT (Kath):Peter Molyneux has said that drama and emotion in games is more important than ever, and that action adventure games or more drama-led RPGs such as Heavy Rain are much easier to market than the traditional type. In his GDC keynote entitled Complex Challenges of Intuitive Design, Molyenux discussed the design decisions made for the upcoming Fable 3.

He praised Microsoft's user research for its usefulness, saying that it was how Lionhead made the “disastrous” discovery than 60 per cent of the players of Fable 2 understood less than 50 per cent of the features. As a result, Fable 3 has been vastly simplified – a direction Molyneux said he believes the whole industry is now moving toward.

The days are gone when players needed a 1-2 hour tutorial or instruction manual to play a game, he said. Players want to put the game disc in their console and be instantly transported into a world – hence how important the drive to simplicity is. He revealed several new features for Fable 3. The first – which he admitted was inspired by PS2 title Ico – was touch. Instead of pressing the A or B buttons to carry out a decision, players now physically carry them out, a system which adds an emotional connection to actions, he said.

In a demo, he showed his character playing with his daughter, then leading her by the hand through the town, before grabbing a protesting beggar and dragging him to the workhouse. The dog in Fable 2 was a huge success, he said, and Fable 3 would further extend that bond between characters in the game. The original Fable sold 3 million copies, he revealed and Fable 2 sold 3 and a half million. If a franchise doesn't grow it dies, he said. In the industry at present, games need to sell 5 million or more to be judged a blockbuster success.

When the team sat down and began to create Fable 3's story, they realised they could create another hero's journey where the main character starts weak, a bad guy does something to them then they spend the entire game levelling up to become powerful enough to beat him. But instead they decided to make the end of the hero's journey the halfway point, so that the player can enjoy actually being powerful. That feeling of power is what's important to gamers, he said. It's what he used to enjoy when he first started playing RPGs.

So once the player has defeated the king, they will get to become king. Inspired by Obama's journey since becoming president, he said that the player will make promises to their followers to increase popularity then have to try to keep those promises, which won't always be possible, adding a new direction to the game's choice and consequence mechanic.

In order to fully imagine the game's story before beginning work on it, Molyneux said he hired a film studio and actors to act out the story – a technique that was cheaper and faster than storyboarding and which worked well.

Molyneux also broke the news that John Cleese is onboard with the project as the game's butler – a sarcastic character. And responding to questions from the audience, he declined to answer whether the game would appear on PC – saying only that he loved the PC and what's happening with it and would love to see the game on the platform. He didn't talk about Natal compatibility, but did say the control system has been “wonderfully additive” to the experience.

12:35 PST / 20:35 GMT (Kath): David Edery of Fuzbi has said that digital distribution is not an all-out win for independent developers and that, in fact, those independent developers are contributing to the platform holder's bottom line in more instances than they are making good money for themselves.

You only have to look at book and film sales from digital retailers for evidence, said Edery, citing research which shows 75 per cent of Amazon's book sales come from 2.7 per cent of its titles and in music, 0.4 per cent of songs generate 80 per cent of revenue.

One of the reasons for that is user reviews, he said. Blockbusters have been shown to generate better user reviews – which is thought to be because consumers of blockbusters consume less of that media, so are less picky.

Edery also advised developers making games for digital platforms such as XBLA to keep in regular contact with the platform holder. In his time as worldwide portfolio manager for Microsoft he saw seven group re-organisations and five management changes, he said, which means that if you get approval from a platform holder then simply go away and make your game and present it nine months later, changes might have taken place which mean your game isn't green lit. He added that when avatars were introduced to games by Microsoft, it was the studios who found out about it and acted early that were promoted and became huge successes.

09:41 PST / 17:41 GMT (Phil): In a talk entitled "The Art of War," discussing the battle against real-money traders (RMT) in Eve Online, CCP chief economist Eyolfur Gudmonsson discussed the tactics the company has been using for the past year, and the results they've seen.

The main thrust of 'Operation Unholy Rage' focused on selling game time codes officially through game systems, allowing players to either buy game time with in-game currency (ISK), or to effectively allow cash-rich, time-poor players to spend real money in return for in-game money.

