GameDev.net has never officially covered the Electronic Entertainment Expo before. It never seemed necessary, due to the massive coverage it gets from gaming sites. But due to the fact that two of our staff members now live close to Los Angeles (Tiffany in Irvine and Dave in San Diego), we decided to check it out this year to see if there was anything of particular interest to game developers worth reporting on. Amid all the hype and buzz of the games on display, we did manage to uncover a few nuggets. We're also including some of our impressions of the show in general, newbies that we are.
My first - and arguably most interesting - meeting of the show was with Alienware. You've probably heard about their big announcement: a new patent-pending technology called, simply, Video Array, which will allow you to run multiple PCI-Express video cards (though initially only two) on the new X2 motherboard available exclusively in new Alienware systems. The two cards work together by each rendering half the display (though the division of work will be modified dynamically as needed). With 2 cards (which must be the same model), they're projecting a 50-100% boost in performance. Of course, this is only going to benefit games that are GPU limited, but with many recent games, that's already the case, even on high end systems.
The technology fully supports both DirectX and OpenGL. Games won't need to be modified in any way to take advantage of this, other than making the GPU do as much work as possible.
You can find out more at http://www.alienware.com/alx_pages/main_content.aspx
Unreal Engine 3
I missed the Unreal Engine 3 demo at GDC (not enough time), but I'd seen a bootleg video of it that's floating around the web. After seeing it live, the video does it absolutely no justice.
A few cool new things that have been added:
- The engine includes a tool that will take a scene composed of, say, 200 million polygons and reduce it to a few million, with the lost detail being stored in normal maps. These can then be tweaked as desired.
- High dynamic range lighting is supported (and looks fantastic)
- Omni-directional real time shadows
- Check out their page for more.
This year has seen or will see the release of some breathtaking game engines, but I don't think there's anyone that can compare with the combination of Epic's features, robustness, supporting tools, reputation, and track record. Any developer working on a high-end commercial 3D game should take a really hard look at Unreal Engine 3.
I met with executives at IGN/Gamespy who showed me GamerMetrics, which they announced at GDC. With this service, they've taken all the data accumulated from all of the IGN and Gamespy sites (things like how many times a particular game review/preview has been read, which games gamers have signed up to receive alerts about, etc.) and turned them into an aggregate database about the current state of the game industry based on hundreds of samples. Targeted at retailers, publishers, and large developers (and priced accordingly), the service allows you to view an amazing amount of statistical information about any given game. For example, if I looked up Halo 2, I could see how many people were interested in it in relationship to other games, which other games Halo 2 fans were also interested in, when those other games shipped or will ship, and so on. Although this kind of information may not be of direct interest to developers, they'll benefit from it since publishers will be able to use it to better time the release of a game to maximize revenues and help increase the chances of success.
I had a meeting with a couple of people from the DirectX team. We talked about XNA, the summer update of DirectX 9 that recently went beta, and a bit about the future. Something that really impressed me is the way these guys work with game developers. They are in constant communication with them, via email, telephone, and in person, finding out exactly what their needs are and doing their best to incorporate them into the next release of DirectX. In fact, every single request they get is entered into a database, and those requests are processed in the same way bug reports are. They said that some ideas are rejected, but most of them get implemented in some form or another. If you travel around the industry and talk to game developers working on PC games, you'll meet a lot of people who will tell you that certain DirectX features are there because they suggested them. A lot of people attribute the success of DirectX to marketing and the Microsoft machine, but I think a more realistic take on it is that they tried to do it their way for a few revisions until finally realizing that it wasn't going to be successful until they made it what developers wanted it to be. Anyway, I don't mean to sound like a DirectX fanboi (I'm not), but they deserve credit for the admirable way in which they work with developers.
There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the Phantom console, primarily stemming from reports that they had no hardware, making the whole thing sound like a marketing scam. However, earlier this year Kevin Bacchus - of Microsoft(R)XBox fame - joined Phantom developer Infinium Labs as CEO, turning a lot of heads and causing people to reconsider their views of the console. Well, at E3 they took the next step by unveiling the console. They also announced that they're going to be giving the console away for free with a paid subscription to their service. A number of other companies are producing similar console, but it remains to be seen whether or not gamers are going to be interested in these kinds of services.
In the past year or more, mobile gaming has had an increasing presense at every conference I've been to. E3 was probably the biggest yet. Of the 5000 products on display at E3, 18% were related to mobile gaming. Despite some critics comparing this to the buzz over PDA games a few years ago - which never really panned out - the larger installed base of users (several orders of magnitude more than PDAs) and better distribution models hold enormous potential for game developers. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens in this area in the next several years.
This was my first time at E3 and it was exactly what I expected it to be, lots of loud music, stunning visual effects, new game concepts, cool gadgets and lots of people who share a passion for games. It was awesome!
There was an awful lot to take in and I'm sure I didn't catch half of it, but here's a fun look at my trip to E3 2004.
Square Enix - Snazzy Cinema Set-up
One of my first stops was the Square Enix Booth. They had a very impressive looking booth that included a 360 degree cinema with a rotating platform. In it they showcased Final Fantasy XII (12), (which I found to be rather impressive looking), and titles from Square Mobile. Also seen in the snazzy cinema was a glimpse of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Squares upcoming direct-to-DVD movie.
