Maggie Shiels

A walk on the fun side of GDC

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 27 Mar 09, 12:14 GMT

At every conference I go to, I like to take a wander around the expo floor to soak up the atmosphere and to see what's bubbling away.

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the busiest booth by far was OnLive. Their newly-unveiled service, which promises to deliver on-demand video games in quality on your PC, Mac or TV via the cloud, has been the buzz of the week. They had 16 screens up and running to let attendees at the GDC put the system through its paces. Anyone really interested in testing it to its limits can sign up for the open beta which will take place over the summer.

While OnLIve seemed to grab the lion's share of attention, there was plenty of action throughout the rest of the expo.

As always there was the obligatory Guitar Hero/Rock Band rock-off with a line of attendees waiting to show that they can throw it down with the best of them. The PlayStation lounge was chock-a-block with gamers doing what they do best - playing games. And the Wii crowd was jiggling like crazy.

One expo attendee was something of a novelty at a show like this - the US army.

Captain Darrell Melton from the army's video unit at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas told me that they were here to let the gaming world know they want developers to work for Uncle Sam.

He was showing off a game called Virtual Battlespace 2 which was made for them by an Australian company called Bohemia Interactive. The army uses the game to try to help improve the cognitive skills of soldiers in the field.

"We just didn't have the skills to build this kind of game in-house, and we can't keep up with what's going on in the commercial sector.

"Our next step is to reach out to developers and let them know that we are looking at buying commercial products especially designed for the army and its needs."

Captain Melton said that Virtual Battlespace 2 has been used to train men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.


"I like the game," said Captain Melton, "because it helps build unit cohesion and improves concentration and lets you learn what to do in life threatening situations without the consequences.

"It sure beats being shot at for real," stressed Captain Melton.

Anyone looking to experience a bit of "fast and furious" realism should head to the Canada Lounge. In its efforts to promote all things Canadian, the organisers have gone for the "big is better" approach with the largest screen that Panasonic produces:103 inches.

Also on show was Electronic Arts' Need for Speed along with a feedback chair by Montreal company D-Box.


"This chair is about boosting the gaming experience by letting the player feel every jolt, pitch and roll," said Ron Martin.

Peter Yee, who was in the hot seat, declared it "awesome" and said "it makes the whole thing feel intense.

"I really feel the need for speed," he quipped.

Over at the Nokia booth, Aziza Washington was trying to ignore her need for a seat. She had after all been standing around in white plastic five inch platform heels.


As a regular trade show hostess, Aziza gave praise to the gamers at GDC as among the "most fun and creative".

Sure beats trying to promote car tyres.

Someone else battling physical fatigue was Nik Rubyn who has been demonstrating the wonders of facial recognition technology this week.

The guys at Natural Point stuck a series of sensors on Nik's facial muscles to record her movements and transfer that information to screens behind her on a series of different faces. Clearly, this is not a job for anyone who has had botox!

The technology has been used in a series of games, but the only company they could tell me about publicly was EA. In fact, Natural Point was one of several similar companies punting this kind of technology.


I caught up with Nik at four in the afternoon and she had been working her face in a series of different contortions from nine in the morning.

"It is tiring and my face is sore by the end of the day," admitted Nik. "The big challenge is doing mean faces. I can't do that because I am having such fun.

"My friends and family think I'm pretty crazy doing this, but they know if I get to be a big dork all day, I'm pretty happy."

One person who was very happy at this expo was Philip Bolus - and that's because he managed to get a shave with a new fancy razor that has a microchip in it.

"I have travelled a long way from home and I forgot my razor and I am very scruffy at the moment," he told me.

Bizarrely enough, Gillette has a booth here because it has released a razor aimed at gamers called Fusion Gamer. You might have seen the "game-vert" featuring Roger Federer and Tiger Woods on the TV.


Whether or not you think gamers need their very own razor, Nattie Nitfal thought many of them needed sprucing up.

On one day alone, she had 40 guys come and have a shave - proving, she said, "that gamers are kinda hairy and scruffy."



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