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04/22/2007 - 04/28/2007

PlanetFargo: Mainframe Gaming with the Cell Processor

April 27, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. The age of the mainframe is back. At least according to IBM. My first reaction: Let's bring back bookcase-sized reel-to-reel tape-drives! My second reaction: "Uhwhuh?"

Here's the story: The new Cell processor -- the powerful chip at the heart of the PlayStation 3 -- is perfect for the kind of high-end high-performance calculations that were previously the realm of supercomputers. You slap that sucker in a mainframe and you've got a system perfect for managing tens of thousands of connections and millions of database transactions across hundreds of servers, a device capable of determining the fate of the human race in milliseconds. Oh, it's also perfect for running massively multiplayer online games or virtual worlds.

Every single one of those little blinky switches DOES something.

Of course, gaming is just the tip of the iceberg. The guys at Big Blue see this as ushering in a revolution in the way we do business. From the press release:

"At its heart, the project intends to create an environment that can seamlessly run demanding simulations -- such as massive online virtual reality environments; 3D applications for mapping, enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management; 3D virtual stores and meeting rooms; collaboration environments; and new types of data repositories."

Serious stuff! The company has always flirted with digital worlds -- check out this video of IBM getting all serious with Second Life. It's hard to believe this was once a hardcore straight-laced business conglomerate where everyone wore identical suits and sang company songs, including this gem:
We don't pretend we're gay,
We always feel that way,
Because we're filling the world with sunshine,
With I. B. M. machines...

(I'm not making that up -- the IBM songbook is available online, or you can check out this video).

But do the guys at IBM know what they're getting into by mixing gaming technology with business applications? This could be disastrous. Let's imagine for a second how a serious business meeting would go down within the confines of a virtual world:

CEO: "We need the quarterly forecasts. Where's Smithers?"
VP of Sales: "Standing over Johnson's corpse, repeatedly hitting the crouch button."
CEO: "Where's Carlson with that PowerPoint?"
VP of Sales: "Waiting for an APC pickup -- oh wait, wait, no, they just ran him over."

Using a virtual customer service center presents similar challenges, given what I know about virtual worlds:

Customer: "I'm having difficulty configuring this product."
Support Rep: "Learn 2 play n00b"
[Customer is decapitated]

I fear the future. But then again, with my training, I'm well-prepared for the new epoch. Next time my supervisor gives me a project, I might just bust out some of my Shadow Priest skizzles on her ass.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 1:36 PM PDT
Edited on: April 27, 2007 1:44 PM PDT

Hello, Holographic Video!

April 26, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. It's hard to believe, but that nifty new flat-panel monitor you just shelled out a small fortune for will someday be a dust-covered relic. Your children or grandchildren may one day plug it in and gasp in awe at how primitive it is: It only displays in two dimensions!

You can't fight the future. According to this article in the MIT Technology Review, affordable holographic video displays, powered by existing computer hardware, are right around the corner. Let's take a look at the possibilities:

Use mouselook, old man! USE MOUSELOOK!
I imagine the technology will be put to good use.

According to the article, "A holographic video display could provide another way to view medical images such as MRIs and CT scans, as well as sets of complex, multidimensional data and designs for furniture and cars..." Theoretically such an innovation would revolutionize medicine or industrial design. But you and I all know what the technology is REALLY for: Games and porn.

Projecting holographic video (a technology that involves broadcasting light rays that interfere with each other in a specific diffraction pattern that matches the outline of a 3D object) is tricky stuff. Previous generations of the hardware were as big as a dining room table, not to mention expensive. But the "Mark III" holographic video projector, expected to be finished within the next couple of months at an MIT research lab, uses off-the-shelf computer and telecommunications technology to render 3D images at an expected cost of just a couple hundred dollars. Turns out that those state-of-the-art 3D cards we use for videogames have no problem calculating holograms with ease. And your family told you you were wasting your money!

