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12 Can't Miss VR Talks You Have To See At GDC 2017

12 Can't Miss VR Talks You Have To See At GDC 2017

E3, Gamescom, TGS, PAX are all great shows for exhibiting VR content. But, in the early days of this industry, it is the developer conferences, the places where creators come together to share knowledge and reveal breakthroughs, that are the really exciting events to cover. There’s no better time of the year to do that than at the Game Developers Conference (GDC).

Official GDC 2016

Filling up the halls of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, GDC has been a big event for the VR industry over the past few years, but it is seeing something of an explosion this year, which runs from February 27th – March 3rd. There are an overwhelming number of talks to see at this year’s show from some of the biggest names in the industry. There’s easily more than anyone could hope to see, so we’ve nailed down twelve of the most important ones you should really try to see. Even then, there’s a bit of overlap.

UploadVR is going to be at the show too, so you can expect to see plenty from us throughout the week. Prepare yourself; it’s going to be a busy one.

Lessons Learned From A Thousand Virtual Worlds

When?: Monday, February 27th, 10:00am – 11:00am
Where?: Room 134, North Hall
Who?: Jesse Schell (Schell Games)

With time spent at at Walt Disney Imagineering and a number of high-profile releases under his current studio’s belt, Jesse Schell is a man you should listen to when it comes to VR. He’s worked on the tech since before the Oculus Rift was invented and, with his team, since released some of the best games for it. It also helps that Schell is a fantastic host for these talks, and his GDC sessions never disappoint. If you go to just one of the many ‘lessons learned’-style sessions, make it this one.

vive raw data featured image

Learnings Of Early Access From ‘Raw Data’

When?: Monday, Feburary 27th, 3:00pm – 3:30pm
Where?: Room 135, North Hall
Who?: Chris Hewish (Survios), Mike McTyre (Survios)

Deciding on whether or not to launch your game in Steam Early Access is a big decision that many VR developers face. Get it right and you’ll grow a strong community to fund your game through the rest of development. Get it wrong and you could be stuck in development hell wondering where to go next. Survios came out swinging with the pre-release version of Raw Data and ended up with big success, so they’re definitely a team you should listen to if you’re considering this route for your VR game.

The Holodeck Year 2: Growing the VR Ecosystem in 2017

When?: Tuesday, February 28th, 10:00am – 11:00am
Where?: Room 2011, West Hall
Who?: Rikard Steiber (HTC), Joel Breton (HTC)

As President of Viveport and Head of Vive Studios respectively, Rikard Steiber and Joel Breton are two of the most senior figures working on the HTC Vive today. While many GDC sessions are looking back at what’s happened in the past year, this one will look ahead to what’s to come. With features like the Vive trackers on the horizon, we’re expecting plenty of juicy tidbits of information here, and you should be looking for some vital knowledge on getting ready for Vive Year Two, too.

A Year In VR: A Look Back At VR’S Launch

When?: Tuesday, February 28th, 10:00am – 11:00am
Where?: Room 135, North Hall
Who?: Jeremy Chapman (CloudGate Studio), Steve Bowler (CloudGate Studio), Cy Wise (Owlchemy Labs), Andrew Eiche (Owlchemy Labs Inc), Colin Northway (Northway Games), Sarah Northway (Northway Games)

We’ll get to the headset makers later on, but this panel is comprised of some of the best indie studios developing games for them. Collectively, these people have shipped Island 359, Job Simulator, and Fantastic Contraption, some of the most well-known titles out today. It won’t quite have been a full year since the Rift and Vive launched, but listening to these teams share their insights into the past 11 or so months is bound to be fascinating.

Refocusing On VR Innovation: Can Standards Simplify Cross-Platform Virtual Reality Development?

When?: Tuesday, 28th February, 11:20am – 12:20pm
Where? Room 3022, West Hall
Who?: Cass Everitt (Oculus), Joe Ludwig (Valve), Nick Whiting (Epic Games), Devin Reimer (Owlchemy Labs), Yuval Boger (Sensics, Inc.), Alon Or-bach (Samsung Electronics), Kaye Mason (Google)

It’s not often you get both Oculus and Valve together days, let alone Google and Samsung, with bonus helpings of Epic Games, Owlchemy Labs, and Sensics. These people are more than qualified to tackle this session’s hard topic: fragmentation. What can be done to simplify VR development now that there are so many headsets out there? These representatives of the best of both PC and mobile VR are bound to have a few answers, as will the makers on Unreal Engine 4.

