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GDC: Innovation blooms at the fringes

Despite being a more important event than ever in the games industry's calendar, GDC has lost none of its spirit of innovation - even if you have to look to the edges for some of the most quirky and thought-provoking concepts.

Even with hundreds of talks and sessions taking place over the week of the various GDC events, and with a great many new games on display in the expo hall, some of the freshest and more bizarre concepts have found a niche elsewhere.

The second floor of the Moscone West convention centre is the best example - with the Independent Games Festival entries being showcased opposite a row of posters where public "poster sessions" are being held during the conference.

The "Simulation and Rendering of Real-Time Breaking Waves" is explained on one poster, while another terrifyingly technical one promises to inform readers about "Iterative Dynamics with Temporal Coherence".

Others range from the practical - "Strong, Manageable Hair Without the Fuss," promises one, leading into a description of a system for modelling hair movement in a game - to the quirky - a videogame designed to teach Israeli and Palestinian students about peace and cooperation - while some manage to be both, such as a Japanese style RPG called Kotodama which has been developed by Carnegie Mellon University as a Japanese language learning tool.

On the other side of the floor, the Independent Games Festival (IGF) attracts significant crowds to its demonstration pods - and not without reason. Each of the games on show is an indie created title that has been selected as a finalist in the IGF awards, and the level of quality on display is stunning.

Even at a show where Nintendo and Sony have racks of demonstration machines and NVIDIA and ATI show off their graphical prowess with the latest PC titles, the innovation of IGF titles such as Alien Hominid - created by a small team called The Behemoth who struck out on their own after growing tired of creativity being stifled, as they saw it, by mainstream games publishers - and Gish is outstanding.

Other titles in the Open category at the IGF show off a level of polish and graphical wizardry that many wouldn't expect from indie games, while the Download category amply demonstrates some of the impressive titles and clever ideas being implemented in modern downloadable games - a fast growth market for the industry, and one which has passed under the radar of most major publishers.

The titles in the Student Showcase section are mostly less polished and accomplished than those elsewhere, but even here there are some gems to be seen - with real proof on offer that the next generation of game developers have just as many innovative ideas and concepts to offer as their forebears did.

While some of the sessions at GDC this year - and quite a lot of the post-show conversations in nearby bars - have focused on the spiralling costs of next-generation development, it's a refreshing counter-balance to see the flame of grass roots innovation still burning brightly at the edges of the show.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.