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Gaming Innovations Come Into Focus At eFocus

The recent eFocus event in Los Angeles highlighted some interesting products and trends that may have been drowned out at the E3 show down the street. In a special invitation party/briefing many exhibitors were brought together to show their stuff to customers and media attending the big gaming conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center May 12-16, 2003.

Alias|Wavefront ( showed its latest products for gaming producers. What a transformation this company has gone through within a few years. The chief product, Maya, has gone from a relatively expensive ($14K full up), difficult to use (compared to some lower-priced packages) toolset oriented towards high-end effects for feature film studios to a much lower-priced ($2K), much simpler to use package aimed squarely at the gaming industry - in fact, the company's top three customers now are not studios, but gaming companies.

eBay ( and both exhibited, highlighting the fact that much of their business has to do with selling (and reselling) games and accessories. Nokia ( showed new cell phones with the call buttons arranged not in neat rows like in last year's phones but in circles or curves in order to make room for much larger bright, colorful screens. The games on this new generation of phones were so prominent in the designs (which resembled small Nintendo Game Boys) that one attendee was heard to ask, "Can these things make telephone calls, too?"

Palm ( showed upcoming products with larger, brighter colored screens with increased memory and removable smart media so that games and other entertainment can be downloaded from a PC and inserted into this game machine disguised as a planner-and-addresses business device. Voodoo PC showed that you can produce for a niche and be successful - if that niche is hardcore gamers. The company makes price-be-damned high performance PCs that it customizes for the ultimate game-playing experience. Demands for PCs with liquid-cooled processors, twin CPUs running at more than 3GHz or the very latest graphics cards hardly faze these boys. The average cost of one of their systems is around $7K. A recent customer managed to run that up above $15K by demanding a terabyte of hard drive capacity - Voodoo didn't bat an eye, and provided him with four 250GB high speed drives in the system. Its fire-engine-red products look hot, and provide the ultimate boy toy for those who believe life is too short for cheap game machines.

Planar ( showed its award-winning ("Editor's Choice," PC MAGAZINE, 4/03) flat-panel monitors. If you don't have at least 19 inches, you'd better not invite anyone over to your crib. DreamCatcher ( showed first-person shooters with gorgeous graphics and textures. DreamCatcher is a publisher that is supporting a number of production partners, making it relatively easy for them to produce different levels of content for games such as PAINKILLER.

Scholastic, Inc. ( showed its NICKELODEON CARTOON CREATOR, a game for kids aged 6-11 that enables them to create their own 3D animated adventures with cartoon characters seen on the Nickelodeon cable television network, including SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, JIMMY NEUTRON, RUGRATS and FAIRLY ODDPARENTS. Kids can pick from over 150 characters, backgrounds and props, record their own voice, and e-mail their finished works.

Dell ( and Hewlett-Packard ( showed their latest desktop product lines. The standard for the gaming community now seems to be a Pentium 4 3GHz with 1GB of RAM and a 128MB graphics card. What's really surprising is that both vendors offer 120GB hard drives with RAID (didn't that cost around $10K a few years ago?), and the sound cards support 5.1 channel surround sound. The desktops of both companies offer three optical bays, for DVD/CD-ROM and re-writeable DVD/CD combinations, but there was a surprise here. Dell, after its initial support of the DVD-R/RW format, has switched sides and is now offering only the DVD+R/RW format (plans to offer a dual +/- format have been dropped by Dell, according to its techies). This means that the DVD format war is not over, with two incompatible formats (sometimes called "plus" and "dash") fighting it out, head to head.

The third re-writeable form, Matsushita's DVD-RAM, seems to be pretty much dead. With proponents for both sides (Pioneer for DVD "dash" and HP for DVD "plus") both claiming victory and the lion's share of the market, it may behoove readers to check out some of the dual-format DVD recorders from Pioneer and Sony for their next desktop or workstation.