What is Butterfly.net? As described to us, it's a "high performance online game platform" whose intent is to revolutionize the online gaming world. According to the CEO, David Levine, the Butterfly Grid (their product) gives you everything you need to develop, test, operate, manage, and support real-time, immersive online games. Honestly, Mr. Levine was a little vague in describing everything to us about Butterfly.net (and rightfully so), but from the sounds of it the Butterfly Grid product is going to be something to watch out for, particularly if you're interested in doing any MMP games. In fact, keep an eye on GameDev.net in the coming months for more information about Butterfly.net and the Butterfly Grid.
We only had one question for the Dolby guys: what are you doing at the GDC? They must have somehow known that question was coming, because they nailed the answer without issue. Dolby's whole purpose at the GDC is to promote
their 5.1 technology and show developers how to fully employ the power of 5.1 audio. The idea is, if developers use the 5.1 technology, then customers will buy Dolby equipment. Simple business model, huh? Anyway,
Dolby also mentioned soon to be released 7.1 technology as well as 5.1 headphones (amazing sound). We may have some technical articles from Dolby in the future, so keep reloading that front page.
Alias has some cool stuff coming down the pipe that we can't talk about yet. One thing we can mention is their SketchBook Pro software for tablet PCs and Wacom tablets. This software provides an intuitive interface to paint using a wide range of brushes in a completely natural way. Nick absolutely gushed over how cool it is, so expect a full review soon.
TimesTen was at the show promoting their high-speed relational database for use in MMOs. Every year at the GDC, there has been at least one company offering some form of middleware for MMOs. I've never seen any of these companies more than once, since they usually go out of business about six months later. This really isn't surprising, given the fact that most of these companies have been startups, and no MMO developer is going to be willing to invest in technology from a company which isn't established, since if they go out of business, the developer will be left having to find another solution or develop their own - so they usually do the latter from the get-go. One of TimesTen's major advantages then is that unlike most of those companies, they aren't banking on adoption in the game industry to be successful. They've been around for 7 years, having spun-off from HP, and they've been very successful in non-game areas. In addition, they use standard database interfaces, so if for some reason they did go out of business, you could pretty easily replace them with something else. They believe that the speed of their technology is well-suited for games, and they're aware of the competitive nature of MMOs, so they're pricing their solution aggressively. Definitely worth checking out if you're working on an MMO.
They were mainly talking about the big XNA announcement which was made during a keynote, which we unfortunately missed. The meeting was essentially a summary of what they covered in the keynote, so there's not much else to say.
We spoke with Nokia's (absolutely stunning) manager of developer relations, who discussed their N-Gage Arena, and their ongoing commitment to the N-Gage platform and its developers. They're pretty selective about who they authorize as developers - and thus who they give N-Gage developer kits to - but you can download their Series 60 emulator and effectively do the same thing. Contrary to what some people expected, there was no mention of an N-Gage 2 at the conference.
IN-FUSIO is one of the major players in the mobile gaming industry in Europe. Not only do they offer a mobile game engine, but they've been able to negotiate a position where they're entirely managing all game content for several large European carriers. Just before the show, they announced that their engine was being ported to QUALCOMM's BREW platform, starting a push by them into the US mobile games market, where they'll be competing with Superscape, Fathammer, Hi Corp, and others.
Softimage's big announcement at the show was that they'll be releasing Softimage|XSI EXP with Half-Life 2. Apparently, the only limitations present in this version are that you can't save a model with more than 4,000 polygons, and you can only save in the Half-Life 2 format. This is obviously a huge coup for Softimage, since Half-Life has one of the largest - if not the largest - mod communities of any game, and Half-Life 2 will likely enjoy similar success.
3DConnexion was at the show promoting a new series of "other hand" controllers to be used in conjuction with a mouse. Using your DCC package of choice (they've already integrated with 3ds max, Maya, Softimage XSI, Photoshop, Cinema 4D, and others), you can use one of their controllers in your left hand to move, rotate, and zoom a model while you manipulate it with the mouse. We'll be taking a closer look at these devices in an upcoming review.
Sony Ericsson released two new phones and announced their contest, "Game Developers Challenge 2004". The goal of the contest is to create the "coolest Java MIDP 2.0 game for the Sony Ericsson K700, Z500, and Z1010. The competition includes cash prizes, Java verification, global marketing exposure, and commercial distribution. This contest is rather short though - you only have until June 24 to submit your entry. Entries are judged by a panel of experts in the mobile entertainment industry as well as Sony's very own consumers. Check out this contest page if you want more information.
We had a brief meeting with Epic to discuss their ongoing $1,000,000 Make Something Unreal contest. In case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard about this, NVIDIA, Epic, Alias, AMD, Atari, and Digital Extremes have teamed up to offer $1,000,000 in cash and prizes (one of which includes an Unreal licence) to teams who make the best UT 2003 or UT 2004 mod. There are still two phases to the contest remaining, so there's still time to enter and get a shot at one of the prizes. As when we met with them at SIGGRAPH, Epic emphasized that mod-making is a great inroad to the industry. In fact, it's even turning into a bit of a problem for the current contestants, since several programmers on one of the winning teams have been recruited to work on America's Army.
NXN launched version 7 of their alienbrain Studio software at the GDC and gave us a nice demonstration of its new features and capabilities from previous versions. For those that don't know, alienbrain is asset management software for every asset in your game projects from code to media to documentation. Version 7 includes a number of performance enhancements - and not just code performance. The user interface includes a number of productivity enhancements like change sets (for a structured approach to complex projects), an integrated reference manager for providing an instant overview of 3D scenes and related files, simplified third-party tool integration, and a new central configuration server.
This new version is expected to be released in mid-April, so keep an eye on the GameDev.net main page for the latest news on NXN's alienbrain. We think it's a great tool for managing all your game assets, and we were certainly impressed with the latest version 7.
Maxon (who also develops Cinema 4D) was showing off Body Paint 3D, a 3D painting tool that again, Nick was very excited about. So expect full details soon in a review on a GameDev.net near you.
We only talked to the folks who make SpeetTreeRT briefly, but we were really impressed with the tech. They were showing a demo with a helicopter flying over a forest thickly populated with very real looking trees. Another demo showed a tree very realistically blowing in the wind. If you're developing an outdoor game, definitely check them out; the licensing cost is a fraction of what it would cost any developer to come up with a solution that looks as good as SpeedTree.
IBM has been working on expanding their technology into games. We talked to them about their latest initiative. Business Integration for Games, or BIG is a solution to provide standardized services for selling in-game assets for real world cash within your game world - which is a controversial topic, but one that seems inevitable. This technology is still under development, but IBM's presence serves as another indication of the maturation of the gaming middleware market.