E3 and the Next-Generation of Videogames

Ryan Lesser reveals how 3ds Max 7.5 packs a pretty mean punch with its new hair and fur system.

E3  Let the craziness begin! All images courtesy of Deron Yamada unless otherwise marked.

As I made clear in my review of last years E3, the Electronic Ent. Expo, Im not a gamer. But Im sure if I go to enough E3s, I will be converted. This years event was not as loud or as flashy as last year, but bigger things were afoot. The launches of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were the talk of the expo and many people have taken sides.

The game demos for both of the next-generation consoles were impressive. Its not that the graphics have gotten all that much better, but everything else has. Lighting and movement have taken leaps forward providing a more natural and realistic gaming experience. As well, the graphic volume is amazing. Crowd scenes where various characters move differently in a natural motion. Hordes of zombies attacking instead of just a handful. Its getting to the point where the look of the cinematics and gameplay are too close to differentiate. This is all due to the improved processing power of the new systems.

Xbox 360 strikes first.

Xbox 360 Specs

Custom IBM PowerPC-based CPU

Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2GHz each

Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total

VMX-128 vector unit per core; three total

128 VMX-128 registers per hardware thread

1MB L2 cacheCPU Game Math Performance

9 billion dot product operations per secondCustom ATI Graphics Processor

10MB of embedded DRAM

48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines

Unified shader architecturePolygon Performance

500 million triangles per secondPixel Fill Rate

16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAAShader Performance

48 billion shader operations per secondMemory

512MB of 700MHz GDDR3 RAM

Unified memory architectureMemory Bandwidth

22.4 GB/s memory interface bus bandwidth

256 GB/s memory bandwidth to EDRAM

21.6 GB/s front-side busOverall System Floating-Point Performance

1 teraflopStorage

Detachable and upgradeable 20GB hard drive

12x dual-layer DVD-ROM

Memory Unit support starting at 64MBI/O

Support for up to four wireless game controllers

Three USB 2.0 ports

Two memory unit slotsOptimized for Online

Instant, out-of-the-box access to Xbox Live features with broadband service, including Xbox Live Marketplace for downloadable content, gamer profile for digital identity and voice chat to talk to friends while playing games, watching movies or listening to music

Built-in Ethernet port

Wi-Fi ready: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g

Video camera readyDigital Media Support

Support for DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, JPEG Photo CD

Ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP-based PCs

Ability to rip music to the Xbox 360 hard drive

Custom playlists in every game

Built-in Media Center Extender for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005

Interactive, full-screen 3-D visualizersHigh-Definition Game Support

All games supported at 16:9, 720p and 1080i, anti-aliasing

Standard-definition and high-definition video output supportedAudio

Multi-channel surround sound output

Supports 48KHz 16-bit audio

320 independent decompression channels

32-bit audio processing

More than 256 audio channelsSystem Orientation

Stands vertically or horizontallyCustomizable Face Plates

Interchangeable to personalize the console

The monolith look of PS3.

PlayStation 3 Specs

CPU

Cell Processor

PowerPC-base Core @3.2GHz

1 VMX vector unit per core

512KB L2 cache

7 x SPE @3.2GHz

7 x 128b 128 SIMD GPRs

7 x 256KB SRAM for SPE

1 of 8 SPEs reserved for redundancy

Total floating point performance: 218 GFLOPSGPU

RSX @550MHz

1.8 TFLOPS floating point performance

Full HD (up to 1080p) x 2 channels

Multi-way programmable parallel floating point shader pipelinesSound

Dolby 5.1ch, DTS, LPCM, etc. (Cell- base processing)

Memory 256MB XDR Main RAM @3.2GHz 256MB GDDR3 VRAM @700MHzSystem Bandwidth

Main RAM 25.6GB/s

VRAM 22.4GB/s

RSX 20GB/s (write) + 15GB/s (read)

SB< 2.5GB/s (write) + 2.5GB/s (read) System Floating Point Performance

2 TFLOPSStorage

Detachable 2.5 HDD slot x 1I/O

USB Front x 4, Rear x 2 (USB2.0)

Memory Stick standard/Duo, PRO x 1

SD standard/mini x 1

CompactFlash (Type I, II) x 1 Communication

Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T) x 3 (input x 1 + output x 2)

Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g

Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR) Controller

Bluetooth (up to 7)

USB 2.0 (wired)

Wi-Fi (PSP)

Network (over IP)AV Output

Screen size: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p

HDMI: HDMI out x 2

Analog: AV MULTI OUT x 1

Digital audio: DIGITAL OUT (OPTICAL) x 1Disc Media

CD PlayStation CD-ROM, PlayStation 2 CD-ROM, CD-DA, CD-DA (ROM), CD-R, CD-RW, SACD, SACD Hybrid (CD layer), SACD HD, DualDisc, DualDisc (audio side), DualDisc (DVD side)

DVD: PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM, PlayStation 3 DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW

Blu-ray Disc: PlayStation 3 BD-ROM, BD-Video, BD-ROM, BD-R, BD-RE

Gamers clamor to play the hottest upcoming games.

Just looking at the specs, the PS3 seems to have the upper hand, but Xbox 360 has an edge in that hardcore gamers have come to prefer Xbox over PS2 and Xbox 360 hits the market in November, whereas PS3 doesnt arrive until spring 2006. What system will lead? Ill leave that to the gamers and let the market decide.

