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GDC Good, Bad, and Ugly

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First off, thanks to Shelly for covering for me during show-week. I was hoping I'd get a chance to email updates to her via the GDC Internet-lounge, but the lounge was a disappointment (15 iMacs for > 4,500 attendees). But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Anyone else wanna see more diary entries from Shelly? Wanna know what it's like being a game development widow? If so, send her some encouragement by clicking the link at the bottom of the screen.

I'll probably spend the next couple of updates writing about stuff I saw, so I'll just give you the bullet points here. I'll also be posting pictures, but it'll take a couple of days, because my camera is decidedly non-digital.

On with the bullet points!

The Good

  • The AquaBats. They were a band hired by IForce, and they played a party at a nearby hotel. They were a hoot, playing everything from Devo to U2. Lots of fun.
  • The Independent Games Pavilion. There were some very interesting designs shown off by the nominees. I particularly enjoyed a puzzle game called Food Chain. The graphics weren't overly polished, but it was awfully cute and fun to play.
  • MathEngine. Looks like these folks have finally decided to do a fixed licensing model rather than the negotiable ones that are the norm for high-end game engines. In fact, the introductory license is $1 plus $.01 per game shipped! They plan to make money by selling newer versions of the library for higher prices. Also, they've made a deal with Sony for Playstation, and they are making a good effort to be cross-platform. Hopefully they'll become the standard before the investor money runs out.
  • Aureal. They were giving away CD's of their 3D sound SDK, and qualified developers could receive an A3D-chipset sound card for free. Neat thing is, A3D is free for distribution and is not locked into their proprietary sound card. A3D apps will likely sound better on A3D cards, but they'll also work just fine with others. This is a much nicer model than stuff like Glide, as you're not locked into using their implementation. They're also looking into other platforms, so they'll become a standard sound API.
  • GameLogic. This is a dinky company with a cool idea. They've got a free SDK for saving out your game-state, so you can load up the game and continue from the place you stopped. That's nothing new, but they allow you to save your games to the Internet on their server. They've also got a browser that'll allow you to browse your saved games. Finally, using their SDK and server-space is free. They plan to make money by selling a deluxe version of the save-game browser. I can see ideas like this opening up new services for games. One thing I thought up immediately is Internet high-score tables --have your machine save the high scores to the Internet, and the server can generate global high-score tables for games. It could even display the tables via a web page, so they could also make money selling ads. This just seemed like a unique way of selling a developer product, and I'd be interested in seeing how it works out.
  • Intel's streaming SIMD (a.k.a. Katmai) C++ classes. Yes, I said C++ classes. Looks like Intel finally figured out that people aren't as interested in assembly as they used to, and making a processor-optimized game nowadays usually involves waiting until someone makes a compiler that uses the new instructions. Intel released a float-workalike object that uses their new extensions for speed. Since it's C++, they overloaded all the operators, so it's transparent to the user. Neato.

The Bad

    Microsoft's presence. They had a single booth, but no information at all. They were focused strictly on giving away joysticks and speakers to attendees. Some folks were invited to the second floor of the booth for free drinks. MS also had a good party, but it was invite-only. Nothing about their compilers, DirectX, or anything else. I guess they figure they've got the market wrapped up.
  • The Spotlight award winners. This is supposed to be the GDC's version of the Oscars. Unlike the Oscars, however, the awards all went to the popular favorites. Giving the award for "Most innovative game" to Half Life was a bit much for a lot of folks to swallow.
  • No Linux. This conference was Windows Windows Windows. I was disappointed that there really wasn't anything interesting to see for Linux. A couple of booths were claiming they had Linux drivers for their hardware, but that was it. The Mac presence was pretty-much limited to the Apple and Metrowerks booths.

