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The will to kill—virtually that is

Posted: 05.21.07

will02This past week I looked in again on Ageia (and will some more next week). Ageia has found they have to get closer to the developer community—not a big surprise, you say, ATI and Nvidia learned that years ago. True enough, but for a startup it’s not something you really want to have to take on; there’s a lot of expense supporting the game dev community and then there are the development cycles. But the Ageia folks aren’t newbies either, and so they steeled their investors for such an eventuality. OK, that’s Ageia’s problem,

However, in discussing games that will exploit Ageia’s physics processor we learned about the international team that came together to develop a game that exploits the physics engine. That game is called “CellFactor,” and it’s written up on page 14 of this issue.

The remarkable thing about it is the energy and commitment that a bunch of kids, several still in school, made toward this development.

You may recall a writeup I did on a “FarCry” mod by Matto (See TechWatch, February 26, p. 27) that talks about a group of young guys who built a multi-level mod to “FarCry” that was (in my opinion) really great. And that experience reminded me of the Demo group in Finland, and some of the earlier mods to “Quake” and “DoomX.”

will01Matto and “CellFactor” are different from the past efforts and others that I’ve seen in that these new guys are able to get access to really powerful software development tools, existing libraries (where a lot of the hard word has already been done), and super powerful AIBs and supporting CPUs.

Although it would seem like the development time would be shortened, it isn’t on a startup. Once these ambitious and energetic teams get some assets built up their dev time will shorten.

Nonetheless the scenes, skins, effects, lighting, and special features (not the least of which is physics) are first-class if not even better. And yes, you can, if you want to pick them apart, find places where they either didn’t know what to do or they took a shortcut and compromised either quality or game play a little. Those things are “so-whats?” in my opinion. The bigger picture is to look at what these self-funded, sleepless kids have done.

They have the burning desire, the passion to build a world that invites us to run around in it, shoot things, blow up things, and in the case of “CellFactor,” bust things apart.

And it’s only going to get better

Recently Nvidia sponsored classes for aspiring game developers, and AMD has similar programs under way. The University of Southern California has game development classes, and other schools in Seattle and Texas are following suit. All of this will bring forth a whole new generation of trained and presumably talented kids who will have extraordinary tools and the shoulders of giants to stand on.

What’s the end result? You know what it is, a horde of new, novel, and fun games that will exploit the GPUs like never before,

And then what happens? Well, the big-name companies EA, Ubisoft and others will either try to buy these fledglings, or at the least distribute for them. This will, however, be disruptive, and the big game dev companies may find they have a new gorillalike competition that they can’t stand up to, and will try to suppress. That would be a very bad thing.

Challenges still exist. DX10 is no walk in the park, just yet. It will be interesting to see who comes out with a really great game in DX10 first, some renegade kids, or some big-name studio. Me? I’m betting on the renegades, but then I always do. Remember that cartoon with the two vultures sitting on rock, and the one says to the other, “The hell with this patience, I’m going out and kill something.”