Once the systems were in place, the company banned 3000 RMT accounts on March 10 last year, and a further 6200 accounts in June. The immediate impact of the June actions saw an average CPU usage per user fall by 30 per cent, despite only 2 per cent of accounts being banned.

Gudmonsson did stress that such activity requires dedicated and ongoing action to stem the unofficial currency trading - the only drawback is that RMTs seem to have turned to hacking instead of running bots and macros, but that's something CCP is very focused on fighting too.

Other MMOs have looked at various systems to defeat 'gold-sellers' but the biggest Western game - World of Warcraft - has always resisted allowing something like game code selling from taking place. It will be interesting to see if any future MMO from Blizzard incorporated such thoughts from the ground up.

01:53 PST / 09:53 GMT (Matt): There seems to be plenty of third-party support for PlayStation Move at this (admittedly) early stage, with a mixture of big publishers, budget outfits and Japanese specialists who's titles probably won't see a proper release in the West.

Buried in the big list are some interesting companies. Q Entertainment, developer of Rez and Lumines stand out – perhaps we'll see something of "QJ", a music title that had originally been announced for the Wii at the end of 2008? And the Eve Online team at CCP are working on Move, the obvious guess would be it's going to be incorporated into DUST 514, which is another reason to keep eyes on the developer's first console shooter.

Sony demoed a few new titles last night at GDC – mini-games, new IP and Move in established franchises – but these were really just token efforts. The real meat is likely to get announced at E3, when we'll get a proper look at the next stage of motion control gaming.

01:03 PST / 09:03 GMT (Matt): With PlayStation Move now out in the open, journalists at GDC have been able to go hands-on with the motion device – including the team over at Eurogamer. Inevitably the site's report on the first batch of games draws comparisons to the Nintendo Wii, and although there are a couple of titles that suffer under scrutiny, the overall impressions of Sony's rival are positive.

Mini-game compilation Sports Champions is "by far the most impressive demonstration of the capabilities of Sony's device", according to writer Oli Welsh, adding "with no sensation of lag at all and proper three-dimensional tracking in full song, Sports Champions shows Sony's motion controller at its best."

The recently announced SOCOM 4 also makes good use of the device's sub-controller according to Oli, who adds that the Move peripheral is a viable and credible alternative control method for the hardcore shooter. The full report can be read here.

Wednesday, March 10

20:47 PST / 04:47 GMT (Phil): LucasArts was the host of the next party on today's schedule, announcing Secret of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition - which will basically do all the same things that the SE version for the original game did, but also include a few extras, such as director's commentary.

Meanwhile, chatting to LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez afterwards, the company definitely feels there's room for re-imaginings and additional new content in that franchise - but there's also some work going on behind the scenes on original IP while the company is growing its development headcount. No hints on what that might be, but we can rest assured that it'll be story-driven. The full interview will be published next week.

16:38 PST / 00:38 GMT (Phil): As well as the standard motion-based titles you'd expect (golf, table tennis, etc) Sony showed off integration with a couple of existing titles.

LittleBigPlanet enables a second player with a motion controller to interact in the LBP environment collaboratively, while EyePet will also allow Move functionality.

Meanwhile a new game called Motion Fighters was unveiled, although that's only a working title. It was pre-alpha code, noted the demo, and only 20 per cent complete, but showed off some punching and "dirty" moves, as well as dodging.

Finally on the game front it was revealed that SOCOM 4 could be played all the way through using a Move pad - less of a "jumping around" game, but the controls looked accurate enough to make it feasible. But... "There's a lot more to come in the coming months" - pointing ahead to a stack of new reveals at E3.

16:29 PST / 00:29 GMT (Phil): Something mentioned in passing by Dille was a stock shortage for the PlayStation 3 Slim in North America. "We're working to address those, but it's a high class problem."

16:24 PST / 00:24 GMT (Phil): The Sony press conference is well underway - PlayStation Move is the name for the company's motion controller - not Arc, Gem or Laser... thankfully. Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida was up on stage first to announce the brand, Sony's answer to the Wiimote and Natal, before handing over to Peter Dille, VP of marketing for SCEA.

The headline price point is "under $100" for a PlayStation Eye, PlayStation Move and a game in a bundle.

