Boston Companies Grab Headlines at Game Developers Conference

2/22/08

The Game Developers Conference 2008 attracted video game designers from all over the world to San Francisco this past week to discuss the business and technology of gaming—and no doubt to revel in a few days of pure, Klingon-speaking geekiness. Boston-area game developers were well represented, both among the nominees for top games of 2007 and among the speakers and sessions, which included a series on how to start your own video game company from Waltham’s Charles River Ventures. Here are a few tidbits from local companies.

And the Award Goes To…

Folks from 2K Boston, the developers of the popular BioShock, may not have been asked who they were wearing on the way into the Game Developers’ Choice Awards, but there was no lack of anticipation around them. BioShock and Portal, the new puzzle game from Valve, of Bellevue, WA, led the pack in nominations, with five apiece. Alas, Portal took Game of the Year, and also beat out BioShock in Best Game Design and snagged the trophy for Innovation. But Bioshock won for Best Visual Art, Best Writing, and Best Audio. Harmonix Music, of Cambridge, the MIT Media Lab spinout that scored a huge commercial hit with Guitar Hero, didn’t fare as well. Their Rock Band was shut out in both the Game of the Year and Innovation categories.

A Remote Controller for Your Phone

Over in the exhibit hall, a Bedford-based company, Zeemote, introduced what it calls the first wireless controller designed to allow users to play games on their cell phones. The small, ergonomic device is equipped with a toggle and trigger buttons, and uses Bluetooth to connect with cell phones. The company says the device has been validated for use with phones from Motorola, Nokia, LG, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. Zeemote was founded in 2005 by Beth Marcus, a mechanical engineer from MIT who helped invent the first force feedback joystick for PC gaming.

Akamai at the Gates of Hell

Cambridge-based Akamai used the conference a launchpad for Games on the Edge, a portal site designed to showcase the networking company’s ability to help gaming companies distribute bandwidth-hungry software and marketing materials online and manage massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). The site features game demos, high-definition game trailers, screenshots, and other materials from companies such as Flagship Studios, PopCap Games, OutSpark, and SpinTop. The featured Flagship trailer at Games on the Edge is about an intriguing Diablo-meets-the-Crusades game called Hellgate: London, featuring super-soldiers resembling knights in armor. It’s gorgeous, if you can say that about a post-apocalypse London.

Concerning Hobbits

The timing may or may not have had anything to do with GDC, but Westwood, MA-based Turbine announced on February 20 that its exclusive license with Tolkien Enterprises to develop and market MMORPGs based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has been extended to 2014, with an option to extend the agreement to 2017. That’s no doubt good news for LOTRO addicts, who otherwise might have had to plan what else to do with their lives after the previous license expired. But seriously: Turbine has done an amazing job of translating Tolkien’s world into a persistent gaming environment. Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar was justly named best PC MMORPG of 2007 by Gamespy, a leading multiplayer gaming websites.

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