Of course I won't be rushing out to buy such a display for Soul Calibur throwdowns anytime soon -- the Mark III projects a 3D image on a foggy piece of glass roughly the size of a Rubik's cube. Not exactly the perfect venue for admiring state of the art boob-jiggling technology. But it's a start, friends. It's a start.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 12:13 PM PDT
Edited on: April 26, 2007 12:15 PM PDT

PC Gaming on the Rebound

April 25, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Earlier this week in reference to Mac gaming I mentioned how often I hear people say that PC gaming is in trouble, thanks to the power of next-gen consoles and their ease of use. Bah! We've heard it before, and much as I love my Xbox 360, I still gotta disagree. Some gaming experiences are best enjoyed sitting up with a high-res monitor in your face and a keyboard and mouse handy.

Fortunately for PC fans like myself, as well as the developers who still make great PC games, the market agrees with me. This recent New York Times article talks about the rebound of the PC gaming market in 2007, spearheaded by the crazy-successful release of World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade. (By the way, did you know you can reserve WoW patches in advance on FilePlanet? Werd.) The article also mentions the building buzz for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (check out these Quake Wars downloads).

Just how good are PC games doing? The NPD group estimates that the market brought in $207 million in retail sales for the months of January and February, a 48% increase over the same time period as last year. A nice bump!

That's a good start, though I'll admit that here in April, the shelves of my local computer store are looking a little barren (exception: Lord of the Rings Online is a nice change of pace). Still, it should be a banner year for the PC, especially if Spore manages to squeak in before the end of the year.

Of course, retail revenue numbers are only part of the story. Just how big is subscription content for the PC? Everything from MMOs to casual games to digital game downloads? Nobody has the exact number, but my own deep investigative journalism reveals that it amounts to what we in the industry refer to as a buttload. The New York Times can quote me on that.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:05 AM PDT
Edited on: April 25, 2007 10:06 AM PDT

Reader Followup to Yesterday's Open Letter to Apple

April 24, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Yesterday I posted An Open Letter to Apple from a Lifelong Gamer, one of my most popular blogs to date. I managed to tap into a huge community of Mac users out there that hunger for hardcore games native on their preferred platform.

Feedback was surprisingly positive -- there's very little debate that great gaming on a Mac would drive a lot of people to finally make the switch. But most readers were skeptical that Apple can capture the gaming market without some major changes.

For instance, PC gamers also have a lot on their mind on top of just software. Many of you pointed out that 1. Macs are not upgradeable, or difficult to upgrade, whereas gamers like to chase the hardware curve with periodic upgrades and 2. on a related note, cost-wise, Macs give you less bang for the buck when it comes to hardware. Apple needs to take this into account if the company wants to get serious about games.

Then there's a business issue. To date, Mac games just don't sell. There's a serious chicken-and-egg problem here, one that might be alleviated by the fact that more and more of you have recently purchased a Mac that you dual-boot as a PC for playing games. As that slice of the market grows, maybe Mac gaming will as well.

Big Bucks

No mistake, as many of you pointed out, if Apple wanted to make Mac gaming a serious market force, it is not going to come easy. There's developer support and evangelism, acquisition of exclusive content, technology development, not to mention a re-jiggering of the Mac lineup to allow for periodic hardware upgrades for hardcore users. That's a LOT of money and a LOT of risk for Apple.

On the other hand, Nintendo offers a valuable lesson. Facing Sony and Microsoft in a ludicrously competitive market, Nintendo opted to "Think Different" and created a specialized system that focused not on high-end hardware but on fun and simplicity. The Nintendo Wii already has a huge installed base and growing legions of fans among both gamers and game developers. If anyone can do the same for PC gaming, it's Apple.

On to your feedback!