15:05 PST / 23:05 GMT (Phil): Other snippets from the discussion included the revelation that EA could only realistically put out two updates to its Madden titles during the key sales windows, because the process for implementing those updates put in place by the platform holders required a 90-day turnaround.

That was pretty quickly contrasted with the total amount of time it takes companies like Playfish to create and launch a game from scratch - "about 3-4 months" - although Segerstrale noted that once a social game was launched it saw ongoing development.

He also noted that, from a publisher's perspective, a one-console landscape would be preferable - but that companies like EA was so practiced at catering for 2-3 consoles that it wasn't much of an issue.

And he also counselled smaller teams starting out that when considering the problem of funding, that if they could solve the 'speed issue' - ie, the amount of time it took to make a game - they'd quickly find the funding issue would go away. The point was interesting, though as practical advice it didn't yield too much more in the way of meat on the bone.

So that was that for this year's Lunch with Luminaries - (so far) nobody has quit their role, as has become tradition: Phil Harrison famously dissed Sony Japan a couple of years ago before leaving to join Atari, and Neil Young also jumped ship not long after a LWL session for ngmoco... obviously if we hear of anything like that happening to Spector, Segerstrale, Hilleman or Cerny, we'll let you know.

14:59 PST / 22:59 GMT (Phil): There was also a little dive into the evolution of the game controller at one point, with Cerny pointing out that over time the number of buttons on a controller has increased steadily from two, up to 14 - and wondered whether that was a good thing.

But Spector disagreed, saying that he advised against "throwing the baby out with the dishwater" as the industry approached the 'no-button' future heralded by Sony and Microsoft, and pioneered by Nintendo.

Not that he was saying controls like the Wiimote were bad - after all, Epic Mickey is a Wii title - but that it wasn't necessary to discard 30 years of gaming tradition and evolution because motion control was the new talking point.

What struck me as odd about this point - especially given Hilleman's history with flight sim games - was that nobody seemed to factor in the early home computers. Okay, they evolved to use joysticks in the Commodore 64 era, but a lot of games even after that point were based on keyboard controls (remember the keyboard overlays, anybody?) - that's a heck of a lot more than 14 buttons, even back then...

14:45 PST / 22:45 GMT (Phil): Spector was pretty staunch in his support of the genius of the designer throughout - as you'd expect - but most notably as the discussion moved into the analytics argument. With one social games company (which remained nameless) allegedly preferring to hire analysts instead of game designers, there was some talk about the direction in which game design was heading.

There was general consensus that more information about your user base was better than less, but a general question mark over where the line should be drawn.

Probably the quote of the session was Spector's in conclusion to that part of the conversation: "I will quit before I make a game based on analytics," he said, while the talk turned to Richard Garriott's entry into the social space with Portalarium.

Consensus there, led by Hilleman, was that one of Garriott's strengths was that he "loves his audience" a great deal, and would listen to what they said - but ultimately if his creative side disagreed with the data to hand, he'd choose his vision rather than analytics.

Talk of data that tells game companies which colour links people prefer, how many words in a sentence is optimal, and so on, might be useful in honing the 'efficiency' of a game - but my issue with that approach is that ultimately, followed to its logical conclusion, that it would result in every game effectively looking very similar. Letting users effectively dictate game design can definitely yield some benefits, but making decisions based on the most-trodden path won't encourage innovation...

14:38 PST / 22:38 GMT (Phil): There was also some good discussion around Facebook as a platform. Segerstrale, while admitting that nothing lasted for ever, likened the social network to a utility - "people will always need electricity" - but Hilleman pointed out that utilities have a tendency to change pretty quickly.

Specifically, he later concluded, it's actually the community that's the platform, not Facebook, amid some pondering on the nature of that community, and whether there was a danger of it defecting en masse to a different network - how MySpace would like that...

Ultimately Segerstrale pointed out that the trick was to get people to invest time and effort in the games themselves, so that they'd think twice before leaving and taking their friends with them. It made me wonder if there was a commercial value to online trend-setters... how much would a company like Playfish pay to a person that could genuinely make an entire section of his or her network defect from one game to another, or one platform to another?

14:32 PST / 22:32 GMT (Phil): The main thread of conversation that worked its way through most of the session revolved around casual and social gaming - hardly surprising given Segerstrale's presence - and he underlined the impact of the Facebook platform for games by quoting statistics that of the 450 million users on the social network, half of them were playing games there... which is a pretty big pool.

