(This column first appeared in the May 21, 1996 issue of PC Graphics Report)
You may have noticed a lack of recent Richter Scale columns. Then, again, you may not have. In any event, my missing prose can be attributed to a number of things.
In addition to doing a multi-week sweep of the great American Northwest with my family (baby pictures available upon request), I’ve been heavily involved in writing a book about Netscape’s Live3D VRML browser. But, seeing as my benevolent publisher has permitted a delay in delivery of the book, waiting for a newer release of Live3D and the final VRML 2.0 to come out, I’m back to grousing about technology and the PC graphics market in written form in these hallowed pages.
This week’s column features lots of the nitty-gritty behind the E3 show in Los Angeles, as well as a commentary about Intel’s 3D efforts, and (what else?) Microsoft’s continued attack for Internet mindshare. For some of you, perhaps the most interesting nugget will be the informal survey I’ve performed of several dozen 3D game developers and their plans for 3D hardware support. Read on…
E3 Travel Challenges
Just getting to Los Angeles from New Hampshire can be quite an ordeal, especially if you find out the day before you’re supposed to fly that an important press gathering is occurring before you were supposed to have arrived, and you need to rearrange your life and luggage to accommodate a flight two hours after first learning of the change. Nevermind that the E3 travel office had screwed up my hotel reservations three times. (Even more annoying is finding out later that I missed lots of press releases and phonecalls because the hamfisted data entry personnel had me incorrectly listed as a Software Dealer instead of Press.)
Anyhow, miraculously making it to the flight on time, with bags packed, and having only forgotten an easily replaced reporter’s notebook (the kind you use a ball-point pen with), I felt pretty secure and content. That is, until the in-flight film (Down Periscope) was over, and this syndicated infomercial came on (right after free headsets started being distributed). This thinly veiled advertising blather was called Bunting’s Window to the World of Computers with Test Driver, or just Bunting’s Window, for short. If you’ve flown United Airlines and seen this piece of dross, which is supposed to educate and inform the uncultured flying public about the latest advances in computing technology, you might understand the source of my indignation.
Instead of presenting a reasonably unbiased and objective view of the computing and technology world, like the popular Computer Currents, PC-TV, or NextStep TV shows do, Bunting’s Window appears to sell infomercials. However, what’s so irritating is that the informercials appear under the thin veneer of attempted impartiality, and the uninitiated will take the content of the show and treat it as fact.
So, here I was, subjected to brainwashing from Sun about Java and Sun servers, Microsoft and Internet Explorer 3.0, Hewlett-Packard, Bay Networks, and Quarterdeck. And, I had no place to escape to – I took the only option possible by taking my stereo headset cord, unplugging it from the arm rest, attaching it to the output jack on my notebook computer, and playing a rousing game of Duke Nukem 3D. I pity the poor souls that don’t have this option.
On the flip side, what a great marketing move! Here (on the plane) you have a captive audience that’s bored out of their minds just sitting around trying to get to their destination, anxious to absorb whatever audio-visual material is tossed at them. This is certainly brainwashing of the flying masses at its best.
We finally landed, and none too soon. After waiting 30 minutes for luggage to be delivered to the carousel, and getting my bag nearly last, I boarded a cab, safe in the knowledge that I would soon be able to settle into my hotel room. As luck would have it, the shiny, well-kept taxi I chose as my chariot to relaxation had something akin to an engine fire on the way into downtown Los Angeles. I say “akin” because while I didn’t actually see any flames, there was this horrible smell and some smoke. After a disconcerting transfer to a slightly more functional taxi, I finally made it to the New Otani (the hotel designated for press, apparently so that E3 show management could keep an eye on us) and checked in, surprisingly without any further problems. The phone system, while requiring some minor recabling, even supported my modem – I was now wired for action!
Pre-E3 Day – Can You Nintendo My Pippin?
For the press, E3 show management scheduled a Media Preview event the day before the show, where well over 50 new entertainment products were introduced and previewed, first via video/sound bites on a projection screen and then in small table displays. The table displays were quite worthwhile because you could actually talk with the producers, product managers, and MarCom people responsible for the products, and conversely, they got exposure to several hundred writers and editors.