Your Letters:

Mark, a former Apple employee, dropped me a note that was interesting because he wrote as though he were on a first-name basis with Apple figurehead Steve Jobs: "Steve needs to draw more PC users to Mac first before there will be a market base big enough to support a switching of game platforms. Steve has been very strategic about his moves. He has never taken a step before he was sure that he was absolutely on sure footing." -Mark

"I also believe that the reason Macs haven't penetrated the consumer market is their lack of gaming support, which IMHO is how Microsoft became so successful. No-one can argue that despite their faults Microsoft have been anything but proactive in this, and DirectX is a prime example that helped get Win boxes into homes. Apple use OpenGL but have never put the effort into it that Microsoft gave to DirectX." -Kerrie from MacRaider

"If apple can create the same experience for gaming that is has created for everything else in os x windows wouldn't even be an option for most people, especially with microsoft trying to force everyone to upgrade to vista." -Chris Macken

"...it also comes down to hardware. Currently, there is really no easy way to either build your own Mac or upgrade an existing one without going direct to Apple. So, what happens when a gamer needs to get some more power from their machine? With a PC you upgrade the memory, video card, etc; with a Mac, you pretty much have to get a completely new system because they don't upgrade well... To really get more switchers, Apple needs to get a good game division, like you said, and release individual hardware components." -Gabe

"If I had a dollar for every time someone that I was preaching the Mac gospel to said 'I would switch to a Mac if I could play all the games I play on my PC on the Mac,' I'd have quite a few dollars." -Rob

"Most true gamer's are using Xbox or PlayStation. Younger kids are using Nintendo or Wii. Game developer's are investing money in games for platforms that will allow them to make money. Apple with it's 2 to 3 percent of the computer market simply cannot attract any interest from the gaming industry." -John [For the record, Macs are about 5% of the market share right now.]

"I've lost hope, I've given up... Apple's management simply doesn't like games. They don't want to do games. It's not going to happen." -Tony

"Consoles are where the future of gaming is going for anything other than casual games. Why pay over $2000 for a computer that can play games well when you can pay $400 for an Xbox 360?" -Dave

"I don't think "hard-core gamers" are the right place for Apple to focus. The Nintendo Wii showed us that mom-friendly systems can make a killing." -Kevin

"If Spore, and the Battlefield games (BF2, BF2142, and any future versions) would work on Mac, I'd switch in a heartbeat. And perhaps simply keep my PC here and upgrade its graphics card every couple years, to keep up with any games that dont make the switch." -Vrixis

"The real push should be to the developers. It lies in their hands. If they make their games in OpenGL then they will be able to have cross-platform games. Check out ID, Epic, and Blizzard. They all currently write their games in Open GL. If more developers where to adopt Open GL, it would grow." -Bryan AKA 'The Dork Rocker'

"[World of Warcraft] probably sells more Macs second only to the iPod, and I imagine that's no exaggeration either. WoW is also the chief argument against the idea of PC gaming being dead, and it's not the most forgiving or technically flawless piece of software, either. I like my PC, but I also like my little iBook, and if Apple decides to be the one to carry the torch of computer gaming forward, I'd be behind them 100%." -Kevin C.

"You nailed it sir. games, THE reason apple hasn't kicked the pants off of microsoft by now. -Matt W.

"I've been wanting a Mac since 1995, but a lack of games has always stopped me from getting one. This year I bought every next-gen gaming platform. Next year I might get a Mac. Might!" -Patrick D.

"I don't know why you bothered with a Mac. They are way over priced, not THAT sexy, and not capable of doing as much of what I want, anyway." -rhY

"I'm with you and it's simple:
Give me gaming on the mac. And windows is no more.
... just the
thought of getting RID of windows gets me high." -Nobby

Thanks to everyone who wrote in!


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 12:06 PM PDT
Edited on: April 24, 2007 2:44 PM PDT

An Open Letter to Apple from a Lifelong Gamer

April 23, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Hello, Apple! I know that everyone over there is very busy designing sexy new products that make women want to take their clothes off, but I'm hoping that you can spare a few minutes to listen to a hardcore gamer and long-time friend.

