April 1, 2009

GDC 2009

What was hot at GDC 2009? For an overview and photos from the event by Kevin G. Clark and Kelly Dove from kg&kd Public Relations, click here.

By Kevin G. Clark

Making game characters 'go' in a game and move around with the advanced consoles and controllers out on the market requires ever increasing complex and intelligent 'game engines', Artificial Intelligence (AI) agents and physics to make up much of the middleware. The market is full of game engine solutions and GDC is the showcase for the latest.  Emergent's "Gamebryo LightSpeed" announced a new partnership with German-based "xaitment" an Artificial Intelligence (AI) company that will incorporate incremental AI into its game engine.  Other game engines at GDC: The new cross-platform Unity game engine, Crytek and the new CryEngine 3,  Epic Games Unreal Engine, Torque from Garage Games, and Micrsoft's freeware XNA Game Studio 3.0.

By Kelly Dove

It is often said that the entertainment industry prospers in a recession. These words rang true as the Game Developers Conference 09 moved into full swing at the Moscone Center in San Francisco last week. While attendance seemed lighter than in recent years, the numerous conferences and sessions focusing on virtually every aspect of the game dev business were fueling creativity (and hope) for attendees looking to move forward in a recessed economy.

My first stop, the Career Pavilion, seemed to hold salvation for those looking to move in new employment circles. Leading game companies were nestled alongside up-and-coming studios—all staffing for future projects. But once inside the fray of artists and programmers, the number of available positions was fewer than expected. In fact, a number of companies weren’t hiring at all, just fulfilling contractual obligations to the show and keeping their brand alive. The many artists, programmers, and creative professionals lining the halls didn’t, however, seem to be deterred—the lines were long as the job seekers waited for their chance to get noticed (and hired).

Console? What Console?
The biggest buzz at the show was OnLive and its promise of games without “traditional” hardware. The premise behind the technology is that video games will no longer require consoles or specialized graphics hardware—you simply download the games to your high-def TV or computer from a little converter box and “game on.” Good news for consumers who want the latest games on demand and game publishers who fight software piracy at every turn; shaky news for console manufacturers and companies such as Intel, AMD and NVIDIA who supply the graphics processing power.

Some companies are undeterred by the Onlive news as they prepare for global domination. Zeebo announced it is going after “the next billion” gamers in emerging markets. The company has signed Capcom, EA Mobile, Namco Networks, PopCap Games and THQ for its soon to be released Zeebo wireless console that will deliver gaming, digital entertainment and education to a global market.  Scheduled to launch next month in Brazil, the Zeebo gaming console will feature secure 3G wireless game delivery for regions around the world where video game consoles are not within reach of consumers.

Global Warming
Keeping it global, many countries were representing at the show, and despite the slumping economy, trade shows and festivals for the game dev community remain in full swing.

In 2009, GDC will have shows in Austin, TX (as any Texan will tell you, it’s a whole other country), Canada, China and Europe.  CEDEC 2009 (http://cedec.cesa.or.jp), a technical conference for game developers organized by the CESA industry, is relocating to Yokohama, Japan and will be adding more than 150 sessions.  The Korea Games Conference (www.kgconf.com) will take place in October in Seoul, Korea, focusing on Korean games competitiveness, online games, and advanced digital culture. Both CEDEC and the Korea Games Conference are recruiting for technical speakers.

Incubators are also fueling growth internationally. Gamecity: Hamburg, for example, offers office space, prototype funding, active networking, assistance in setting up a business, and participation in gamecity:Lab, a joint project with the HAW (University for Applied Sciences) to generate development and applied research. Get more details at www.gamecity-hamburg.de.

Other countries representing their technologies with pavilions included Bavaria (www.bayern-international.de), Canada, Holland and Germany.
Back in the States, Louisiana is recruiting DCC businesses with the Baton Rouge Area Digital Industries Consortium (BRADIC). The group is offering aggressive digital media and film tax incentives. For example, digital interactive media productions are eligible for a 20% tax credit on in-state spending and an additional 10% credit for wages paid to Louisiana residents. Motion picture productions are eligible for 25% tax credit for in-state spending and approved entertainment eligible for up to a 40% tax credit through 2009.  There are also $2500 tax credits for each net new permanent job created during the first five years of operation and tax rebates of 4%.

An Artificial World
Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to gain new ground. Autodesk announced a new version of Autodesk Kynapse 6 artificial intelligence middleware to put “brain in your game.” The solution provides characters with spatial awareness, dynamic 3D pathfinding capabilities and team coordination. Get more info at www.autodesk.com.

German company Xaitment has five AI solutions that also center around the “brain”:  XaitMove, XaitMap, XaitControl, XaitKnow, and XaitThink that make AI a modular solution for game and simulation development. The modular design provides smaller studios the flexibility of choosing the right components for their needs and budget. The company is offering free BrainPack SDKs downloads at www.xaitment.com that control complex game logic and create realistic behavior in a few steps.

Take Me to Your Leader
Mind control is up and coming technology in the land of game play. The Neurosky (www.neurosky.com) booth was filled to capacity as attendees waited for a glimpse of its intriguing Mindset, mind sensing headset. Still in the prototype phase, Mindset is said to turn your thoughts into actions in video games and research devices. The company is currently seeking partners and limited applications currently support the device. However, spokespeople at the company are optimistic that this type of interactivity will become more than a sci-fi way to engage game play.  Those interested in having a mind meld of their own can pre-order the device at the company web site.

3D Game Worlds Made Fast
3DVIA (www.3dvia.com) was showcasing its suite of 3DVIA software alongside “Subsurface,” a compelling interactive 3D submarine adventure game created in a mere two months by Amsterdam-based Little Chicken Game Company (wwwlittlechicken.nl) using 3DVIA Virtools. Little Chicken has kept Virtools in its creative pipeline for more than eight years. The company explains the Virtools 5 workflow gives them a true rapid development environment, and the ability to create games and apps beyond visual demos by incorporating everything from animation to physics and artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to a wealth of tools for 3D content creation, 3DVIA has an entire community committed to 3D where you can download free models and tutorials and participants are encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences with others in the community.

It’s a Jungle in There
Realistic gaming environments are still growing and prospering. Interactive Data Visualization was showing its completely reengineered SpeedTree foliage and tree middleware. SpeedTree 5.0, which is currently in beta, provides improved control over tree geometry, the ability to interface with physics engines, including support for Nvidia PhysX technology, improved integration options,  realistic lighting, and more. Get more details at www.speedtree.com.

Now for Something Completely Different
Hanging out in the hallway at GDC, you run into many interesting people with exciting new technology. Oceanhouse Media (www.oceanhousemedia.com) is keeping it Zen with “Bowls,” a new iPhone app that has just been introduced in the iPhone App Store. The app gives you the ability to make relaxing music with Tibetan singing bowls, which can calm your nerves and boost your creativity—something every CG artist and game developer should have handy.