Crucially he attributed some of the success of the sector to a reduction in the barriers to entry for users, citing games there as "a new reason for people to hang out together online."

14:24 PST / 22:24 GMT (Phil): One of the now-established traditions at GDC is David Perry's Lunch with Luminaries, which puts a group of key industry figures together around a table to talk about some pressing topics, and invites a selection of key journalists to watch it unfold.

This year the group included Playfish CEO Kristian Segerstrale, EA CTO Richard Hilleman, Disney VP Warren Spector and design legend Mark Cerny.

The session lasted for over an hour, so I'll add a selection of updates shortly that summarise some of the more interesting things that were said.

13:40 PST / 21:40 GMT (Kath): EA COO John Schappert has addressed the issue of Jason West and Vince Zampella's exit from Infinity Ward and Activision, saying the situation was bad for the industry as a whole.

When asked a question about whether it was a good creative choice for developers to join large publishers, Schappert quipped that maybe not if the publisher likes to litigate. West and Zampella are among the best creative leaders who shouldn't be dealing with litigation and lawyers, he said.

Schappert talked about social gaming too, calling it the latest hot space, but expressing his opinion that the high valuations of some companies might not continue and that many will fall by the wayside.

13:07 PST / 21:07 GMT (Kath): A lively panel discussion on disruptive game platforms from the big players in social gaming has just finished. On it, representatives from Facebook, Crowdstar, Hi5 and PlayStation Home.

It kicked off with a rundown of numbers – Facebook obviously boasting by far the most with 400 million, Hi5 and Crowdstar sitting at around 50 million and 70 million respectively, and Home bringing up the rear with around 12 million.

PlayStation Home's Jack Buser was keen to point out though that numbers aren't the important factor – all of Home's users are gamers who already have a wallet and are familiar with buying digital goods. Additionally, Home's 3D visuals make it the perfect space for strangers to meet, he said – and the panel all agreed that there was a difference between services that connected friends – Facebook – and ones that acted as match-making services for strangers. Sony is able to adopt business practices rapidly – a huge disruption to the console industry, he said; the company has relationships with many developers and the tools are cheap.

Where they didn't all agree was with Facebook's strategy. Hi5's Alex St John called Facebook “confused”. It has millions of people swarming around doing nothing, he noted. It's full of parasitic games spamming users, which – understandably – Facebook is now having to put at arm's length. It's future? Millions of crap games and a few hundred good ones, he said. Hi5 has just announced it will be publishing third-party titles on its service, which he says means developers can concentrate on making good games, not spamming.

Facebook's Gareth Davis came back with response that he was happy Hi5 was now supporting Facebook APIs and that we would now start to see the next generation of Facebook games – it would possibly get its own iconic identity too, like it's own Sonic or Mario.

An enthusiastic round of applause followed St John's next observation – that Zynga was less of a disruptive force in gaming and more a disruptive force in spamming. Perhaps unsurprising, from an audience largely consisting of developers probably tired of hearing how they should be emulating it. Crowdstar's Peter Relan was in agreement - “I have no issue with your statement Zynga has mediocre games, that's fine with me.” Relan had the final word too, noting that the platforms they were arguing about would continue to co-exist regardless of their differing strategies and people's opinions of them.

11.30 PST / 19:30 GMT (Kath): Chris Petrovic, senior VP of GameStop Digital Ventures has responded to the threat of OnLive to retail by saying the service still has a lot to work out - “there are so many dynamics at work,” he pointed out, in a session entitled The Best Disruptive Game Investments Opportunities for 2010 and Beyond. There are relationships with publishers and ways to pay them to sort out, and the company is dealing with publishers who have survived for a long time on one business model. It'll be a long transition, he said, and pieces of hardware will still need to be sold somewhere. They're all discussions being had, he added.

OnLive has created quite a buzz since Perlman's announcement and distribution is what VCs are looking to invest in, not just games, said Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners. Entrepreneurs are always looking for new distribution platforms that are less crowded, he said. Twitter is likely to be where activity moves next, as well as Android and Windows 7 mobile.

