GDC - Panel Discusses Digital Delivery I E3 Sells Out Floorspace, Proud of It I Miyamoto Offers More Sweet Nothings On Revolution, Affirms Commitment to Online Gaming I GDC - California Lawmaker Expresses Confidence In VG Bill's Viability I Iwata Blows More Smoke At GDC I GDC - Next-Gen Physics Engines Really Put It In H
Issue #37 From GDC With Love March 25th, 2006

Front Page

Well, as the replacement for this column that I hired, as well as his replacement, both ended up not being able to put the level of effort they wanted into this column, they have both up and quit, leaving it to me to keep its ghost breathing. Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such columns as Q&A, and Editorials. Well, maybe not editorials, but the Q&A I certainly did!

Welcome to what I choose to call Currents. When I gave this column to Elliot, he certainly did what I had hoped; focused on legal news, console news, and business news as they relate to the RPG world, and for that I thank him. Even so, the monthly features are something I should like to bring back, so I will be looking into figuring out how I can bring that into being on a more regular basis.

Of course I may not even be doing this permanently, but as it stands I can't seem to find anyone who is able to stick around for more than a cup of tea, so someone has to do this. As such, I invite you to dig in. News may not be quite so colourful and um... humorous as my Q&A but hey, it's still an important part of a balanced diet!

Regrettably, as I have yet to ask anyone about the sources for the information in this column's charts, they will be absent this week; however, expect them to make a return next week. Finally, please excuse me if some of these stories are mightily old; the aforementioned prospective columnists were supposed to cover them, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, eh?

 GDC - Panel Discusses Digital Delivery


At this week's GDC, a panel convened to discuss digital distribution, featuring Valve Software founder Gabe Newell, Bioware co-CEO Ray Muzyka, Greg Canessa, a manager for Xbox Live Arcade, Reflexive Entertainment CEO Lars Brubaker, Introversion Software co-founder Thomas Arundel, and Ritual Entertainment vice president Tom Mustaine. The panel, titled "What's Next in Digital Distribution and Mainstream Games," featured a lengthy discussion, kicked off by Mr. Newell suggesting that the episodic content the format lends itself to allows for both lower costs and an easing of the problem of long development cycles for popular games.

Ultimately, the panelists did not seem convinced that digital content would replace retail distribution; as Newell pointed out, a streaming download of Day of Defeat, one of the more popular software entries on Valve's Steam service, was well-received, but its main effect was to serve as advertising, as twice as many people as enjoyed the free event ended up purchasing the game in stores.

Mr. Muzkya agreed, saying that "you really need to have both forms of distribution to be successful, and I think that's going to happen for many years...All these things are complimentary."

For his part, Canessa indicated that Microsoft was well aware of this trend, saying that the Xbox 360 Marketplace existed primarily to offer up extra material for gamers geared at nudging them towards retail outlets. As far as his Live Arcade division, he stated that it would remain geared towards smaller, more replayable games.

To close out the discussion, Mr. Mustaine offered his opinion on when digital distribution would become more mainstream:

"I would fully expect that next year's GDC you're going to see a whole lot more about this," Mustaine said. "Right now, Marketplace has just launched, Valve and Ritual are both working on episodic content for the first time. We're in a bit of a ramping up phase, an experimental phase. A lot of people have been doing this in the casual games space, but as far as AAA episodic, it's right around the corner and next year I expect to see a number of talks about the quality of life changes and the kinds of benefits we can get from this. It's amazing stuff."

Interestingly, the assessment that this model will become more common already seems to be playing out; Koei and IGN announced this week that one of the developer's titles would be available through IGN's download service, suggesting that perhaps we are indeed quite close to digital distribution becoming more commonplace.

I would imagine that in terms of the RPG world, the influence this model of distribution will have will be primarily in terms of titles such as Neverwinter Nights and MMORPGs; since companies do not yet seem willing to offer full games for download, for the most part, it is likely that scenarios, missions, and perhaps extra dungeons items for some conventional RPGs will be the extent of the content offered. Even so, the Revolution should not be discounted in this mix; as it is poised to offer a wide variety of older NES, SNES, and N64 titles, you can probably expect to see your fair share of venerable Nintendo and Sega RPGs.