The Nintendo 64
Following the Media Preview was the U.S. Nintendo 64 (N64) launch in the posh surroundings of the Biltmore. In case you missed the details elsewhere, the N64, along with only one game controller and no games, will ship on September 30, 1996, with a suggested retail price of $249.95. While many people I spoke to later indicated their dismay with the N64, as they had expected more from Nintendo and SGI, I was pleasantly surprised by the N64’s capabilities, and the numerous 3D titles Nintendo demonstrated.
While I’ve not been a console aficionado in the past, the N64, combined with an Internet connection and keyboard for Web surfing, looks like it’ll be a good addition to my living room later this year. In terms of the N64 games, I found Super Mario 64 to be perhaps the most entertaining to watch and play. The visual quality of Super Mario 64 is great (for TV output), and there’s no question with this games and others that you are dealing with speedy 3D game hardware. The N64’s games look to be the same quality as that of many of the newer arcade- class games I’ve seen and played.
What makes N64 games even more interesting is Nintendo’s multiple function controller. The game controller supports the standard flat directional disk used for today’s 2D side- scrolling games, a 3D control stick (somewhat misnamed), camera position control buttons, and several other action buttons (fire, jump, etc.). Because of the versatility of the controller, and the fact the N64 is using a real-time 3D engine, you can look at Mario from all sorts of angles while in the middle of game play. While at first this may be confusing, it ultimately makes games a lot more fun and interesting. The controllers are even available in six different colors.
While it may soon be possible to play 3D games similar to Super Mario 64 – Nintendo’s flagship title – on my PC in my home office, I’d like the ability to play some visually captivating and cool games in my living room, with my large screen TV, surround sound, and most importantly, my couch, all part of the experience. Also, I found the Nintendo 64’s price to be a lot easier to stomach than that of a new PC with required VGA-to-TV hardware. If Nintendo’s Internet connectivity solution is usable and priced competitively to Sega’s NetLink (see further below), the N64 could be a leader in the new breed of computing appliances.
Just about the only thing I don’t like about Nintendo is their arrogance, but the same could easily be said for Microsoft, and even so I still use its products.
The Bandai Pippin @World
Unfortunately, all Nintendo fed at the press conference was cheese and crackers, but I was determined to save my appetite for the Bandai Pippin @World announcement, being held that evening at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I wasn’t disappointed by the spread, but I was somewhat disappointed by the Pippin, hailed by its manufacturers and designers as being the ultimate “Television Appliance” for surfing the Internet. Sheryl Crow performing live for a small group of us (1000 people) did make up for it (although I did lose out on a Sheryl Crow CD when I accidentally gave someone a free drink ticket which later turned out to actually be a CD redemption ticket).
The Pippin is an Apple developed technology, so it’s no surprise that the guts of the Pippin are remarkably similar to those of a Macintosh. But not similar enough to allow straight Mac software to run as-is. After all, the Pippin (I call it a “MacJr”) folks need to find a way to charge title developers a royalty to justify the low cost ($599) of the product, and they do this by licensing a custom Pippin API.
So, the next question is why is Bandai introducing the Pippin, and not Apple. The answer appears to be two-part:
1) Bandai’s parent company’s claim to fame is ownership of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and as such, the company has extensive experience with channels alternate to those of traditional computing devices.
2) Bandai’s Bandai Digital Entertainment group, which is marketing the Pippin, has received quite a chunk of funding to launch the Pippin, and my guess is that Apple is going to let them test the waters before shipping its own Pippin unit (which Apple committed to at its conference last week).
There are some features on the Pippin I think are good, like the fact it actually does enable consumer Web access via a television, has dual VGA and video output (NTSC or PAL), its keyboard/digitzer combo is pretty cool (the digitizer pad is above the keyboard, and the whole thing folds to make a thin black box), the “banana” controller appears pretty useful, they have some neat tools and games available for the unit, and they’ve kicked off a decent ad campaign in USA Today. For the latter, the first ad I saw had this simple message “Introducing a revolutionary new way to get at the Internet… It’s called the television.” With ads like this, they are helping promote the entire consumer Network Computer (NC) concept and not just their own device, which is a good thing for the industry, and probably not so good for Bandai.
Let’s take a look at everything I don’t like about the Bandai Pippin @World.
