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GDC 2011 Part II: 3DS Development, Elite, Crysis 2

By March 7, 2011Editorial

By Kris Roberts

Sorry about the abrupt ending to my earlier GDC 2011 coverage!  Here is where I left off…

Nintendo 3DS Development

Nintendo 3DS Development

Speaker/s: Hideki Konno (Nintendo) [/speaker/Hideki-Konno] Description: For many years Hideki Konno has produced, and been involved with, a number of Nintendos games, including the MARIO KART and NINTENDOGS series.  Recently, for the first time in his career, he was assigned the role of overall producer for new Nintendo hardware: the Nintendo 3DS system. Mr. Konno will discuss how he has dealt with the challenges of developing the successor to Nintendo DS while, at the same time, being deeply involved in the software creation process of nintendogs+cats as the games producer.

Mr. Konno has been with Nintendo for a long time in software development, and the 3DS was the first time he participated in hardware development.  His presentation started with a description of the new “Auto Mii” feature in the 3DS.  It will take your photo and produce a Mii automatically which you can then modify on your own.  The rest of the talk covered various aspects of the software and hardware development for the new handheld as well as the organization with the Nintendo EAD team.

Nintendo 3DS

The new handheld was an aggressive undertaking from the start with many high expectations and requirements, but the idea for glasses free stereoscopic 3D was not part of the original vision.  As late as spring 2008 it had not been considered.  Once the idea was presented and demonstrated, there was enthusiasm – but many people within Nintendo remained skeptical as 3D was seen as something they had gambled on in the past.  The introduction of the “Depth Slider” to the prototype helped allay some of those fears and there was hope that it would allow players to adjust the 3D display to something they can be comfortable with.

The connectivity features of Street Pass and Smart Pass were explained in more detail and demonstrated with videos.

Street Pass was actually already developed and shipped with the Nintendogs and Cats game which allows players to get data from other player’s systems when in close proximity.  However, it required the player to have the game card installed and manually put the game into a specific mode.  The feature has been improved for the 3DS such that it will work with games the player has used without requiring the game chip or any manual setup.  Players who take their 3DS systems with them as they go about their days can collect Mii’s and game specific data from other players they encounter automatically.  This passive data exchange between players who are physically close to each other is a form of social interaction natural to handheld devices and many employees within Nintendo have taken to carrying their 3DS systems around with them or even going on special breaks to see what data they collect from their colleagues.

Smart Pass works with WiFi networking, and allows players to interact with each other when they are not in proximity.  Playing with or against others across a network is a different form of social interaction and works when players are at home on their own WiFi networks or using hotspots.

Very interesting!

Postmortem for ELITE

Elite at GDC 2011

Speaker/s: David Braben (Frontier Developments)
Description: When it launched over 25 years ago, ELITE amazed science fiction fans with its interstellar missions presented with wireframe 3D graphics, eight galaxies to explore, and thousands of procedurally generated planets. And its open-ended design enraptured gamers with dreams of mining asteroids, taking on bounty missions, upgrading spaceships, and becoming space pirates on their microcomputers. Co-creator David Braben, a stalwart in the video game industry and founder/chairman of Frontier Developments, will discuss the genesis of the space-trading sim that went on to inspire titles like EVE ONLINE, FREELANCER, WING COMMANDER: PRIVATEER, and many other sci-fi games.

Elite was the earliest real time 3D game I had seen as a child and I loved it.  The gameplay was fun in terms of learning to fly the ship, shooting at other craft, and exploring the solar systems around the in-game universe.  It does not directly pertain to stereoscopic 3D, but it was an amazing achievement for its day and showed real genius in development.

The original system it was developed on had a 2Mhz processor and 32K of RAM.  The level of clever optimizations and tricks revealed in the session were terrific.  For example, the entire game universe was produced procedurally with series mathematics from a seed of 6 bits.  Hidden line removal was accomplished by ‘un-drawing’ individual lines rather than blanking the entire screen.  The game relied on a series of matrix operations every frame to update and present the positions of the ships and objects in the game, but the computer had no native multiply or divide operations; the matrices were allowed to go out of orthogonallity and periodically ‘cleaned up’ to save individual processing time.   Really great stuff!


Nicolas Schultz Peter Holzapfel

In the afternoon I met with Peter Holzapfel and Nicolas Schutz from Crytek.  On the expo floor they had demos of both Crysis 2 and the Crytek’s CryEngine 3 running on the PC, Xbox360, and PlayStation 3.  I find it tremendously encouraging when games the caliber of Crysis 2 are developed with stereo support on all the platforms.  It really does look great on all of them.

Peter is a producer and Nicolas is a software engineer.  They were able to tell me about the development process for Crysis 2 and how early on the decision was made to support stereo 3D.  Early PC prototyping looked so good and brought so much to the game that they felt compelled to make it a key part of the product.  The route they have taken is a depth buffer approach which lets them retain the detail and visual quality of the 2D version of the game, and still have sufficient performance to run on the consoles at high framerates.  They have spent a lot of effort working out solutions to UI and rendering issues that plague other games such as getting the targeting reticule to behave consistently and be occluded properly when the gun gets in the way, and adjusting the screen depth to keep objects from appearing to penetrate when you get too close to them.

Seen as a whole, the game really does look tremendous in stereo 3D, and I’m excited to see how it turns out when fully released.

Kris will have much more to share tomorrow!

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