Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle In Between Days

Austin's Gaming Community on Where It's at and Where It's Headed

By Brendan Sinclair

MAY 1, 2000: 

Chris Norden, Lead Programmer of Deus Ex, Ion Storm, Austin

Personally, I'm the most excited about the new console hardware coming out. There's some incredibly powerful machines coming from Sony, Nintendo, Sega, and Microsoft, and they will allow us to really push the state-of-the-art in computer and video games over the next couple of years. Being able to develop games for these super-powerful machines is going to be very challenging, but also a lot of fun at the same time.

On the Future of Electronic Entertainment

I think the industry is growing at a pretty amazing rate ... I remember when there was no gaming industry, just a few guys hacking together some hardware in a little box you could plug into your TV to play Pong. I think we'll all be seeing a lot more "convergence" (that seems to be the big buzz word now) between our home theatre setups and home video gaming (and computer gaming.) The line between games/movies/reality will start to blur even more than it already has. Sony has already taken some pretty big steps toward that with the new PlayStation 2 system.

Any Worries?

We're growing too large too quickly. Games are getting huge ... some games even fill up an entire DVD. It takes a really long time to develop something of that magnitude, and as a result, the amount of time, money, and personnel required to create a game these days is astounding. Also, the market is getting so oversaturated with content that it's nearly impossible to get noticed out there in the retail channel unless you spend millions of dollars in marketing alone. Making a great game is simply not enough anymore ... you have to get the public's attention among the thousands of other games released each year. And it's only getting worse.The big games that Ion will be releasing in the near future are Daikatana [out of Dallas] and Deus Ex [out of Austin]. Both will be released within the next two months. Daikatana [www.daikatana.com] is a first-person shooter, while Deus Ex [www.deusex.com] is an action/adventure/RPG [role-playing game] hybrid.


Bobby Basquez, Store Manager, Gamefellas

On the Future of Electronic Entertainment

I saw that Sega is giving away free Dreamcasts if you sign a multiyear deal with their carrier. I think it's a great deal for anyone without a PC and could pick up if they have more Internet-supported games. I don't think online gaming is the one future, but there's no substitute for sitting down in the same room with a friend and competing head-to-head.

Any Worries?

I really don't want to see the Dreamcast fold when the PlayStation 2 comes out. One of the reasons games are where they are right now is because of the competition. The game makers are always trying to make a better game to outdo each other, and without the pressure of competition, I worry that the quality could suffer.


Phil Sulak, VP, Westlake Interactive

Right now, most of the big news in the gaming industry is coming from the console makers. Sega's "Free Dreamcast" offer is huge; it will assure that company's success for the foreseeable future. Sony's PlayStation 2 is an amazing piece of hardware, and it's going to do big numbers in the U.S. this fall. Both Sega and Sony are doing well with their latest hardware; once you consider that Microsoft and Nintendo are waiting in the wings with their next-generation console hardware, you realize that the next 12 to 18 months will be a very exciting time for console developers and gamers alike.

On the Future of Electronic Entertainment

PC-wise, I think we're going to see much more in the way of online gaming. Companies such as Origin and Verant really got the ball rolling with Ultima Online and EverQuest. Over the next few months, we'll start seeing the next generation of online games -- the worlds will be larger, and with the advent of broadband Internet (i.e., cable modems and DSL), more and more people will be able to participate.

Over the next 12 to 24 months, online games will become truly amazing -- we'll start seeing huge virtual worlds with possibly tens of thousands of gamers participating. A lot of people (including myself) are pretty excited that Verant is doing Star Wars Online. Just the thought of joining up with the Rebel Alliance and attacking fleets of Imperial Star Destroyers really makes me go nuts!One of the things we've talked about at Westlake is doing a port of an online project. We've gone so far as to talk to one of the industries' leading online developers about bringing their game to the Mac. On the PC side, most of the work that goes into developing an online game is for the server software. If the client (aka, the program that runs on the gamer's PC) is well-written, moving it over to the Mac should be a fairly simple matter. We'd love to get our feet wet in the online gaming world; it's just a matter of finding the right company and project.We have two marquee titles that have been announced, and two that haven't. We've been working closely with Ion Storm Austin on the Mac port of Deus Ex (the game is just wonderful). The Mac version of Deus Ex will ship very soon after the PC version. We're also working on Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation for Eidos (Westlake has done the Mac port for every game in the Tomb Raider series).

I really wish I could tell you about our unannounced projects -- one of them is really huge. About all I can say is that it's a port of an extremely successful PC title which came out early this year. An official announcement for it will be made May 10.


Jeff Anderson, VP, Origin Systems

For me, personally, what's exciting is the innovation. Imagine what it must have been like during the advent of radio, film, or even television. We're redefining what "entertainment" means. We're changing the way that people spend their free time. You've probably heard people talk about market share. In the future, we're going to be talking about life-share -- the amount of time that people spend engaged in your form of entertainment.

On the Future of Electronic Entertainment

We feel that the industry is definitely heading online. Online entertainment is vastly more engaging and challenging than traditional solo-play packaged goods. Origin has become an online-only studio geared up to meet these demands. Waiting for broadband. The richly detailed experience that we can send today is nothing compared to what we will be able to deliver in the future. We're waiting for the day when the technology can deliver the full experience (the same way that FM served radio, color served the TV, etc.).


Lindsay Gupton, President, Human Code's Austin Studios

The industry's in a doldrum right now. The most exciting thing is what's coming next. The interactive entertainment industry has had huge gains in the past few years, primarily because of the rise of consoles. We had people who never played a consumer game before become interested in consoles. That pales in comparison to what's around the corner, where there's true convergence.

We are preparing for a time when we are able to get broadcast-quality entertainment in games. Interactive technology has never equaled, to the average person's eyes, the quality level of TV -- a 50-year-old medium! Because of what's around the corner, we'll be able to get to that and even surpass that by adding interactivity. When that happens, you'll pull in people left and right. The question is not when, but how, who, and how fast. All the major players and then some are now fighting over this turf. Ultimately it's a good thing for consumers. Who the winners are, from our standpoint, are almost irrelevant. We're happy to see this much attention being paid to this industry.

On the Future of Electronic Entertainment

Broadband and convergence will play a big role in the industry in the next five years. The living room is the entertainment center of the home -- sitting at a keyboard with a mouse in front of a PC isn't a natural thing for people to do when they want to be entertained. It's a forced fit, because that's the only way people have been able to use the technology. When you get high-speed connections combined with low-cost set top boxes, you'll be able to reach both active and passive audiences.

Having the set top box makes interactive entertainment much more accessible. The majority of Americans see TV as their primary entertainment center. PCs, even though their adoption in the home is pretty pervasive, are still a marginally accepted entertainment medium. When you add online and broadband capabilities to the TV experience, it breaks wide open. The opportunities just around the corner are enormous.

On the Next Big Thing From Human Code

As a digital content studio for the broadband age, Human Code is working in the "sweet spot" of convergence -- where TV and PCs will collide. Nextgen console development is a big focus for us, specifically PlayStation 2 and X-Box that will have multiplayer online capabilities built in. We're very excited about working on the convergence of online gaming with console gaming. We're working with clients on developing smart toys that are connected and adaptable. Really, much of our current work serves as our building blocks to broadband.

The industry is currently in a lull because it's between the last "next big thing" and the next "next big thing." Human Code is working with clients to help them navigate this move to the next big thing. We are helping the industry "see around corners" so they are ready for what the public will be buying in two to four years. For example, suddenly a quarter of the homes in America will have broadband capabilities through the X-Box or PlayStation 2 because gamers are the early adopters. A year or two after that, you'll see much larger numbers of homes with these kinds of capabilities.


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