Nvidia trying to beef up their software ecosystem

Check here

NVIDIA HAS JUST announced a “strategic partnership” with video software application firm Motion DSP, in which it has also bought a stake. Motion DSP makes software that fixes video, allowing users to make videos from cell phones, still cameras, camcorders, or the Interwibble significantly less shoddy-looking using video enhancement and reconstruction technology. …. Motion DSP has now ported about 80 per cent of its algorithms to the GPU using Nvidia’s Cuda, which the company claims has significantly accelerated things….. “Our software runs almost five times faster on the GTX280 [than on an Intel quad core]” says Dr Sean Varah, CEO of MotionDSP. “If we stayed with Intel, we weren’t going to get there until Intel had at least eight-core chips out for consumers. By using Cuda to port to the GPU, we were really leapfrogging Moore’s law by 18-24 months and getting to real-time sooner.”…. Explaining why Nvidia had decided to buy a stake in his company, Varah explained that Nvidia knew it had to branch out and stop catering only to gamers if it wanted to survive. Asked by the INQ if the size of the stake Nvidia had bought was significant, Varah replied “It’s significant to us!”.

Check here too

AFTER A SOME five years in the marketing pipeline, Nvidia graphics card users will now be able to noodle about on Adobe’s new Creative Suite 4, supported and accelerated natively on a GPU….. This is good news for impatient graphics geeks who want to cut down on the amount of time they need to render HD movies, for instance. Nvidia reckons movies which used to take up to 28 hours to render on Premier Pro could now feasibly be rendered in just two or three hours.

Expect more acquisitions/deals of this nature for both Intel and Nvidia. Both companies are playing the same game (creating demand for their hardware by adding software support).

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The Havok Physics Competition

Havok and Intel are sponsoring a competition for best use of Physics in a video game and best knowledge base Physics entry. I will be one of the judges of the competition.

You can check the competition here and the judges page is linked here. Here are more details on the two categories of the competition:

Category 1: Most Innovative Use of Physics in a Game. Your entry must be a playable PC game demo that includes new or unique uses of Havok technology. We’re looking for new ways for the player to interact with the game through physics, showing different uses of physics than what can be found in PC games today. This can be a FPS, sports game, casual game, or any other type of game.

Category 2: Best Physics Knowledge Base Entry. We’re looking for the best contributions that can benefit the game developer community. This can be a code sample, optimization tip, technical whitepaper, a technical abstract of your demo, or any other technical content that shares your knowledge of game physics with the community.

SCi down more than 50%

British publisher SCi, owner of Eidos Interactive and IO Interactive, has seen its biggest drop in share value in eighteen years. Right now they are at $62 down $72.50.

SCi Entertainment Group Plc SEG 62.00 -72.50 (-53.90%)

Holy shit. Just because they ended all takeover talks…. well not just that … they will also post a loss in 2008. They were asking for more than 300 million pounds for the takeover. Now their value is around 65 million pounds.

Midway should act now!

The one console future

Silicon Knights founder and president Denis Dyack is talking about an open standard for gaming consoles on gamasutra today. EA’s head of international distribution Gerhard Florin told the BBC he wants.

We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible. You don’t need an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii — the consumer won’t even realise the platform it is being played on.

There is already an organization called Gamix, Inc that offers a PC based open platform. I don’t think Gamiz’s approach will ever work. You need to offer the main hardware console makers a reason to believe in this. Sony and Microsoft already own many studios. Why would they ever create games for a PC-only based platform? Microsoft could benefit from this if Windows is used, but then the platform would not be “open” anymore.

So the big question here, how can we consolidate the interests of companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to push to support one standard. A standard that allows a game developer to build once and deploy anywhere. Thats a really hard question. But we can start somewhere. First of all, even though its an open standard, there needs to be room for differentiation. The standard should include a hardware and software spec that manufacturers need to comply with. In terms of Hardware, a multi-core Power PC based architecture is a safe bet since all the consoles use Power PC based processors now. As for Software, an Operating System API is all that is needed. Vendors like Sony and MS can compete by trying to build a better system that complies to the standard.

Network Equipment vendors have been competing in the same way for years. In Networking, you had to comply to a standard, otherwise devices would not be able to talk to each other. Now the same needs to happen in gaming.

A distribution medium like Blu-Ray or HD-DVD will need to be picked for this open standard as well … another big problem!! Hardware distribution will not die anytime soon. Most publishers will try to push their games online. Even if you had a 200GB hard drive, its only got room for 4-7 multi-lingual HD games. So downloading the whole game is just not that sexy yet.

There are several factors that need to be considered in defining this open standard:
1- Timing
2- Publisher and Developer Commitment
3- Manufacturing issues
4- Fairness

Now how can console vendors differentiate their products:
1- Hardware: manufacture your own chip and focus on making certain aspects better than the others.
2- System Software: optimize your OS to be better. Provide an easy to use API. Make it easy for end user to plug in their own applications without sacrificing system integrity. Make it easy for people to use the console for other purposes.
3- Creative input/output devices. The Wii controller is not the end!! There are many other cool ways to interact with games. Look at Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The rumble was considered a next generation input device. What about 3D glasses? Special lighting effects, anything that immerses the gamer in the experience. Whether its a movie or a game.
4- Application Software = Games mostly but just like Sony and MS are doing with the XLive and PSN. Provide a market place and a community (think Home).

