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    Categories: Trends Watch

Happy Games Year

Gaming is seeing new technologies for both the PC and Console. And there is more to come

When
Ralph Baer thought of building a game into a television set (this was way back
in 1949), he had no idea what a hornet’s nest he was about to stir up. Though
the idea was rejected, it’s the earliest recorded reference to the “crazy
little thing” now known as a video game. Baer couldn’t fulfill his dream
till 1967 when he developed two games. By then, however, others had taken the
initiative away and it was Willy Higginbotham of Brookhaven National
Laboratories, New York, who is credited with developing the first video game–a
table tennis clone played on an oscilloscope.

That was 1958 and 42 years down the line this “crazy
little thing” has grown into a multi-million dollar global industry. Games
are as popular in Timbuktu as they are in Bangkok or Moscow or LA. Anyone who’s
ever used a computer has played games (at least Solitaire, if nothing else).
Broadly speaking, the gaming market is now divided into two sections–games for
PCs and for one of the many consoles available.

Gaming on PCs

This
year has seen a number of interesting technologies. nVIDIA, which introduced its
GPU (graphics processing unit) chipset–the GeForce 256–for display cards
last year, has come out with much better chipsets this year, the latest being
the GeForce 2 Ultra that even puts the first GeForce to shame. This has given a
new dimension to gaming on PCs. Graphics cards based on GPUs allow faster gaming
even at very high resolutions, and graphics quality doesn’t suffer either.

On the software front, Microsoft released DirectX 8 in
November this year. The latest version of these multimedia APIs (Application
Programming Interface) for gaming is supposed to provide improved graphical
performance. It’s also supposed to improve multiplayer gaming and provide for
better audio effects. The year also saw the release of sequels to popular games,
which topped the sales charts for many weeks running. Some of these were Diablo
II, Age of Empires II, Quake III Arena, etc. Perhaps the most improved (in
popularity and otherwise) was Unreal Tournament, which was a darling of the
masses and the media around the world.

India also climbed the gaming bandwagon with the release of
Yoddha, the first Indian 3D game by Indiagames.com. Though it leaves a lot to be
desired if you compare it with counterparts like Quake or Doom, it’s a good
first step, nevertheless. Hopefully, the future will see better versions of the
game emerge.

Gaming consoles

Moving to gaming consoles, the hottest selling piece was the
PlayStation2 from Sony. Even though it was released in September last year,
sales zoomed only this year. In Japan, where the product was released initially,
every time fresh PlayStation2 stocks were announced, hordes of fans lined up
outside the stores from three in the morning to well past midnight. The same
enthusiasm was visible in the US too. More and more PC games are being released
for PlayStation2, and many games are being produced exclusively for it.
Unfortunately, news has it that despite the grand success of the console, Sony
ended up making losses.

Cashing
in on its wave, Sony also released the PS one, a more portable version of the
PlayStation gaming console. The device, designed to be used at home or in a car,
is about one-third the size of PlayStation2 and must be plugged into either a
wall socket or a car’s cigarette lighter. Sony also has plans for GSCube, a
new real-time development system, based on an enhanced version of the
architecture found in PlayStation2. The GSCube will offer real-time graphics
power and capabilities. This system will provide content creators in film, TV
broadcast, and interactive entertainment access to a new means for digital
creation and distribution.

The success of Sony’s PlayStation2 hurt the market for the
other two major players–Sega’s Dreamcast and Nintendo’s Gameboy. Sega
recovered its market share a little by slashing Dreamcast’s prices. Nintendo
announced the Gameboy Advance and Gamecube in an ambitious attempt to fight
back. But, the strongest challenge for PlayStation2 promises to come from who
else but Microsoft and its XBox.

If XBox is what it promises to be (see Console Comparison
Chart), it’ll beat all competition hollow unless, of course, the competition
can come up with something better. nVIDIA has created two chips for the console–a
graphics processor and a second chip called the MCPX (which loosely stands for
XBox Multimedia Communications Processor). The MCPX, which will consist of two
controllers in a single, six-million-transistor, 0.15-micron chip, will handle
audio, USB, broadband, storage I/O, and other important functions. Besides the
MCPX, the XBox will contain two other major processors–a PIII CPU, and the
nVIDIA GPU.

Inside the MCPX is a pair of DSPs (digital signal processors)
that will control just about every facet of input/output used by the XBox. They’ll
handle communication interfaces (including Ethernet, cable modem,
home-phone-line networking, and 56K modem), control data transfer to and from
the XBox’s 5x DVD-ROM drive and 8 GB hard drive, and play host to the USB bus.
Furthermore, the MCPX will output DirectX-compatible 3D audio complete with
Dolby Digital encoding. Bandwidth to and from the MCPX will be extremely high at
800MB/sec. With all the potential that XBox displays, Microsoft is not taking
any chances–it expects to spend $500 million to market and sell the video game
console.

With such an eventful year behind us, I think the year ahead
promises to be a very exciting one. Have you got your GeForce2 Ultra yet?

Kunal Dua

PCQ Bureau: