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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 11:21 GMT
The mobile future blog: day four
All this week BBC News website technology editor Darren Waters is using a mobile phone to cover the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, in text and in video.

ENTRY ONE: PUSHING ON ALL FRONTIERS

You would think that that the promise of a next generation game that will change the way people play and perceive gaming would be enough to keep David Braben and his team at Frontier busy.

But the company continues to work along several fronts - on six projects in total - and alongside continuing development of The Outsider, the firm has produced a Nintendo Wii game, called LostWinds, which is part of the console's WiiWare online offerings.

I sat down with Braben and fellow Frontier exec David Walsh, to talk about the game, and get their thoughts on a number of issues in the industry.

LostWinds is a classic platform title but has a novel control system: it uses the Wii's Wiimote and Nunchuck in tandem to control the main character and your sidekick, a wind spirit.

"It's an intuitive control mechanism. No one's really tried this before," says Walsh.

"The game came out of a process we have at Frontier called Game of the Week, a forum we have to discuss game ideas."

I make the mistake of calling the game a "casual" title and Braben visibly winces.

"This compartmentalisation (of games) is risky because it brings assumptions. Is it because of the subject matter? Is it the difficulty? Is Bioshock a casual game?

"People would shout from the rooftops if you say it is a casual game. The term can be interpreted as 'casual development' - and that is the wrong mindset. You still have to do a good game and just because it's aimed at a different audience doesn't mean you can't do a good game.

"It doesn't mean they are lesser games and my worry is that people who use the term don't respect the fact that the audience still need to be given a quality game."

So how can Frontier afford to devote resources to games like LostWinds when there is so much riding on The Outsider?

"The process we use is common across all projects, so it's easy to plug and play," explains Walsh. "12 people worked on this game in all. Teams ramp up and ramp down at various stages of projects."

Frontier has expanded to 160 people and the firm is continuing its trawl for high quality staff.

Braben and Walsh aren't in San Francisco to talk about The Outsider but Braben will say that "development is coming along nicely".

A publisher deal has been made, he says, but he is not in a position to divulge details.

With such a high profile, and presumably expensive, game in development I ask Braben if he would sell the studio to Microsoft if they came knocking. Would he do as Peter Molyneux did at Lionhead.

His answer is revealing.

"On the face of it no; there may be things we could do together... and in some cases clearly the answer has to be yes.

"Retaining the freedom is the key thing. I would not want to be bought by a company and go in with good intentions and feel after the event things were not right."

He adds: "To give more meat to the answer: 'not now' because now our value is not appreciated.

"In two years time our value will be very very apparent."

He says the company is under appreciated because "there are things we can't talk about" .

"I think The Outsider will make a very big difference to how people perceive games; there will be other games as well which do this.

"We are being valued based on where we were two years ago because that is what is being shown publicly."

Roll on December 2009 when The Outsider is expected to be released.

ENTRY TWO: LUNCH WITH THE LUMINARIES

What happens when you gather some of the games industry's finest minds together and get them to tackle some of the biggest issues facing their business?

You get one hell of a conversation.

I was lucky enough today to sit in on the Lunch with Luminaries, an event pulled together by stellar developer Dave Perry and involving veteran designer Peter Molyneux, one of the pioneers of online gaming Raph Koster, the head of EA's LA studio, Neil Young, Sony's head of worldwide studios Phil Harrison and Chris Taylor, the creator of Dungeon Siege.

About 10 journalists were invited to the lunch and we sat there mostly silent as the proceedings unfolded. We had been invited to chip in with questions but we all sat there just listening, furiously scribbling notes.

At times it felt like listening in on a private conversation because the participants were by and large frank and open:

Phil Harrison was complaining how Sony in Japan had dismissed social gaming, something the company in Europe had been pioneering with Buzz and Singstar.

He said: "And our Japanese colleagues said that there is no such thing as social gaming in Japan - people do not play games on the same sofa together in each other's homes. It will never happen. And then out comes the Wii."

Harrison also lauded Apple for their iPhone user interface, and then pondered if they would license their patents....

Peter Molyneux got so excited about a new feature in his upcoming game Fable 2 but wasn't able to discuss it publicly so we all went "off the record" to hear it.

I can't divulge it obviously - but believe me when I say it's very, very exciting.

Almost everyone agreed that the Wii had broken great new ground and was seen by many consumers as the true "next generation" console.

Neil Young of EA predicted a future where all game content was piped from a server owned by Google.

Raph Koster said the web was "kicking the ass" of consoles when it comes to game creativity

The rise of Facebook was much discussed, as was the need for the industry to learn from social networks and the web in iterating and learning from its customers more quickly.

And on it went.

I've written up a news story with one of the key points of the lunch. And I'll put down more here as I transcribe the encounter.

ENTRY THREE: THE NEXT 3D REVOLUTION

This year's Consumer Electronics Show had a number of 3D TV technologies on show. And now similar technology has turned up at GDC.

Graphics giant Nvidia has developed technology than can give games a true 3D perspective using polarising glasses and stereoscopic display systems.

Nvidia's system uses software drivers which split the video output into two views, which are slightly out of alignment.

The demo system I was shown had a 46inch television, which had a passive polarising filter over the screen. It takes each scan line from the images and selects it either for the left or right eye.

The glasses map those views to the appropriate eye. Without the glasses you see the two views.

Nvidia say developers don't have to do any extra work for their games to work with the system - but do have to follow some rules.

About 80 games will work with the system at launch, which comes in a few weeks.

So how effective is it? From the demo I was shown, very.

But what I was shown was pretty limited - a menu screen for Age of Empires III, which rendered a townscape into an impressive diorama which felt like you could reach in and touch roof tops and people at the back of the view.

The other demo was a flight simulator and that proved very effective. A sense of depth when flying is very valuable and it definitely aided the experience.

The TV it was being demonstrated on cost more than $6,000 but I'm told there are compatible displays for under $1,000.

Quite who is willing to pay out for such an embryonic technology remains to be seen.





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