Source: GameSpot

 E3 Sells Out Floorspace, Proud of It


The Electronic Software Association (ESA) announced earlier this month that it has sold all of the 540,000 square feet of floor space available at this year's E3 show, to be held in L.A. starting May 9th, 2006. The floor space is comparable to 40 Olympic-size swimming pools, which is apparently impressive. Says Doug Lowenstein, ESA president: "As the global computer and video game industry enters an important creative and technological transition, the early sell-out of E3 Expo confirms the importance of this event."

RPGamer will be wading through these figurative swimming pools starting Tuesday May 9th and will bring you all the splashy details.

 Miyamoto Offers More Sweet Nothings On Revolution, Affirms Commitment to Online Gaming


Admitting that recent developments in the PS3's launch timing will "affect Nintendo", Shigeru Miyamoto nevertheless held firm to the company line, saying that Nintendo doesn't view itself as a direct competitor with Sony. Mr. Miyamoto elaborated, saying "it depends on what expectations people have of the PS3 and Revolution. Sony has taken a long time to create their machine but it is obvious that the direction we are taking is different to the PS3."

He also served further notice that the Revolution's technical specs may not be quite up to the par of Microsoft and Sony, commenting that "for a long time now we have been concerned by the direction of the industry. Our competitors are talking about beefed-up graphics and better technology. We could fight in that area but we think it is not necessary and we would rather focus on what Nintendo can do uniquely. We want to get a balance between powerful CPUs or beautiful graphics and making the technology comfortable and appealing. We created the DS and Revolution with this philosophy and concept in mind."

Finally, Mr. Miyamoto declared that Nintendo is committed to online gaming, even if it poses certain challenges: "Until recently we have felt that we couldn't make money out of online gaming. It has been very difficult for online games to become an authentic business in this industry."

Don't expect to see him in charge of your friendly neighbourhood MMO anytime soon, however; he also noted that "I am a game designer myself and what I want to do is make a variety of new games. If we have an online game I would have to spend all my time looking after one game."

He closed out by stating "there are a lot of hurdles to be crossed to run an online game but we have fixed some of these, such as ease of connection and security. Now that the Nintendo wi-fi service has done so well we are ready to develop it further."

So essentially, it doesn't sound as though Nintendo's top developer is too thrilled about the notion of online gaming, but the company seems to be pressing for more involvement in the online market anyway. Sounds like a recipe for drama, or at least the creation of a team devoted to online products.

 GDC - California Lawmaker Expresses Confidence In VG Bill's Viability


One of California's leading critics of the gaming industry expressed renewed confidence Friday that his proposed legislation would withstand any First Amendment challenges. Leland Yee, California assemblyman, had his violent videogames bill pass into law late last year, but both the ESA and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association have challenged the proposed ordinance on the basis that it is unconstitutional.

The bill is not radically different from other state bills around the US, carrying fines of up to $1000 US for knowingly selling violent games to minors. Says Mr. Yee, "Those involved in government aren't interested in getting deeply involved in how kids are raised. However, we see the consequences of inappropriate child rearing and we have a responsibility to protect children. It was government that stopped kids from working in factories. The reality is that when you have inappropriate child-rearing, then the state has the responsibility to step in and do something."

Even so, the ESA challenge has resultedi n a temporary injunction, which has succeeded in stalling the bill for the time being. Speaking at the GDC, though, Mr. Yee remains confident, stating that "The bill I was able to pass limits the sale of ultra-violent games to children. It does not prevent the sale of violent games. Ultra-violent games are a subset, where an individual performs acts that in real life would be a crime... We believe that this law stands the test of First Amendment exceptions,"

At the same discussion, Professor James Paul Gee, who has contributed a number of books in defense of gaming, countered that political attention on the matter is unbalanced, and urged those involved in the debate to consider the positive side of gaming, noting that "we spend a lot of time asking about how games can be bad for you, but not how they can be good for you."