- First, because it uses a “lite” MacOS core, people will have great expectations of what the Pippin should be able to do since it’s really a mini-PC. The Bandai folks have agreed that changing this mind set is a real challenge.
- Second, the Pippin’s TV output, while surprisingly reasonable for Web pages, does a lousy job on regular OS text and Web browser menus because of the small fonts used there.
- Third, the price point of $599 for a fall shipment is too high. Especially when you consider the game console Internet connections.
- Fourth, the keyboard and controller currently require cables – no IR or RF cordless input devices are going to ship with Bandai’s Pippin.
- Fifth, Pippin forces people to use a specific Internet provider, PSInet, for at least 6 months, with a $25/month minimum service fee, which forces consumers who are already net literate to have multiple ISPs, probably shutting them out entirely of wanting to buy a Pippin with that constraint. That obviously leaves the remaining unwashed masses as potential Pippin purchasers, still a large number.
- Sixth, the machine is currently incapable (due to not enough RAM) of running Netscape 2.0 or something comparable with Java and VRML support, putting its capabilities well behind the state of the art when it will ship in September.
- Seventh, the name for the device (“Pippin @World”) is silly. Many non-computer literate people don’t know what an “@” is.
- Eighth, (and most importantly) Bandai has not studied the extent to which Americans are functionally illiterate. According to a 1993 study by the U.S. Department of Education (see gopher://gopher.ed.gov:10000/11/publications/adult), approximately 46-51% of the adults resident in the U.S. are considered functionally illiterate. Astounding but true. What this all means is that while a Pippin could be used as an ultra-expensive (in relative terms) game console device by these folks, they aren’t about to do any serious Internet surfing. When I brought this up to a Japanese executive with Bandai, he just could not understand that Americans might not be able to read. Talk about a cultural gap.
Being Illiterate is not a Crime, Just Way Too Common
The single biggest threat to the concept and execution of a consumer computing appliance or NC is the abysmal literacy level of American adults.
In the aforementioned DoE study, released just over two years ago, 21-23% of adults had significant problems dealing with anything but the most simple textual tasks (i.e. totaling a balance, finding a meeting time on a piece of paper), if even that. Another 25-28% of adults had slightly better textual skills, providing the material was easy to understand. Moreover, the adults in these two groups “were apt to experience considerable difficulty in performing tasks that required them to integrate or synthesize information from complex or lengthy texts or to perform quantitative tasks that involved two or more sequential operations”. People in the two lowest levels of literacy were also the most likely to have lower paying jobs.
While it’s possible to assume that some of adults in these two low level literacy groups could navigate the World Wide Web, it’s also just as realistic to assume that many of them would not be able to deal with such a task.
What this all boils down to is that the makers of Pippin and other consumer NCs have probably not taken the severity and broad based nature of American illiteracy into account in creating their sales and market expectations. That’s a serious problem, because it cuts out at least a third of the overall American population, and in the case of devices like the Bandai Pippin, which are targeted at lower income families who can’t afford full fledged PCs, it bites into a major chunk of the market, if not all of it. Time for the NC companies to start donating time and money to literacy programs, or for those companies without a conscience, making an NC a status symbol, forcing the illiterate Joneses to buy one without them having actual intent to use it, because they can’t.
On the positive side, perhaps the NC will bring literacy back to the masses. In the words of Walter Mossberg, technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, we are facing “the revival of the lost art of letter writing” thanks to the Internet.
Back to E3
After filling my eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of Sheryl Crow, and filling my stomach with the delicacies the Beverly Hills Hotel had to offer, all thanks to Bandai Digital Entertainment (http://www.bdec.com), I crashed for the night, in preparation for three days of trade show hell. This was my first E3 show, and the second that has existed, so I didn’t feel like I had missed much. I was wrong. You may recall comments of mine from a column I wrote last fall, telling all about the enthusiasm and exciting I found at an Internet show, but hadn’t seen for years at a COMDEX or other PC show. Well, E3 puts that all to shame. The energy and vibrancy you could feel in the halls and on the show floor was incredible, much more so than even at Internet events. While Internet events seem to be dominated by people who have come from the (these days) less exciting PC market, the entertainment community seems filled with new blood and vision. Many of the people I met along the way at E3 had a devotion and appreciation for new technology that was not burdened by pessimism. I think that this is the result of both having lots of young people (i.e. less than 25 years of age) entering the entertainment market, and the computer entertainment market knowing what a recession really is. Now they have a market that will just continue to grow, driving PC technology development.