This weekend marked a milestone in my family, because after a long deliberation (which consisted of my wife and I going to your store, playing with a 24" iMac, and then her wanting to remove her clothes) we ponied up and bought her a Mac. Yep, she made the switch. We're switchers. Switched Americans. We now live in a dual-OS household. We're Bi. Very kinky.

But I still haven't made the switch yet. I've still got a PC, one that I built for myself in a slick little LAN-party carrying case, which makes it extremely portable. It's also extremely puntable, when Battlefield 2142 refuses to install cleanly.
Don't get me started.

Apple: We Believe!
Given Maxis's track record, Spore (Left) will likely be released for Mac.
But what about jaw-droppers like Crysis (right)?

There is only one reason I still have a Windows PC: games. Obviously, I need a device for hooking up to the net, answering email, and general productivity (by that I mean smut). But I prefer that device to be a PC so I can play the latest and greatest cutting-edge games. It's not that the Mac gaming shelf is devoid of life -- any system that plays Civ IV gets a thumbs-up in my book -- but for a serious gamer the PC continues to be where it's at.

This is not a new development. For years I've wanted a Mac. I dug around in the GameSpy archives and found this GameSpy Grudge from August of 2000 where I lamented not being able to buy the G4 Cube. (The poll question was: Macintosh as a gaming platform vs. a crumpled Styrofoam coffee cup. The cup won.) That was seven years ago. For nearly a decade I've been a Mac fan who hasn't bought a Mac, solely because of the game situation.

What Apple Can Do:

Apple, you're in a better place now than ever. You're using Intel chipsets and standard graphics cards. Powerful emulation software can run some Windows games, and people even have the option of easily creating a dual-boot machine capable of running Windows. Even the most die-hard PC users can ease their way into Mac ownership. But why make gamers suffer like that? Get this stuff native!

I know it's humiliating, but for once you've got to look at what Microsoft is doing and copy it. Those guys are scared of you -- and they know that games are the one and only thing that has prevented you from hitting the Tipping Point years ago. The "Games for Windows" team is making noise at every game convention I go to. A whole division at Microsoft is devoted to developing game technology -- like DirectX or the Microsoft XNA developer's toolkit. Microsoft buys up development studios and publishes triple-A games with regularity. Microsoft knows that games are the key to getting people to adopt hardware: how is Microsoft attacking the American living room? Through a game console. How did they make sure that game console was a household name? They bought Bungie and brought Halo on board. Man, Halo was supposed to be a Mac game.

They shanked you.

I say, take some of that big money you're making from iTunes and shovel it into gaming. Don't go half-assed, Apple. Buy some companies up. Get with the mergering and acquisitioning. Get some exclusive content. Make sure that the next Spore-like event appears on the Mac first.

You're in luck because hardcore gamers cycle through hardware a lot. Now everyone needs to upgrade for Vista. Does anyone actually want to upgrade to Vista? It's been met with a collective yawn. Had you been aggressive in the gaming space four years ago, those gamers might've been migrating to Mac OSX right now in droves.

Everyone says that "PC Gaming is dead," and people cite the difficulty of PC gaming vs. consoles. Having wasted three hours at a recent LAN party trying to get Battlefield 2142 to install and then deciding to play Wario Ware instead, I can see where they're coming from. But Macs are all about usability. You can solve that problem. You can be the home gaming console for people who like mice, keyboards, and depth. The market hungers for it. We need you, Apple!

Let me put it another way: World of Warcraft is Mac compatible. Before buying her Mac my wife and I both agreed that that one single game would've been a deal-breaker. I'm not exaggerating. Blizzard made that sale for you.

So go out there, Apple! Go out there, get serious, and start getting some games! And maybe in a couple of years, when it's time for me to upgrade, we'll go back to being a one-OS household.

[Thoughts on Mac Gaming? Mail me!]


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 12:40 PM PDT
Edited on: April 23, 2007 1:09 PM PDT

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