Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Future is Now

Engadget brings us news of the Zeebo -- a game console that only offers games available for download. Sound familiar?

It is supposed to be released in Brazil in 2009. It is not intended to compete with the front-line consoles such as the PS3, 360 or Wii, and is targeted at emerging markets. Now this may be vapor, and there is some confusion as to the retail price - $599 seems pretty damn steep for anywhere, let alone emerging markets.

It is probably not surprising that the innovation in abandoning the boxed retail model is coming not from the big console manufacturers, but from smaller, more nimble players. I hope for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo's own sakes that they are not too entrenched in the boxed retail mindset to realize that it is only a matter of when, not if, boxed retail dies.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Please Get Your Physics Off My GPU

I hope to have some more substantial thoughts on GDC, but one nice trend was a number of talks that focused on offloading graphics work off of the GPU and onto CPUs (in this case, SPUs on the PS3).

For the last couple of years there has been a major push by the graphics card manufacturers to get non-graphic-y things onto the GPU. Cloth, physics, heck I'm sure there's even some GPU AI examples out there somewhere. These are things that console game developers I know don't particularly want or need.

The lion share of console games are GPU bound. The last thing I want to do is put more stuff on the GPU. So even if your cloth or physics solution runs really fast on the GPU, I'm not going to use it because there is no room at the inn. Even if a CPU solution is slower, it won't matter since I've got the spare processing capacity due to having to wait on the GPU, or have processing elements that are not used during a frame.

What I want to do is offload as much as possible to the CPU, since most games still probably are not maxing out the CPU capabilities of the PS3 or 360. It was nice to see some talks focusing on doing hybrid GPU/CPU solutions to things such as lighting or post processing, and I imagine this trend will continue.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Problem with GDC

It always seems like I'll have a day that has 4 or 5 sessions booked at the same time that I want to see, and then on another day have some time slots with nothing that I want to see. Obviously, you can't please all of the people all of the time, but Wednesday definitely seems like the busy day.

Anyway, here's what my current schedule is looking like (I am not sure why blogger is inserting all this whitespace):

Session Title Date Start Time End Time
Discovering New Development Opportunities 03-25-2009 9:00 AM 10:00 AM
Hitting 60Hz with the Unreal Engine: Inside the Tech of MORTAL KOMBAT vs DC UNIVERSE 03-25-2009 10:30 AM 11:30 AM
Next-Gen Tech, but Last-Gen Looks? Tips to Make your Game Look Better - That Don't Include Bloom and Motion Blur. 03-25-2009 12:00 AM 1:00 PM
Out of Order: Making In-Order Processors Play Nicely 03-25-2009 2:30 PM 3:30 PM
Deferred Lighting and Post Processing on PlayStation(R)3 03-25-2009 4:00 PM 5:00 PM
The Unique Lighting in MIRROR'S EDGE: Experiences with Illuminate Labs Lighting Tools 03-26-2009 9:00 AM 10:00 AM
From Pipe Dream to Open World: The Terraforming of FAR CRY 2 03-26-2009 1:30 PM 2:30 PM
Morpheme & PhysX: A New Approach to Combining Character Animation and Simulation 03-26-2009 4:30 PM 5:30 PM
The Cruise Director of AZEROTH: Directed Gameplay within WORLD OF WARCRAFT 03-26-2009 3:00 PM 4:00 PM
Fast GPU Histogram Analysis and Scene Post-Processing 03-27-2009 9:00 AM 9:20 AM
Mixed Resolution Rendering 03-27-2009 10:30 AM 10:50 AM
Rendering Techniques in GEARS OF WAR 2 03-27-2009 2:30 PM 3:30 PM
Dynamic Walking with Semi-Procedural Animation 03-27-2009 4:00 PM 5:00 PM

Thursday, March 19, 2009


A short personal update:

Last Friday was my last day at Midway Games. After seven and a half years I decided it was time for me to move on and will soon be pursuing another opportunity. It was sad to leave in some ways, as there are many people there who I have enjoyed working with, but it was the right time for a move.

I'll have updates about the new opportunity soon, and hopefully some more content.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Will the Future Bring?

It's been pretty obvious for a while that boxed retail in games will die someday, but recent news that Amazon will buy and sell used games definitely seems like one of the nails in the coffin.

I can't blame retailers such as Amazon, or BestBuy for entering the used game market, but I really wonder when the major players in the game industry will wake up and realize that the day when all games will be downloadable is sooner rather than later.

Another way to phrase the question: when will a major console manufacturer release a console that does not contain any sort of removable DVD/bluray drive?

Consumers are already used to downloadable games in many other forms - cell phones, the iPhone, web games, Steam, Gametap, XBLA, PSN store, etc. There are even rumors that the next version of the PSP will not contain a UMD drive.

So why not cut the cord? Imagine a console comes out in 2012 which does not contain any sort of optical drive, and instead just a large hard drive. All games, not just ones deemed small enough for a special "arcade section, are downloadable. 

There would be issues. Currently US broadband adoption rates are at 59% of households, well behind Japan or Europe. Even optimistic projections estimate that by 2012 only 77% of US households will have broadband, although it would be interesting to know what percentage of console gamers will have broadband. Still, it would be a definite leap of faith to exclude such a large percentage of households from buying your product.

As far as the user experience goes, I don't think there would be many problems. Even if games took multiple hours to download, I don't see how that is any worse than getting a game from GameFly or Amazon is now. Steam has experimented with allowing users to "predownload" popular titles before their release date, and a similar model could be used for the users that just gotta-have-it the day of release. 

Another advantage of this approach is some savings on cost-of-goods on the consoles themselves -- for example, the bluray drive in the PS3 is probably a big driver of the total cost of that system. 

The only question is how retailers would react. They could threaten to not sell the console hardware, but a colleague of mine had an idea about that: prepaid download codes. Retailers could sell these along with the hardware. It won't be as lucrative as current boxed retail sales, but then again, by pushing used game sales so hard, the retailers are eventually going to force game publishers and console manufacturers' hands.