The main themes at E3 were 3D and connectivity. Most game developers were trying to figure out how to network their games, whether they were war games, strategy games, action games, or even electronic board games (like Scrabble and Monopoly). At the same time, many developers are exclusively developing just 3D titles or at least indicating that no more future 2D titles were going to be developed. There were several companies offering a blend of 3D and Internet connectivity, generally via some sort of time unit priced access fees and third party game software. These “game network” companies appeared to be oblivious to the threat Microsoft’s DirectPlay II will offer later this year, when it’ll let anyone set up a game connectivity server, and charge for access.
I suppose that that attitude, i.e. ignoring Microsoft, was not uncommon among entertainment companies, and it did my heart and soul good to know that Microsoft was still just a bit player in the entertainment market.
Home Console Connectivity
I think that one of the most important announcements at the show, but one easily overlooked in the cacophony created by all the new products being shown, was Sega’s NetLink. NetLink is a cartridge that plugs into the Sega Saturn and contains a 28.8 modem, and comes with a CD-ROM containing Internet access and surfing software. While the $199 product doesn’t actually ship until September 30, 1996 (coincidentally the same day the Nintendo 64 gets released), seeing it on display and working (I even managed to check out my own Web page) was a great experience. Here, while Oracle, Sun, Apple, et al., are all talking about the viability of a $500 network computer, Sega has introduced one that runs just a little more than $400 (if you include the keyboard and mouse and connector, and considering Sega’s new $199 console pricing). Even better, Sega’s base platform is already installed in a large number of homes that might be candidates for NCs. The actual browser Sega will ship has not yet been selected, but Sega showed two competing Web browser efforts, and indicated they are also still in discussions with Netscape, Microsoft, and others about browser selection. Whatever they ship, it’ll be pretty decent (and quite possibly, offer Java and VRML support).
I went around to ask Nintendo and Sony about their plans for Internet connectivity. Nintendo was hopeful and polite, indicating that a major Internet related announcement was forthcoming in the next couple of months. However, at the same time, Nintendo was firm about their console costing $249.95, regardless of what Sony and Sega priced themselves at.
Sony was a little more curt. While they started the latest console price war by being the first to drop their system price to $199, Sony spokespeople were very closed mouthed about any Internet announcements. At first they said Sony had no plans for Internet connectivity. Once they realized how that sounded, they amended it to “Sony has not announced any plans for Internet connectivity for the Sony PlayStation”. My read is that they’ll have something out in September as well.
The concept of having an NC in your living room, being able to play cool games on it, and surf the Internet when you need to is very appealing to me, and I would guess a large percentage of the population. The only catch is that you have to know how to read.
While something like Gateway 2000’s Destination system delivers all this capability (but at a multi-thousand dollar price), $500 sounds a lot better – I don’t want to be doing real work when relaxing on my couch. I think the big market for add-on product manufacturers will be cordless keyboards and mice/controllers, though.
The 3D Engine Survey
One of my self-inflicted tasks for the show was to survey as many 3D game developers as possible and find out what type of 3D rendering engine their software was using, and whether the engine would be acceleratable via the new breed of PC 3D hardware appearing on the horizon (and in some cases, already shipping). The results are mixed, as you’ll see below.
Even more interesting was that many large games companies had multiple 3D engines in use, depending on the type of game. Here, listed by company, are the responses I received to my oral survey. The questions I asked were:
- What type of 3D rendering engine does your software use?
- Will you be supporting 3D rendering hardware?