The Ugly

  • Apple's presentation about the G3 and the iMac. They are indeed nice boxes, but Apple was straining suspension of disbelief a bit too much with their pitch. The main presentation was carefully scripted, so nobody could comment when the booth-bot put up a graph showing that an iMac is almost twice as fast as a Pentium II-450. Thankfully, I ducked just in time, and I was not impaled by his nose. I also giggled during the "expandability" section of the iMac pitch, which consisted entirely of "You have a choice of FIVE DIFFERENT COLORS, and you can change the screen resolution from 640x480 to 1024x768"! Wow.
  • All of the video card manufacturers. All of the biggies were there, but I'm not sure why. This is basically a conference for game software developers, and there wasn't a whole lot for the video card guys to pitch, given that the 3D API's are pretty-much standardized. I suppose 3DFX should be there to try to get people to develop for Glide, but S3, Matrox, nVidia, etc. didn't have much to say other than that this year's card runs this year's Quake clones at a higher framerate than last year's card ran last year's Quake clones.
  • The embarrassing display of greed shown off by the volunteers. I like the volunteer program, as it's a good way for one-man companies to get with a group of folks for off-hours stuff (so I'm not twiddling my thumbs in my hotel room). Unfortunately, a large number of the volunteers are young guys who are fanatically focused on getting as much free stuff as they can. For the first half of the conference this year, Microsoft excluded volunteers from getting freebies, because last year the volunteers crowded the booth and ended up with a disproportionate number of free force-feedback joysticks (I remembered seeing volunteers packing up a couple of joysticks just so they could sell 'em at home). On Thursday, MS relented and allowed the volunteers to get free stuff. The booth was subsequently mobbed by volunteers (including the guy running the volunteer program), and I saw at least one volunteer get a joystick and immediately try to trade it off for something else, as he already had one. On Friday, I attended a presentation on optimizing 3D engines for Katmai, sponsored by Intel. Unfortunately, it was raining, and the presentation was very poorly attended. Since there were only a couple of folks in the audience, and they provided printouts of the slides, we just asked questions about their new stuff rather than making 'em do a full presentation. On my way out, they gave me a free copy of VTune 4.0 for my trouble. I promised not to show it in the volunteer lounge, so there wouldn't be a rush of folks trying to get their own free copy. It's sad that I'd have to do that.

The Stuff (that I brought back)

  • VTune 4.0. This is Intel's latest version of their profiler suite. I haven't tried it, but it looks very nice from what I've read in the manual. Interestingly, I always figured that VTune would be a low-level tool, but it'll also profile Java and Visual Basic. It also includes a C++ and Fortran compiler. I'll letcha know how I like it.
  • A Diamond Monster Sound Card. This was the A3D card that came with the SDK. Haven't tried it yet, so I can't comment on how good the 3D stuff sounds at home. It certainly sounded cool in the booth.
  • The Voodoo3 SDK. Dunno what I'll do with it.
  • Nendo. I actually bought this gizmo for $99. The demos of it were awfully cool. It's a 3D modeling program with an organic "digital clay" metaphor. I figured it'd be good for adding characters to up-coming games.
  • Scrabble By Email. This was a freebie from the Hasbro booth. It allows folks to play Scrabble over the Internet, but it works via email. Email games are nothing new, but the graphics on this one look strong.
  • The IForce FFC. These folks are trying to become the standard for force-feedback devices. Like A3D, their SDK is optimized for their chips, but it'll also talk to other devices. It'll also talk to their new force-feedback mice and trackballs.
  • Talk n' Play software. Shelly's awfully excited about trying this one out. It's a collection of classic board/card games and a headset for voice-chat.
  • The Geometry Toolbox for Graphics and Modeling and The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler I always like checking out the book booths, because they've usually got discounts, and they've got stuff that's not yet released. A K Peters had some good specials, so I took advantage of 'em. The first book is a book of elementary 3D geometry and is, frankly, something I'd been needing. The second is a big book of puzzles in tribute to Martin Gardner. Coriolis books also had a booth, but it was a bit of a disappointment. No new books to show off other than pictures in the brochures.
  • A handful of Gamasutra stickers and temporary tattoos. I'm giving these to John Munsch :)
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