Addressing the alleged link between violent games and real life aggression, Professor Gee shrugged off the research identifying this link, upon which many sales restriction laws are based, saying "An emotional response to a medium does not mean that the player will take that behaviour into the real world. If so, the world would be awash with violence after every QuakeCon, but that is not the case."

Currents will continue to follow this legal fight.


 Iwata Blows More Smoke At GDC


Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's head honcho, defied expectations during his GDC keynote comments, failing to offer up tangible details on the Revolution and instead boasting of Nintendo's "disruption" of development across the spectrum in the videogame world. He also promised that show attendees would get a chance to see firsthand how Nintendo plans to "disrupt console gaming" within weeks, though he did not directly confirm that the Revolution will be fully unveiled at E3, as is now widely expected.

Prior to the GDC, speculation had swirled around the internet, fuelled by an allegedly stolen slide purporting to reveal a planned name for the Revolution, but Mr. Iwata did not deign to comment on that issue, instead announcing that SEGA and select TurboGrafx games would be available to gamers through the "Virtual Console" library feature of the Revolution. As well, Mr. Iwata revealed that upcoming DS title The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass would be playable at E3.

Speaking on the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi service, Mr. Iwata revealed its origins as "Project Houseparty", and noted that Nintendo prided itself on allowing gamers to play together without being interfered with by the "aggressive, vocal" minority of hardcore online players. He then rattled off a series of recent Nintendo titles from Tetris DS to Metroid Prime: Hunters, serving them up as evidence that Nintendo remains committed to "old-style" game development.

Lastly, he made his remarks on the Revolution, reiterating that its design was intended to create a wireless, approachable, but sophisticated system that would be..."revolutionary." Accounts do not indicate whether or not he then pinkied, but one would hope so. Shigeru Miyamoto, according to Mr. Iwata, was responsible for the design of the TV remote-style controller that surprised the gaming world during its unveiling last year, but subsequently, discussions with other developers resulted in peripherals more suited to the traditional two-handed experience, which was especially important given the emphasis the Revolution places on backwards compatability.

In terms of news on the system, Mr. Iwata mainly dealt with the Virtual Console, comparing it to the iTunes Music Store in terms of its functionality. He also assured his audience that cost would not be a barrier.

"When I imagine what faces us right now, I think of explorers setting foot on a new continent. For them, it was impossible to imagine what adventure lay ahead," he said, and concluded by saying that after its disruption of handheld and Wi-Fi gaming, the Big N was now poised to disrupt console gaming.

Overall, Mr. Iwata's address was met with some disappointment, as many were hoping to finally get some tangible information on the still-mysterious Revolution. Expect RPGamer to bring you all the Revolution news when Nintendo disrupts the E3 conference in May.


 GDC - Next-Gen Physics Engines Really Put It In H


The big names in the video card business were also making news at the GDC, showing off their new physics engines. Ageia, Havok, Nvidia and Epic Games all came to the forefront, with Ageia and Havok showing off technologies promising to bring the PC up to the physics processing capabilities of the next-gen consoles, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Ageia will ship its PhysX processor, a unit designed for add-on physics cards. PC manufacturers Dell, Alienware and Falcon Northwest, the latter two geared towards serving the gaming market, will offer the card on their gaming systems and add-on boards will ship in May from manufacturers Asus and BFG.

Havok 4.0, Havok's brainchild, will be running with Nvidia technology, allowing physics simulators to better take advantage of the multicore processors in today's PCs and next-gen console systems, while Havok's FX technology enables developers to access video card GPU to accelerate physics effects.

Much of this will likely have little impact on the RPG market, as PC RPGs do not tend to be as graphics-intensive as other genres on that platform; however, once these physics improvements become more mainstream, expect them to begin to creep into your friendly neighbourhood RPG, though it is difficult to imagine an MMORPG containing such system-intensive elements anytime soon.


 Back Page

Well, I guess that's that. I should have the ticker and the top ten up and running for next week, but for now I am sure there is all the GDC news you could ever want (and probably some that you didn't!) to keep you occupied. So run along now, and we'll see if we can't get this thing back to a weekly affair!

Andrew Long

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