- What are your plans for Microsoft’s D3D?
|Company/Game Titles||3D Engine||3D HW
|3D Realms/DukeNukem 3D||Proprietary||No||Uses 3D Realms’ own“Build Engine”|
|3D Realms/Prey||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics at E3|
|Proprietary||Yes||“D3D is not yet complete and won’t help us”. Their engine is called the “5D engine” because it allows on-the-fly switching from 2D to 3D and back.|
|Access Software/Under a Killing MoonThe Pandora Directive||Proprietary||Unknown||Oddly enough, Criterion was showing some demos of navigable scenes similar to those in Killing Moon, but Access insists they don’t use RenderWare.|
|Accolade/Eradicator||Proprietary||No||Waiting for other options|
|Activision/HyperBlade||D3D||Yes||Planning on shipping in August, had to work hard to make D3D work.|
|Activision/Interstate ‘76||Proprietary||Not currently||May switch to D3D when it becomes stable|
|Activision/Mechwarrior2||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on ATI Rage3Dat E3|
|Anark/Galapagos||Proprietary||Yes||The engine is 3DGM froma small Swiss company called Virtually Unlimited|
Shock, 10th Planet, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
|Proprietary||No!||They have developed a phong-lighting engine called XnGine which they claim is better than any hardware renderer (I’m not kidding – it is a goodrenderer, by the way)|
|Bungie/Marathon 2||Proprietary||Unknown||Needed Mac and PC solution, found their own was best|
|Cranberry Source/QAD Polar Sprouts||Proprietary||Yes||Engine is fractal based|
|Digital Image Design/F29 Retaliator & EF-2000||Proprietary||Yes for newer games|
|Eidos/Tomb Raider,Terracide, AH-64A,
Flying Nightmares 2, and
|Proprietary||Yes||Tomb Raiders was running on 3Dfx’s Voodoo Graphics at show. Amazingly fluid human animation.|
|Electronic Arts/Long Bow||Proprietary||Looking into it||No D3D plans|
|Funnybone Interactive/Eat My Dust!||Proprietary||Unknown|
|id Software/Quake||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on Rendition Verite board at E3|
|Interactive Creations/Warbird & Planetary Raiders (multi-player combat flight and space battle simulators)||Proprietary||Looking into it||No D3D plans because their engine is already quite zippy at 1024×768 (I’ve seen it and it is)|
|Interactive Light/Home Run Derby||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics at E3|
|Interactive Magic/Apache and Hind||Proprietary||Looking into it||“D3D stinks!”|
|Interplay/Descent II||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on S3 ViRGE boards at E3|
|Intracorp Entertainment/Blood Hockey
|Looking Glass Technologies/TerraNova
|Proprietary& D3D||Yes, ifD3D||Apparently another use ofD3D immediate mode with a custom engine on top|
|LucasArts/Dark Forces II||D3D||Yes||Shown on Rendition Verite board at E3, ships end of year. “D3D is okay” (not a lot of enthusiasm)|
|Maxis/SimCopter||Proprietary||Unknown||No D3D plans|
Vette, Grand Prix
|Proprietary||Unknown||All DOS games|
|Microprose/Falcon 4.0||3DR||Yes||Shown on 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics at E3|
|Microprose/Star Trek: Generations||3DR||Yes||Microprose has “made a concious decision to NOT use D3D for any of their titles”, and claim they are getting good support for 3DR.|
|Microsoft/3D MovieMaker||BRender||Yes||Deal for engine done
|Mindscape/several games||RealityLab||No||Using pre-D3D version of RenderMorphics stuff, and won’t switch to D3D until it’s stable and faster than what they have now.|
|Novalogic/Armored Fist II,Commanche II||Proprietary||No!||MMX ready, uses Voxel
Space II engine Novalogic developed
|Novalogic/F22 Lightning II||Proprietary||No!||MMX ready, uses new3D polygon engine (excellent quality for terrain, as fast if not faster than with HW acceleration at 640×480)|
|New World Computing/Viper||D3DHybrid||Yes||Uses own engine on top of D3D immediate mode|
|Papyrus/Indy Car II & NASCAR Racing||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on Rendition Verite at E3|
|Paragraph/Virtual Home Space Builder||Proprietary||No||“D3D is buggy” and will continue to use own renderer because it handles texture mapping well.|
|Parsoft/A10 Attack & A10 Cuba||Proprietary||Unknown||Looking at QuickDraw3D|
|Psygnosis/Monster Truck Rally||Proprietary||Yes|
|Psygnosis/The Fallen||RenderWare||Yes||Unhappy with
RenderWare, using it just for basics
|Runandgun/WildRide (a surfing game)||D3D||Yes||Indicated that Microsoft has told them D3D will port to the Sony PlayStation and Mac.|
|Scavenger/Aqua, Amok,and several others||Proprietary||Unknown||Excellent software rendering capability from what I could tell|
