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GDC Europe 2011: Day 3, with a tiny amount of Gamescom

Last day of the GDC, and three talks for me. The first one was "The three eras of Gaming" by Richard Garriot, His three eras were: Single-player games, massive-multiplayer games and finally social games, with the last category being rather diffuse. The talk provided a nice overview of game history, but I would have wished for some more actual analysis. In particular, I believe there is going to be more diversity in the future beyond social games like Farmville, and the talk was a quite diffuse at this point just stating that the games will somehow evolve but with no particular details.

The next talk I attended was "Lighting in Crysis 2", which was quite close to the Gamefest 2011 talk from a few weeks ago. The main difference is that this talk started with a short overview of the various lighting solutions used before Crysis 2. For some reason or another, this talk had also less technical details than the one from Gamefest ... making it not too interesting for a graphics developer. I wish they would have described only one or two techniques, even if those techniques got scrapped to understand what issues they care about and how they approach problems.

The last talk for me was "The Triforce of Courage" by Epic Games about the production of the game "Bulletstorm". A fun talk on distributed development and in particular how an American manager met Polish people; including all the cultural problems one would expect. The talk was presented in a refreshingly honest manner and also has some relevance for researchers, as we're often forced to work distributed.

So much for the GDC, and I went straight to the gamescom afterwards. Luckily, I managed to get a fast-access pass from Bethesda and go straight into the Rage presentation. I could play the game on PC, while a friend of mine tried the XBox 360 version. We both have implemented virtual texture mapping on our own, so we were of course quite curious to see how it's implemented in Rage. First of all, even though the machines were running 560 Ti, GPU transcoding was disabled in the options. The texture resolution overall is also low, in particular, areas in shadow are extremely compressed up to the point where block artefacts become visible. Note: This is the graphics researcher point of view, the graphics are looking great, it's just that I took special care to look at details. Another interesting tidbit is that the engine always loads through the whole mip-map chain (i.e. from low to high resolution.) I thought it would be able to stream in the finest level immediately if the data was present in the host cache. We managed to find a bunch of locations where a 180° would always fill the cache (so turning around back and forth would result in cache trashing.) In the worst case we managed to produce, the loading would take <1 sec, so I believe 99% of the users won't notice it.

Shadow resolution was quite low in many places with next to zero blur, but this might be due to the prerelease version. I'm pretty sure that hacking in some PCF or increasing the shadow map resolution is no problem (maybe it's already exposed through a config option.) So much for Rage; definitely looking forward to it and thanks again to Bethesda for the fast-access pass.

Time for a last rant before I finish my GDC & Gamescom coverage: Somehow the GDC guys totally messed up with the Gamescom organisation. Wednesday was the "trade visitor" day, which includes basically everyone who wants (I've seen loads of people under 16 going around as "trade visitors".) This means ridiculous amounts of crazy people everywhere, blocking the queue to each major game. Having a GDC pass does not help you get faster access as the Gamescom people are not aware of the GDC at all. I wanted to take a look at Battlefield 3 with a friend, and we would have to stand for roughly one hour straight. That's totally unacceptable, as we do have appointments and in general more interesting stuff to do than to queue up. Especially as the amount of GDC people among the trade visitors was surely <1%, and I guess there might have been maybe 50 GDC people total who were interested in Battlefield 3 for instance. Giving them slightly faster access would be great, heck, I would have no problem to check the games one day before in the evening or get shorter access. Alternatively, the Gamescom should limit the "trade visitors" to actual trade visitors only (i.e. 18+, from press, game vendors or GDC attendees) before opening it for everyone. If this doesn't get changed in the future, then this was the first and last GDC Europe for me.

That's point one, the second point is that lots of the parties I went to were not suited at all for socialising. In general, the parties had extremely loud music and not enough place to sit down. If you want to meet with people, make sure to check where the local restaurants and bars are.

So much for this year's GDC Europe and Gamescom, thanks for reading!