Experiments in Social VR

When?: Tuesday, February 28th, 5:30pm – 6:00pm
Where?: Room 134, North Hall,
Who?: Stefan Walker (Google), Luca Prasso (Google)

Social VR is set to become one of the biggest uses of the tech over the next few years, and Google is at the forefront of this field with the experiments its doing with the Daydream mobile VR ecosystem. It’s shown some examples of its work with social experiences before, but we’re expecting a deep dive on them in this session, coming out with a view on the best practises for building the next generation of connected VR apps.


State Of Unreal: Epic Games’ Opening Session

When?: Wednesday, March 1st, 9:30am – 10:30am
Where?: Room 3001, West Hall
Who?: Tim Sweeney (Epic Games)

Given they make one of the industry’s most popular development engines, GDC is always a busy time for Epic Games, and this year will be no different. You can expect big updates on Unreal Engine 4, a toolkit that has closely aligned itself with VR over the past few years, from Tim Sweeney, an industry legend that is placing big bets on the future of the technology. This will be unmissable for many developers deciding where to start making their VR games.

VR 201: Lessons From The Frontlines

When?: Wednesday, March 1st, 11:00am – 12:00pm
Where?: Room 3014, West Hall
Who?: Chris Pruett (Oculus)

There aren’t many companies as well suited to talk about lessons from the frontlines of the VR industry as Oculus, so you’ll want to make sure you catch this evolution of a talk the company has been giving for a long time now. You’ll get tips on design and optimization, and developers will no doubt want to pounce the moment the floor opens for questions (if that happens). It is arguably Oculus’ biggest session of the show.

What to Pack: Exploring VR & AR With Daydream and Tango

When?: Wednesday, March 1st, 11:00am – 12:00pm
Where?: Room 3009, West Hall
Who?: Alex Lee (Google)

As pioneering platforms for both mobile VR and AR, Daydream and Tango are two of the most important topics in the VR industry right now, especially considering the two together might present a solution for inside-out tracking a VR headset using a smartphone. Daydream has been commercially available for a few months now and Tango is steadily growing a library of phones and apps. Finding out what Google has learned on its journey so far could be one of GDC’s biggest stories.


Increasing VR Presence: From Believable Character Behaviors to Developing with the New PlayStation VR Aim Controller

When?: Wednesday, March 1st, 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Where?: Room 2024, West Hall
When?: Tom Bruckbock (SIEA), Seth Luisi (Impulse Gear), Greg Koreman (Impulse Gear), Richard Marks (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Sony doesn’t have a lot of VR talks in the books for GDC this year, but of the ones it is offering, this is definitely the talk we’d make an effort to see. Impulse Gear is currently working on Farpoint, one of our most anticipated PSVR games and the first to use the PlayStation Aim controller, a gun-shaped peripheral that makes for incredibly immersive experiences. Finding out how to best use it will be in the interest of a lot of developers as it starts to roll out later this year.

Windows Holographic Rendering: One SDK to target VR and AR ecosystems

When?: Thursday, March 2nd, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Where?: Room 2009, West Hall
Who?: Alex Pfaffe (Windows Holographic)

Microsoft is set to start shipping developer kits for its Windows Holographic VR headsets, made in partnership with companies like Lenovo and Dell, at GDC, so we’re expecting to hear a lot more about them at the show. This is the only VR-focused session the company has booked right now, but the promise of a single SDK to create content across different headsets is a very tempting one. This session will hopefully tell us all about how the company is planning to do that.

Virtual Insanity: Lessons Learned from Creating a Virtual Reality Engine

When?: Friday, March 3rd, 10:45am – 11:15am
Where?: Room 2005, West Hall
Who?: Liz Mercuri (Unity)

With its Editor VR tool now available in an early incarnation, 2017 is going to be a massive year for Unity and VR. Before it kicks off, though, Unity’s Liz Mercuri is going to talk about ‘The Horror Engine’, designed specifically for creating multiplayer content. It’s going to be another insightful look into how to get the best of the tools you’re using to make great VR content which, ultimately, is what GDC is all about.

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