10:43 PST / 18.43 GMT (Kath) Big announcement from Steve Perlman, president of OnLive. The service will launch in the US on June 17. Pricing has been confirmed at $14.95 per month for users signing up to a contract - multi-month pricing and special offers will be announced later. The service will kick off for PC and Mac initially. Game sales and rentals will be priced a la carte.

The announcement came following an impressive demo of the service's front end with Unreal Tournament III running flawlessly, and mind-blowing video wall of games and user profiles. The first 25,000 users signing up to OnLive will get three months free, and users will get a range of features for their subscription - including voice chat and access to the full game marketplace. More from OnLive will be shown later today at GDC.

07:53 PST / 15:53 GMT (Phil): Let's kick the US day off with an exclusive, however - I bumped into a very happy Guillaume de Fondaumiere - co-founder of Quantic Dream - last night, who's rightly pleased with the reception of their latest opus, Heavy Rain.

"The mood of the team is pretty high - we've been working for three and a half years to deliver on a very strong promise," he said. "As I always say, reviews are important, sales are even more important, but the most important thing for David [Cage] and I was to deliver on the promise.

"I think this is really something that we've tried hard not to under-deliver on. It's always great when you see the specialised press and the gamers see it and reward it with great reviews on one hand and with good sales on the other. It's a very exciting time.

"I think that Heavy Rain's success is also a very important sign to the industry. There is space for innovation, and we are - to a certain degree - a relatively conservative industry. An industry where it's sometimes difficult to push the boundaries, so whenever there's a success such as Heavy Rain, it fuels a lot of hope for all the people out there who try to do things differently, and try to expand the market."

We'll have more exclusive news from Guillaume next week...

07:40 PST / 15:40 GMT (Phil): Today is GamesBeat day at GDC, so we'll be checking out a bunch of those sessions, including talks featuring Playfish CEO Kristian Segerstrale, EA COO John Schappert, and key execs from ngmoco, Zynga and Popcap. Should prove to be an interesting day.

Later on we'll also be on hand to find out the latest announcements from OnLive - see yesterday's blog entries for what a few people have been saying about the viability of that tech - as well as a Sony press conference, so keep checking back.

03:28 PST / 11:28 GMT (David): Ubisoft Montreal has become the latest studio to sign on with NaturalMotion, makers of euphoria, and their morpheme animation package. Ubisoft won't say what game they're planning to use it with, but apparently it's all part of a "long-term licensing agreement".

Apart from that nugget of information all the rest is cross-company brown-nosing, but as developers try to limit costs wherever possible an off-the shelf animation package certainly makes sense.

Unlike euphoria, morpheme doesn't use dynamic motion synthesis but instead allows for more hands on control of animation. Theoretically this would make it less susceptible to the "Unreal Engine effect", where large scale use of the same middleware begins to turn familiarity into contempt in the minds of some gamers.

03:12 PST / 11:12 GMT (Matt): Over on Eurogamer's Digital Foundry blog, Rich Leadbetter has reported on Epic's Unreal Engine port to the iPhone and iPod Touch. He notes that the Unreal Engine 3 is also running on Linux, Mac, NVIDIA and Tegra 2 platforms – with the latter "potentially very interesting if the Nintendo DS 2 rumours turn out to be true".

Rich concludes that, "It took Epic four man-months of work with a two-man team to bring Unreal Engine 3 to the iPhone, and based on the surprise reveal of Tegra 2 work, it's clear that the company is very interested in bringing its middleware to a wide range of mobile platforms. Asked whether UE3 would be heading to Android, Josh Adams pointedly declined to comment... "

For detailed analysis of the Unreal Engine 3 on iPhone, head over to the increasingly essential Digital Foundry blog.

Tuesday, March 9

19:55 PST / 03:55 (March 10) GMT (Oli - Eurogamer): Activision has spent the first couple of days of GDC showing off its "reboot" of also-ran open-world action series, True Crime, in a suite at the W. To read about the game in detail, check out Ellie's preview over on Eurogamer.net.

This time, development's being handled by young Vancouver studio United Front, also making the intriguing UGC-focused kart racer ModNation Racers for Sony. United Front told us it had staffed up for the True Crime project by employing local developers from Rockstar, EA Black Box and Radical Entertainment, the specialist in open-world action games (Prototype, Scarface, the Incredible Hulk) which recently suffered harsh staff cutbacks at the hands of its owner... Activision.

