There are quite a few of us who once thought the GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) was becoming a joke, as the event seemed to be smaller and even less relevant in recent years. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this year when GDC basically took over all three of San Francisco’s Moscone Center buildings. The result felt more like CES and the GDC of years ago than ever before.
I spent some time checking out Sony, Nvidia, AMD, Intel, Microsoft and Qualcomm and each had some interesting stories to tell.
Let’s talk about GDC this week because the vendors were taking names and kicking butt.
A lot of folks thought AMD was nuts to try and get all of the console systems but that paid off in spades with Sony and Microsoft pulling huge numbers for their PS4 and Xbox One systems. Sony was particularly pleased that the pronouncements of the death of the game console were premature - with the corporation setting launch sell-through records. This last point is important because typically sell-to numbers are shared (products put on store shelves) and that covers up large inventories of unsold products. However, this year they could report how many folks bought because the shelves were empty.
AMD was also pushing 4K (Ultra HD) TVs hard and had the first triple monitor 4K setup in their booth I’ve seen. I’ve long felt that driving and RPG games would massively benefit from three screens surrounding you in the 4K format. Up till now, the performance requirement to drive such a solution would cost a fortune. However, AMD intends to drive the cost down sharply and 4K panels are already dropping.
Nvidia: From PCs to Phones
Nvidia consolidated its mobile to PC graphics technology some time ago. At the show, they dropped the other shoe: GameWorks - a common development platform which scales from phones to PCs. For those that use this tool and develop for a specific range of devices, the platform should result in a massive drop in development and training cost. Devs can start with any device platform - and then scale up or down the performance of the game to fit other product classes as needed. This is a level of extreme flexibility that should have played well at a game conference focused on developers.
Nvidia wins the booth award for the show, as it had the best placement and was getting the most traffic as a result. Placement in a show like this is critical to making sure the most folks see what you have to offer and have a chance to buy into it.
Qualcomm was pushing hard on mobile 3D, 4K, and augmented reality. Taking a phone- class device, using it to capture and then show 4K quality videos was pretty impressive. Plus, 3D actually makes a lot more sense on small screens because it is far easier to execute without custom glasses. So while 3D was a more of a pain on TVs than it apparently was worth, it is actually pretty cool on a small device and a lot more fun with games. Pulling Ultra HD images off a phone is pretty impressive but capturing them in the first place is jaw dropping - and Qualcomm was dropping a lot of jaws for attendees.
Qualcomm is one of the most aggressive with augmented reality (they aren’t the only ones) and its Vuforia unit has been kicking a lot of butt since I last visited with it over lunch. Apparently, Qualcomm has racked up a ton of success integrating the product into games, toys, books and yes, even furniture sales. Apparently a lot of companies that sell furniture are now or shortly will be using this technology so you can use your phone to see what a new chair, sofa, table or even TV will look like in your home before you buy it. This is actually pretty cool and the companies that are using this are reporting a massive increase in sales as a result.
Intel is moving to reinvent the desktop which really resonated with me because I’v been arguing for several years that with the move to tablets and smartphones, folks actually have a greater need for desktops than laptops as their home system. This is because they increasingly didn’t want to carry a laptop and a tablet and/or smartphone but still require considerably more performance for projects at home or in the office than can be had on a mobile device. Well, Intel apparently agreed and they will be increasingly showcasing smaller, thinner, but still strong performing products for desks.
They once again embraced folks who like to overclock their systems to kick some gaming butt and both moves seemed well received at the show.
As noted above, Sony was feeling its oats at the show having posted stellar sales number for its new gaming system. But their big showcase was on their Morpheus head mounted virtual reality display which was very impressive. Head mounted displays work better on consoles than on PCs largely because the controls for consoles are simpler and can more easily be used blind than a keyboard. They appear to have solved the motion sickness problem, though developers who want to use this technology should note while gamers will need 360 degrees of visual freedom to make this work as well as the ability to look up and down, most games today aren’t actually designed with this in mind. I don’t expect this for some time, espeically given the system requirements, but when it arrives it should do nice things for Sony’s sales.
In the end Sony was the best proof that console game systems are far from dead.
Microsoft had its Xbox One at the show, although much attention was generated by DirectX 12 which folks were raving about. This will cut across their lines and allow developers far more control over their game and the hardware performance needed to run it. Nvidia, Intel, AMD and even Qualcomm embraced this technology - saying they would be on board for the next generation of impressive games. The implication was that this next generation would be amazing.
Wrapping Up: Gaming Renaissance
With the advent of 4K, the next generation of processors, reinvestment in gaming desktops, and a huge push towards far better performance, game developers were literally drooling over the potential for some incredible and amazing games. This year was clearly a renaissance for gaming and pretty much every major vendor at the show came in to take names and kick some ass. Gaming is back, baby, and it is back with a vengeance!