This year's Game Developer Conference is in full swing, and Loyd Case is on the ground, reporting the latest goings-on. His Day 1 coverage includes AMD's push for open-standard physics, Windows Phone 7, Playstation Move, real-world gaming, and Surface.
Every Game Developer Conference seems to have an unstated theme, a subtext that yields clues to the overall direction and health of the game industry. This year is no exception.
The center of gravity seems to have shifted away from the middle ground--game consoles--and to the sides, if you will. One side is represented by the mobile, handheld devices, particularly smartphones. Microsoft is busy pushing development on Windows Phone 7, an entire set of tracks is devoted to iPhone game development, developers who registered for key mobile sessions received free Google Nexus One phones, and even Palm was showing game development on Palm’s WebOS.
At the other end of the spectrum is the PC, which has been much maligned in the past few years as a dying platform for gaming. Intel announced its Core i7-980X Extreme Edition, along with a leading game title, Napoleon: Total War, able to take advantage of the six-core, twelve-thread monster.
But it’s not just one new CPU. 2K games was showing off Firaxis’ Civilization V, a PC-exclusive sequel in the venerable Civilization franchise--also scalable to many threads. AMD is out pushing its Eyefinity multi-display technology. Microsoft’s public displays more strongly emphasize Games for Windows Live, with more prominent placement than the Xbox 360. Even the show keynote will be given by Sid Meier, arguably one of the industry’s more influential designers, with a long and storied history in PC gaming.
With these ideas in mind: mobile gaming seems to be coming of age, while the PC is resurgent--let’s take a look at the first half of GDC.
AMD Pushes Open Standards
AMD’s ATI graphics group has been shipping a new DirectX 11 GPU every few weeks since the launch of the original Radeon HD 5870. AMD announced a branding strategy revolving around PC gamers, which it's dubbing “AMD Gaming Evolved.”
Branding aside, perhaps the most interesting part of the AMD announcement involved Bullet Physics, an open source physics library gradually gaining steam in the developer community. AMD helped the Bullet Physics teams develop libraries that work with both OpenCL and Microsoft’s DirectX 11 DirectCompute APIs. This allows game developers to take advantage of GPU acceleration using readily-available standards not tied to particular hardware. Bullet Physics will work with GPUs from both Nvidia and AMD, Intel integrated GPUs and x86 CPUs.
Also announced was an initiative to promote open standards for stereoscopic 3D, currently the hot button among consumer electronics suppliers. AMD will be working with makers of stereoscopic glasses of all types, (polarized, active, and passive shutters) and more panel makers and middleware providers to ensure hardware-independent access to stereoscopic 3D for gaming.
In addition to efforts promoting more open standards for physics and stereoscopic 3D, the company announced a certification program for Eyefinity, so that game developers can more robustly implement the massively multi-screen capabilities of AMD’s latest GPUs. Simply scaling a game up to a huge, six-screen surface isn’t all you need to do--that’s maybe the easiest part of the puzzle. Game developers need to put more thought into the user interface and input architectures when so many visible pixels are available.