|Sirtech/Shadows Over Riva||Proprietary||No||Future 3D engine
selection under discussion internally
|Terminal Reality/Hellbender & Monster Truck Madness||D3D||Yes||Shown on 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics at E3|
|Trimark/Mag Zone||D3DRM||Yes||Shipping late in year|
|UBISoft/POD||D3D||Yes||Software is also MMX enabled|
|Viacom/Death Drone||Proprietary||No||Options for future 3Dengine are open|
|Viacom/The Divide: Enemies Within||D3DHybrid||Yes||Another D3D immediate mode user|
|Viacom/Snow Crash||Proprietary||Possibly||This game uses Pyrotechnix’s True3D game engine – it’s the only Viacom game that does so. Pyrotechnix is evaluation D3D, but early demos aren’t positive.|
|Virgin Interactive/Grand Slam Baseball||Proprietary||Yes||Shown on 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics at E3|
|Virtual Adventure/StarQuest||Proprietary||No||Considering D3D|
Most of these games will be shipping later in the year, and I should caution anyone taking the above to heart that the people representing the various companies above who provided me with answers to the survey thought they knew what they were talking about, which may not have been the case. Also, I know I probably missed a whole bunch of games, and my apologies to any companies who were inadvertently excluded from the above list because I ran out of time at the show.
What The Above Table Indicates
There are 34 companies listed above, and over 50 titles, not counting the ones I certainly missed. Along with that, there are at least two dozen different 3D engines represented here. Of these, many don’t support 3D hardware, although, with the sole exception of Novalogic and Bethesda, every company acknowledged that support for future 3D hardware was something they were evaluating. Most of the responses I got about D3D were negative, with only a few companies (but not all those committed to using it) being happy with D3D. I was also surprised to find several 3DR users out there, which was somewhat contrary to what I reported in an earlier column.
What the 3DR users told me was that Intel was providing them with good support, and as long as the game companies continued to use 3DR, Intel would continue to support it. However, Intel was not looking for any new 3DR users. Another interesting point was a comment from a Microprose product manager stating that 3DR was a better choice than D3D because it had been around a long time and was stable, while D3D still needed a long time to be usable and relatively bug free. As you might be able to infer, most of the developers were adamant about using their own engine, for several reasons:
- Cross platform support (PC, Macintosh, Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, etc.). Other than Runandgun, no company with a goal of portability appeared willing to trust the portability of their technology to an outside vendor, and one vendor even used Criterion’s dropped non-PC support as an example.
- “We can do it better than anyone else” – oft a rallying war cry in the game developer community. From what I saw in some booths, most notably Novalink’s with F22 Lightning II, the companies may occasionally be right.
- “For the best possible performance for each game, we need to tune the 3D engine to the game, and we can’t do that with off-the-shelf solutions”. This helps explain why companies like Microprose, Viacom, and others use a variety of engines.
So, in the meantime, if you’re a 3D chip or board company, it appears that you’ll be very busy helping developers do custom ports to your silicon for their proprietary 3D engines. The interesting side effect of this is that small hardware companies with mediocre parts will not get lots of support and will fizzle out, while companies with good silicon are more likely to get support, further bolstering these companies’ mind share. Same applies to large companies willing to dip into the corporate treasure chest to pay developers.
While D3D was to be the great equalizer, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year. Ultimately, the companies with the most cool titles ported to their hardware will win the 3D battle. Scary, huh?
Maybe I should have stayed in the driver business… Not!
Jake’s Best of Show
Here’re my picks for best of show:
- Best PC 3D Hardware Enabled Game – Tomb Raiders from Eidos, running on a 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics chip. This game is a major piece of eye candy, both for the water effects and the smooth dynamic action of the character you are playing (and see from multiple angles, much like Mario).