There are a lot of things that still can be done. If you compare the quality of offline rendered animations and runtime animations, you will notice that games tech is still lagging behind. Physics has not been really utilized enough in gameplay elements. Open worlds are not so open. Characters are not as responsive as you would want them to be. AI is still progressing and rendering is only getting better. Lighting, textures, and effects are all things that can be improved dramatically.

Hopefully a successful initiative for an open standard console will get started.

Take Two CEO talks about consolidation

Take-Two Interactive CEO Ben Feder says:

Video-game development is not getting any cheaper. It’s a capital-intensive business, and I don’t see that going away. That will drive some of the smaller competitors out.

Take-Two rose 8.7 per cent due to speculations about further consolidations. Its funny that Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello said that he does not expect any more mergers last week.

Is it ripe (for mergers), or has it already been picked? I would argue that it’s been largely picked. That doesn’t mean it’s done. I think there will be more consolidation to come. But let’s just say a lot has already happened,

Lazard Capital Markets’ Colin Sebastian says

For the industry, we believe the acquisition could signal additional consolidation, potentially including other leading publishers such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft or THQ, while larger media companies such as Disney, Viacom and Time Warner continue to grow their interactive entertainment businesses,

He did not mention SCi Entertainment and Take-Two who have several successful brands under their belt. Actually a more interesting question is, how does this merger affect Asian publishers. Konami, Capcom, Square-Enix, and Namco are trying to expand their market in the west. It would actually make sense for them to acquire talent in the US, Canada, and Europe. Sega has already been doing that. Struggling publishers like Atari and Midway might be a good acquisition target considering their cheap price right now.

Activision and Vivendi

What a huge deal?? I did not see that coming. Interestingly enough, although Vivendi will own 52% of the merged company, the CEO of Activision Robert Kotick will be President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, and Vivendi Games’ Bruce Hack will be CCO of the combined company.

EA recently acquired Bioware and Pandemic and Mythic/Warhammer so they are still bigger. Huge companies with many studios are rising in the industry. Sony is also acquiring studios. Microsoft is also expanding their game studios and trying to offer more exclusives for their systems. Nintendo on the other hand has been laying low in terms of expansion, publishers are choosing to make Wii exclusives based on numbers. Besides, given the Wii’s limited horse power, it can’t handle the same quality expected from next-gen games. It will be very interesting to see what strategy the new Activision Blizzard will take. Personally, I do not think they will change much on the outside. There will be quite a bit of internal structuring. I wonder if we might see the death/rise of a couple of studios.

Bio Shock is sick

Awesome game. It reminds of the first time I played Resident Evil 1 (aka Bio Hazard). I was never a big FPS fan, but this BS adds a really engaging element to the game. I have not played System Shock 2 but from what I hear, I would have probably liked it. I need to finish the game, then I will write the good, the bad, and the ugly. I still have to finish Halo 3 and buy the Orange Box. Oh man … too many FPSs. Should I even bother buying UTIII?

Overestimated Midway

I bought Midway a while back when I thought that they would do really well with Stranglehold and Area 51. Unfortunately, both games did not do too great. While Stranglehold delivered on the massive D promises, it was short, and very repetitive. Heavenly Sword fell into that same repetitive trap. Area 51 was plain ordinary. Nothing too special (many FPSs are like that which is a topic for another post).

So coming back to the main point. Midway failed to turn profits and for that my MWY stocks would end up reducing my taxable income for the year 😦 I am gonna sell at a loss unfortunately.

This article came out way after I bought my MWY stocks … and I wish I had waited. Well now at least, they are going to publish Unreal Tournament III for the PS3 before the end of the year. We will see if that sells.

Activision got Guitar Hero to rock on, EA has bought Pandemic and Bio Ware and they have several big titles coming out, and Take Two released Bio Shock and coming with GTA IV soon (check here). Midway on the other hand is just not delivering any big hits. They need a really good Mortal Kombat game to pick up the slack. The next-gen MK has not been featured or talked about at all. It has not been announced even.

Uncharted: I finished it already

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a great game. I loved the whole experience. The story line is not deep but the gameplay is awesome. The controls are crisp and the character is very responsive. The visuals are great, the frame rate is consistent, and the sound is solid too. The game is not monotonous and you get to do different things through out the game. You get to drive a jet ski, a jeep with a machine gun, do platforming, exploration, and lots of shooting. You even get some scary moments towards the end of the game.

As most new games now, not too many puzzles and the difficulty level is not challenging enough. The game is not short, it took me 5-6 multi hour sessions to finish it.

The physics in the game were disappointing. Ragdolls and physics in Heavenly Sword were way better in my opinion (of course I am biased cause I work for Havok).

Still the game was awesome with a lot of good design ideas. Some of the levels were just amazing. The water effects are some of the best I have seen so far. I wish there was some swimming or diving in the game. Metal Gear Solid and GoW both had swimming/diving and it made the game more interesting and fresh.

So for Uncharted 2, want more vehicle play, swimming/diving, more physical interaction, more puzzles, longer game, and a more engaging story line if possible.