Game Developers Conference 2009 Round-Up

The CrunchGear mobile newswagon is parked in downtown San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference, and although this is a more industry-orientated show, we’ve managed to find some pretty interesting stuff — and of course, a few of the latest games.

The news on everybody’s minds is OnLive, a games service which is roughly comparable to a streaming movie service like Netflix On Demand or what have you. The hardware is to be free, and it will support any USB- or Bluetooth-compatible controllers. Purchased games are run in datacenters (on state of the art hardware, we hope), which then push the content out to you. But they’re not sending game assets — they send a video image of the game as you play it on their machine. It sounds ridiculous, but with good, local servers they can get the ping under 10-20ms, at which point it is almost unnoticeable that the game you’re playing is actually a few cities away. Not everyone is so optimistic.

We gave it a shot, and (my driving skills notwithstanding) had no trouble in the form of video artifacts, skipped frames, or lag. Impressive, but the proof of the pudding is in the launching, and when they can provide this level of latency and reliability to thousands of people scattered around the country simultaneously, then we’ll talk. After the demo, we spoke with a more technically-orientated booth guy, who said that between 3 and 4Mbit/s is what they’re aiming for with their 720p60 stream, and when I asked about tension with ISPs, he hinted cryptically that they had that under control. I just hope Comcast and the like haven’t “overbooked” their cable and fiber the way airlines do flights.

Both Microsoft and Sony gave developers a boost, Microsoft in the form of a sleek new developer console and kit tools, Sony by dropping its devkit’s price significantly. Nintendo, as at E3, told us how well they were doing, revealed a couple new games, and demonstrated something ridiculous. Adding the capability to use SDHC cards is a welcome change, however.

The 360 will be receiving a motion-based controller soon, bringing it up to speed nominally with the other consoles in that area. The Gametrak Freedom relies on a sort of ultrasonic sonar, with stereo detectors attached to the display. We gave it a try and it seemed to work decently; keep your eye on CG for video of yours truly flailing grotesquely at virtual tennis balls.

Aside from the relatively far-reaching news I’ve mentioned, GDC is primarily a developer’s paradise. Indie game developers rub elbows with greats like Hideo Kojima and there are more talks, panels, and tutorials than we thought possible, or practical. We’re looking forward to E3 to see how some of these new technologies pan out in a more consumer-orientated environment.

As for games themselves, we got to try out the DSi camera, Punch-Out!!! for the Wii, Fat Princess, and a few others.

Lastly, if you or your spouse or young one is in the market for a little more rhythm, we’re running a contest to win a pre-release copy of Rhythm Heaven for the DS.

For those of you reading this at or around GDC, we hope to see you at one of the many industry events that will be going on later.