As far as hot games, the hottest seemed to be The Legend of Zelda for GameCube and Nintendo DS. The classic game is getting a big graphics upgrade and the fans are eating it up. Lines to check out the title were as long as those for the PS3. The other two eagerly awaited titles were Madden NFL 2006 and The Godfather, which looks quite awesome.

Other games that piqued my interested included The Movies, a sim game that allows players to run their own movie studio in any time period from the silent age up to today. For movie buffs, as well as fans of machinima, the game gives players the opportunity to create their own movies.

Another fun title was Destroy All Humans, which puts players in the space boots of green aliens who begin their invasion on the farm and move their wave of destruction to the city. The game has a quirky humor that reminded me of Tim Burtons Mars Attacks! I was hooked from the moment the alien tells an unassuming cow that he is here to steal the DNA of humans and take over Earth.

Finally, I waited the longest to catch a look at the King Kong game. The fun part about the title is that it starts as a first person shooter then switches to the Kong perspective as a fighting game. The graphics look cool and if the movies environments are as stellar as those in the game, director Peter Jackson may have another mega-hit on his hands.

The Warriors like other licensed properties are getting even riskier ventures.

My focus in attending the conference sessions this year was to look more into the business side of the industry. In a session about making games that fall out of the familiar, gaming legend Peter Molyneaux, creator of Black & White and Fable, said that first a game developer needs to convince the publisher that an idea will sell, then the developer can add the newness once the deal is sealed.

An overriding sentiment in the conference was that publishers are getting more and more cautious about the risks they take. This is never more prevalent than when it comes to licensed games. Last years publishers were saying that they wouldnt consider making a movie into a game unless it was certain to be a $150 million grosser at the box office. Though no one gave numbers, it seems like the publishers were publishing that number higher. Now contracts between gaming publishers and movie studios even include guaranteed box office clauses, which determine percentage changes if a movie does not make as much money as the studio expects.

A perfect example of why licensed games are so risky is the case of The Chronicles of Riddick game. Last year at E3, the booth for the game was huge and star Vin Diesel even showed up to wow the crowd. However, when the film underperformed, the game suffered as well.

Moreover, with the next-generation consoles coming, things have gotten riskier. With most new console launches, publishers will put out more original content, because the amount of consoles sold is still low, which means that games need to sell to almost every person who owns a next-gen console for the game to become a success. A licensed property is too expensive and the profit margin is too high for the risk.

Additionally, the cost to create next-gen games is much higher. For the current systems, a title costs about $6 million to make, but with the next-gen, production costs could rise to $10 million. Moreover, the production timeline has now been extended. Next-gen games will take 12-36 months to develop whereas a movies development time is roughly 8-12 months. It will get harder and harder for movie-themed games to be released day-and-date with the films.

Another shift that is happening with licensed games is the move away from games that follow the plotline of the movie. Movie companies are learning and publishing companies are making it clear that a bankable name brand will not guarantee success in the gaming sphere. A great example of how movie studios are thinking more like gamers is with Paramounts deal for The Warriors. Sandi Isaacs, vp interactive, Viacom Consumer Products, said they looked at the gaming market and saw that adult games were hot. So they mined the library of Paramount titles to find properties that would fit the trend. With the success of The Warriors, the door was opened for The Godfather game. Added to that, Isaacs said that dusting off a library title like The Warriors and seeing it succeed in the gaming world, allows the studio to gage potential sequel or remake opportunities.

However, movie studios need to watch out because a bad game can taint a franchise. For instance, in the `90s a badly received Batman game, proceeded a solid Ubisoft Batman title by nine months. The poor performance of the first title spurred retailers to balk at the Ubisoft game. Its a perfect example that a huge franchise doesnt guarantee anything.

However, the next-gen systems allow for a new developing choice that wasnt available before. Because the systems are backwards compatible, less marquee titles could be done on the older format at a cheaper price. As long as the game is good, it should still sell and the financial risk is less. Another area to take a risk on licensed games is with the portable systems where the production costs are much lower.

For an industry-only event, it sure gets a lot of consumer press.

Another fascinating area is in-game advertising. Massive Inc. is a company that has created a technology that can serve ads into online games. Currently in more than 40 titles, the service allows advertisers to inject their ads into the gameplay. For instance, Diet Sprite can take an ad, which will allow its logo to appear on all the soda machines in the game. Surprisingly, unlike in other mediums where fans are outraged by product placement, gamers love it. With real world ads in the game, it makes the gaming experience more realistic.

The key for the game publishers is to make sure the ads are appropriate for the game. For instance, fantasy games wont have ads because it doesnt fit the world. As well, it has been found that men have negative responses to female oriented ads. So, because more men play games, there wont be ads for make-up any time soon. Studies have found that women dont have the same reaction to male oriented advertising.

Another advantage to game advertising is the medium itself. Unlike TV or print, where ads can be avoided, games are immersive and a player cannot avoid seeing an ad. In addition, technology can track how, when and where an ad is being seen by the player. This immersion raises brand awareness by 25-35%. Mitchell Davis, ceo of Massive, said that in-game advertising increases profit per game by $2-3 per game.

However, a major concern with gamers is at what point does profit motive start to affect the choice of advertisers, which could harm gameplay. The publishers on the panel assured this would never happen, because the game publishers wont do anything to scare gamers away.

This years event sure was exciting. For goodness sakes, the booths sucked so much energy, they blew a breaker and the lights in a section of the convention center were out for a good portion of Wednesday. Next years event will see the official release of PS3 and Xbox 360 will have been out for several months. It will be interesting to see what will happen until then.

Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website .

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