What goes around comes around, I guess.

19:47 PST / 03:47 (March 10) GMT (Phil): EA Sports is hosting a party tonight at the Yerba Buena Press Club, a basement wine bar next to the Moscone, and to kick off proceedings were a set of presentations based around the Madden, NCAA, MMA and EA Sports Active franchises. A couple of interesting things stood out in particular:

Firstly, they capture an obscene amount of data from NCAA and Madden games that are played on connected consoles - about 173 million pieces of data per day - and that's helping the teams shape the next iterations in the franchises. Specifically they know that 82 per cent of NCAA and 76 per cent of Madden players are connected to the internet across Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 - pretty strong numbers.

But more interestingly, they're using captured in-game data to check whether the mass gamers are experiencing what they were intended to - the success rate of a certain type of tackle, for example, can be identified and the game then tweaked in a live update if the stats aren't hitting the ratios that were originally intended.

It reminds me a lot of a talk at DICE by Brian Reynolds (Zynga) who explained the company's approach to iterative game design - namely 'data-driven' game design, where they look at the actions of users within the game and use that data to evolve the experience. Fascinating stuff.

18:25 PST / 02:25 (March 10) GMT (Oli - Eurogamer): The lobby and bar of the W hotel in San Francisco have been humming with informal meetings all afternoon. Nothing new about that - it's as much a GDC tradition as the parties (usually hosted by Nordic Game) that would be unforgettable if they weren't so hard to remember. But today, casual eavesdroppers found their ears assaulted by two words, or rather brands, over and over agin: Facebook and iPad.

With the social and mobile gaming tracks dominating today's schedule, maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise. But there's a definite sense that our industry is changing. You didn't need to look any further for evidence of that than this afternoon session by Zynga, the developers of social gaming sensation FarmVille. It was standing room only in one of the Moscone's largest lecture theatres as hundreds of developers crammed in to find out how one of the world's most popular and profitable games - 31 million players per day, 110 million installs - was made by six developers in five weeks. Looking at those figures, it's not hard to understand why.

Spotted in the audience: CCP's house economist, Dr Eyjolfur Gudmundsson. Are the makers of the internet's most ambitious and ruthless virtual world, EVE Online, flirting with the social space? Now that's a scary thought.

16:13 PST / 00:13 (March 10) GMT (Kath): In a panel entitled Investing In New Game Companies, venture capitalists and analysts discussed the changing values of the industry, highlighting the pros and cons of the rise in social gaming.

While admitting he is a core gamer himself, Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners said he's not investing in them. They "suck as customers" he said, pointing out they're hard to please and prone to pirating their games. Customers that don't care about pixel numbers are easier to please, he said, and the market they populate is growing.

He said that the future would see a rise in premium social games, encompassing longer sessions as the format evolves. Developers should go back to the games they were making before they had a lot of polygons, then wrap them with free-to-play and micro-transactions, he added.

The challenge will be managing the cost of customer acquisition, said Mark Jung, chairman Epic Advertising. Kids are learning about games on the iPhone, he said, not the DS or Xbox 360. And the amount of disposable time people have will never change – every minute they choose to spend it playing phone games is one they don't spend on Xbox Live. It's a problem for the industry, he said, which will prevent it from growing.

16:08 PST / 00:08 (March 10) GMT (Phil): Just announced - Bigpoint is putting together a browser-based game based on Battlestar Galactica. The news was just press released, and details are still scant, but the company's CTO Jan Wergin told me earlier that more information will spill out in the next month, while the game is tentatively set for release later this year.

As with Uniter, the iPod/PC cross-platform game announced yesterday (working title), Battlestar Galactica will use the Unity 3.0 engine. I only saw a splash screen, so no sense of the in-game visuals, but it's a big license for the part-NBC owned company to be working on.

15:23 PST / 23:23 GMT (Phil): If you're interested in what's hot in the Japanese mobile gaming scene, there are some interesting parallels between that and the social games sector in the West, according to Pikkle's David Collier, in a session entitled "Social Games in Japan". The top five titles are:

  • Sunshine Ranch - a farming game (think Farmville)
  • Friends Scorecard - a survey game
  • City Sim - a city-building title (think SimCity)
  • Kaitou Royale - a Mafia game (think Mafia Wars)
  • Kaiji Test - a quiz game (think Buzz!)

The games themselves are played by millions of mobile users with similar themes and functionality to popular Facebook titles. There's no obvious parallel to the survey game, but the rest have very clear counterparts - and Kaitou Royale alone makes around $7 million per month... even the iPhone market isn't quite at that level yet...

12:54 PST / 20:54 GMT (Kath): Just finished interviewing Alex St John, president of Hi5 – founder of WildTangent and one of the creators of Microsoft's DirectX. He has a lot of opinions – unsurprisingly most relate to Hi5's successful rival platform Facebook, but he's also got a lot to say about the likely next moves of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

He's said it before and he still more than stands by it – this generation of consoles will be the last. The reason the three platform holders haven't made an announcement on their next consoles is because they're waiting to see what happens in the online gaming space. Better 3D graphics won't cut it any more – there's diminishing return for better graphics - as proven by the most successful console of this generation, the Wii, which is defined by its control system rather than its visuals.

Microsoft and Sony are trying to get their technologies into living rooms, he says, but the concept of a living room is no longer relevant. People have computers in their bedrooms, they play games on their laptops. It doesn't matter how big the screen is, he points out – if you're sitting two feet away from a laptop screen it's as good as playing on a massive TV. Look at what's happened to arcades, he says. Now they only feature games you can't get at home – with complex cabinets. Compare that to what's happening with the home consoles – Natal, Rock Band. Even if the consoles don't go away, they're fast going to become as irrelevant as the arcade business, he adds.

Oh, and he's yet another doubter of OnLive - "They're out of their damn minds. It's too bad because it's the right notion and the wrong execution. I know it can't be done – I've been building these technologies a long time – it doesn't work, it can't be done," he says. The presenters of Wednesday's session 'It's OnLive! Cloud-based gaming Is Here' (PST 1:45) could be in for a tricky Q&A session.

12:36 PST / 20:36 GMT (Phil): More doubts have just been cast over the viability of the OnLive remote gaming plans, this time from the perspective of a global internet service provider. Vlad Ihora, head of games at TeliaSonera - the company that handles the networking for Blizzard Europe and Ankama, among others - has suggested that the kind of results that are being touted aren't impossible... but aren't likely just yet.

"Obviously remote gaming is a very important part of the future," he told me earlier. "Unfortunately it's not necessarily a strong part of the present as yet. It's not anything to do with OnLive or other such companies, in terms of their algorithms or service in itself - it has a lot to do with the rest of the components in the value chain."

He went on to point out the latency that will hit the performance at several points of the network, and suggested that a solid operation could still be as much as a year away in somewhere like South Korea, and more like 18 months in the US and Western Europe. We'll have more from Vlad when we publish the full interview in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, OnLive is set to spill more details later this week, while we'll be talking to Gaikai's David Perry about how that particular service is shaping up too.

10:15 PST / 18:15 GMT (Kath): Ron Carmel from 2D Boy has been explaining the new Indie Fund revealed recently in a session entitled Indie and Publishers: Fixing a System That Never Worked. With the range of distribution channels now available to developers, Carmel said that developers no longer need publishers for their games, or the bad terms that can often come with them. But they do need funding, which is where the Indie Fund comes in.

Carmel listed a number of key ways the Fund aims to work. Its submission process will be transparent and terms publicly available, while developers will be allocated a single point of contact and have flexible development terms. The Indie Fund will create a whole new model where developers submit periodic builds to the Fund, with the game evaluated based on how it's progressed since the last submission, not judged on a game design document drawn up a year ago.

Finally, the Fund will have no control or ownership of the IP of the game its funding. They wouldn't fund it if they didn't believe the team was able to deliver, said Carmel. It's easy for publishers to believe they know better, but they often don't. The size of the fund wasn't revealed, but if the team sees 20 games in a year it wants to fund, it will raise the money. His talk and the idea behind the fund was positively received by the audience, many of whom clearly welcomed this alternative to traditional funding routes.

02:46 PST / 10:46 GMT (Matt): Animation studio Image Metrics has launched its new facial animation technology, Faceware, with Halo developer Bungie the first to publicly sign up for the software.