NVIDIA - Busy Booth
The NVIDIA booth was very interesting. They showcased lots of games including Unreal Tournament 2004, Call Of Duty, Armies of Exigo and Zoo Tycoon. They also had a showing of the Unreal Engine 3 and a very lively tournament, as well as a showing of "Dawn" a real-time, 3D human character. "Dawn" is brought to life using puppetry techniques borrowed from the film world, the movements and facial expressions were captured extremely well indeed and the overall feel of "Dawn" was actually quite realistic.
In the picture the woman standing to the right is having a discussion with "Dawn" who is controlled by the two women inside the booth.
Here is a picture of the tournament that was being held at the NVIDIA Booth, The machines you're looking at in the picture are the new customizable Compaq X gaming PC's from HP. The PC itself sports an AMD Athlon 64 CPU with an NVIDIA nForce3 chipset and a GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Also found at the NVIDIA booth was a 3D racing sim that could be enjoyed in its fullest by wearing 3D glasses. The interface looked like I could reach out and touch it, with the road and the car appearing a little farther away. The depth perception was pretty good and while the concept itself is not new, it's still pretty cool.
N-Gage QD - Very Appealing
I managed to get a chance to handle the N-Gage QD, its pretty lightweight and slightly smaller than its big brother the original N-Gage.
I didn't get a picture but here is one for those who haven't seen it yet.
Smaller than most regular cell phones and offering wireless game play, PDA features, email, SMS or MMS and XHTML browsing for a better web browsing experience and with its new sleek design I think its well worth its estimated retail price of 99 - 199 US Dollars or Euros.
Nice one Nokia!
Dance Dance Revolution - The Party Scene
Taking a walk past the Dance Dance Revolution booth was always fun:
They had a little nightclub setting where they were showing Karaoke Revolution Volume 2. It was pretty "happenin" in there, even if the room was only 8 X 8.
Shark Tale - Watch Out For Jaws!
Using the Dance Dance Revolution style pad (or the choice of a regular controller) were DreamWorks with their new title Shark Tale that just happens to be based on their upcoming movie. You are a little fish (Oscar) that is trying to escape the jaws of the big nasty shark. In order to get away in time; you have to match the symbols shown on the screen with the correct button presses (much like Parappa the Rappa). It was a lot of fun.
Vivendi Universal - Doing It In Style
Ohh my gosh its Riddick!
Who is this "Vin Diesel" people keep speaking of?
Booth Babes - Watch Out They'll Av Ya!
I snagged a photo opportunity with two of the booth babes from Rumble Roses (Konami), this is a picture of a picture so the quality is a little poor.
Confession - I'm a fake:
I have to admit, I was mistaken for a booth babe once or twice and rather than tell people I wasn't one, I just went ahead and had my picture taken anyway. So if you have a picture of me, and thought I was a booth babe, please accept my humble apologies... It was fun though. :-P
Rant - It wouldn't be a complete trip if I didn't find something to complain about.
Unfortunately with the good comes the bad, and by the end of day three I had blisters on my feet, achy limbs a sore back and a splitting headache.
Learn from my mistakes:
- If you're ever planning on going to E3, book your hotel way in advance, don't wait until the last minute or you might find yourself cooped up in a complete dive 6 or 7 miles from the venue.
The little dive I stayed in, had a 10 year old TV that looked like it would fall apart if you touched it, half the buttons were missing, all of 4 channels for my viewing pleasure, a chair that leaned at a 40 degree angle but was still in one piece, (which I thought was actually pretty impressive), cigarette burned blankets that just added to the pungent odor that filled the "no-smoking room", no plug for the bathtub, In fact, there was no fixture to put a plug into, it was literally just a hole in the floor of the tub, I was too scared to stand near it while taking a shower for fear of what might jump out.
I should have realized that it wasn't going to be the best experience when I went to drop my bag off with reception and saw bars on all the windows and doors. The receptionist sat behind a counter with a plastic shield thing, which made it virtually impossible to hear a word she was saying (I managed to perfect my lip-reading skills though). ;-)
(That hotel wasn't all that cheap either).
- Don't ride long distances in L.A. cabs unless it's a moral imperative (or you fancy a nice white knuckle ride :-P).
Can you say "Road Rage"? One of the cab drivers obviously had some kind of stress problem, he would shout at other drivers and every now and again, while making a maneuver would jolt in his seat for no apparent reason, he was playing Mozart and mumbling to himself. He had me quite worried at one point when he did one of his jolts, bumped his head on his visor and in reaction slammed his breaks on in the middle of the freeway. Naturally when he asked me if he could smoke, I said "yes, please... by all means, go ahead".
Wrapping it up
All in all E3 was an excellent 3 days and I felt a great sense of pride in the industry as I walked around and saw how far it's come since the days of Space Invaders. I'm very much looking forward to the next one.
Hope to see you at E3 next year!
I didn't really have much time for the infamous E3 parties, but I found it impossible to pass up NVIDIA's party on Wednesday night, featuring belly dancers and a surprise performance by Sugar Ray (who played a full set).
And finally, what would an E3 report be without booth babes?