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E3 2004 Impressions

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.

Infinium Labs/Phantom

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®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.

Mobile Gaming

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.

Tiffany's Coverage

  Dave's Coverage
  Tiffany's Coverage

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