"Creating realistic facial animation is a critical component to bringing believable, character-driven performances to life for our next studio project," said Marcus Lehto, creative director at Bungie. "Faceware lets us raise our extremely high quality bar and maintain the ultra fast turnaround times and animator efficiency we need without impacting our existing pipeline.”

As well as games like Assassin's Creed II and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Faceware has also been used in the Black Eyed Peas' Boom Boom Pow music video and commercials for Rock Band 2 and Fox's Biscuits.

02:02 PST / 10:02 GMT (Matt): The Game Developers Conference may be getting back to basics this year, with a focus on the development community rather than publishers and hardware manufacturers, but that hasn't stopped the rumours and gossip of expected 'big news'. Yesterday, games blog VG247 ran a piece rumouring that Sony would announce solid information on its motion control peripheral, and a possible reveal of LittleBigPlanet 2. But so far, nothing.

I like rumour and speculation as much as the next site, but I think those recent reports are running on out of date intel. I've heard that any motion control details will come to light on Wednesday (early Thursday in the UK), when Sony holds a press event in San Francisco (and we'll have staff on the ground to report from it).

As for LittleBigPlanet 2? It wouldn't be surprising to hear of LBP content that supported Arc/Gem or whatever Sony's motion control is going to be called, but any announcement of a direct sequel is likely to be held off until E3. And that's assuming a 'proper' sequel would happen at all rather than Sony and Media Molecule continuing to support the game with direct digital downloads. Or at least that's what I'm speculating. That's the trouble with rumours and gossip...

Monday, March 8

18:15 PST / 02:15 (Mar 9) GMT (Phil): Meanwhile, some news from a little bit earlier - Unity Technologies has announced that it's released a new version of the Unity Engine (version 3.0) which adds in support for the iPad, Android and PlayStation 3, giving it the "broadest support on the market," according to a statement.

"Since our first version in 2005, Unity Technologies has been focused on the democratisation of interactive 3D and delivering an impressive list of technological advances making it the technology of choice for more than 100,000 developers today," said David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies. "We have been driven by innovation and a desire to always offer the best capabilities to developers. Unity 3.0 is built on that same promise and allows our customers to further expand the reach of their games to new platforms and audiences."

Also today, Bigpoint and Unity hooked up to showcase a game called Uniter, which allows iPhone and PC gamers to race against each other. "This is an important and historic opportunity for the online gaming industry," said BigPoint CEO Heiko Hurbertz. "We believe the future of gaming exists in a world without borders and platform boundaries and in real-time. Bigpoint is excited to show the industry how it will unify the gameplay experience for gamers across all the devices they use to play our games."

I'll be speaking to Heiko tomorrow, while Kath is set to chat to David on Thursday - so expect more on casual games and broad-support engines then!

18:04 PST / 02:04 (Mar 9) GMT (Phil): The conference proper starts tomorrow (although Game Connection America has been in full flow today), and Kath and I will be taking in a number of sessions, including:

  • Indies & Publishers, with Ron Carmel (2D Boy)
  • From Big Studio to Small Indie, with Sean Murray (Hello Games)
  • Why Are Veterans Flocking to Social Media?, with (among others) Brian Reynolds (Zynga) and Noah Falstein (Inspiracy)
  • Investing in New Game Companies, with (among others) Evan Wilson (Pacific Crest)
  • Social Games in Japan, with David Collier (Pikkle KK)
  • Succeeding With Licensed Brands, with (among others) N'Gai Croal (Hit Detection)

Of course, anybody that's been to GDC before will know that schedules are somewhat flexible, but that's the plan at the moment, so hopefully we'll bring updates to you throughout the day as the magic happens.

17:43 PST / 01:43 (Mar 9) GMT (Phil): Hi all and welcome to the coverage of GDC 2010. Over the next few days we're going to be bringing as much of the flavour and colour of this year's show to you in a slightly different format - rather than trying to shoehorn session coverage into more formal news stories and post-event interview features, we'll be posting to this blog-style feature as regularly as internet connection allows, with snippets of interesting stuff from sessions, parties, queues, and anything else we think is noteworthy.

Hopefully it'll be a bit more fluid - and give more of a sense of occasion - than most show coverage manages to do.

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