- Best PC 3D Software-Only Game – This has to be Novalogic’s F22 Lightning II – I was astounded at the clarity and crispness of the terrain as you flew over it, especially since I had seen much less attractive renderings on PC 3D graphics boards. Multiple camera positions (including an enticing “missile cam”) added to the simulated reality of this game. At 640×480, with a guaranteed 12 frames per second on just a 90Mhz Pentium, this game on a faster system could give the Magic Edge SGI RealityEngines a run for their money in a multi-player mode. All that’s missing is the real-time response cockpit simulation.
- Best Small Booth – Scavenger. With a post- apocalyptic sort of feel to their booth, and too loud techno-pop pumping out of speakers everywhere, this European developer gave visitors the right atmosphere to view their games, many of which shared a theme similar to that of the booth.
- Newest Use of 3D – Squeezils, by Protozoa. The name of this game originates from a blend of the words “Squirrel” and “Weasel”, and the object of the D3D enabled game is to collect nuts without straying too far from the trees where the nuts are.
- Weirdest Use of 3D – Galapagos, from Anark. The name of this game is based on the island that helped Charles Darwin establish his theory of evolution. The main character in this game is a multi-legged critter similar to a spider, which you train and aid as it traverses a moving, bizarre Escher-esque world.
- Best Party – Bandai Digital Electronics. I’m a fan of Sheryl Crow, okay? The party featuring Peter Gabriel might have compared favorably had I attended it.
While leaving Los Angeles was a lot less traumatic than getting there, the first leg of my flight was delayed by an elderly gentleman who suffered some serious gastrointestinal problem, and they took an extra 20 minutes deodorizing the plane. Other than that, things went well, and I arrived home to find I had a major chest cold (making the writing of this column and my contributions to the rest of PCGR challenging to say the least). If you get this copy of PCGR late, just blame it on me.
Intel and Real3D
And now, for something completely different. Last week, Intel announced a major relationship with Real3D for 3D graphics technology to be incorporated into future Intel motherboards and silicon. Along with the Real3D license, Intel also got some video and 2D technology from Chips and Technologies. The announcement was rather curious, and I wasn’t sure what it all meant until after the E3 show.
Here’s my take. Intel has wisely realized that its real competition in the future will not be other Intel-clones. The real competition will be game consoles, set-tops, and NCs. All of these already feature 2D graphics, and eventually all will feature 3D graphics capability. The consumer market for such low-end computing devices is magnitudes larger than the existing PC market, partly because virtually every household in the Western world is a potential site for one, two, or more such devices, whether they have PCs in the home or not. Intel realizes that with the Net connectivity and big bucks some of the players in this new exploding market have, they don’t need costly Intel chips, because there aren’t specific chip-related OS requirements for their systems.
Ergo, Intel is putting a stake in the ground to let designers and developers of console, set-tops, and NCs know that it is actively working towards having all the functionality and technology (via the Real3D deal, C&T video technology, AGP, and MMX), and, as a result, is a contender for the CPU socket in the low cost devices. And, with the installed base of non-Windows specific Intel based code continually being developed in the entertainment market (especially in the 3D arena) Intel has a stronger offering yet. As I pointed out above, many popular titles avoid using Microsoft specific functionality so that there is more portability to the lucrative console content market, which removes a requirement for a Microsoft OS.
In other words, while the ever rocky symbiosis Intel has with Microsoft is still present, for the moment, Intel is working on making sure its technology will be more broadly supported than Microsoft’s GUI OSes.
As a side note, Microsoft sees the same sort of competition arising, which is why it has been reacting the way it has (SIPC, OnNow, etc.) – letting people know it’s serious about being a player in the consumer computing environment.
Along the way, both companies will be attempting to exercise Darwinian principles to the fullest, sacrificing whomever seems prudent for the sake of their own survival, trying to remain the fittest. Hence, the plans and future of other 3D chip and board vendors matters little to Intel. If such companies are to succeed, they too will need to do what they can to survive, and they’ll do it regardless of what Intel does.
The net result will be a total upheaval of the consumer and low-end business computing market over the next couple of years.
E3 was certainly good for my soul and helped give me insight into an aspect of the personal computing environment that I had covered before, but not to this extent. The poorly contained excitement was invigorating, travel tribulations aside. I’m now more firmly convinced than ever that the entertainment and consumer markets will continue to control the evolution of PC hardware technology.