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What the devs say
Alan: You know what? We should ask a pro and see what a real PC developer has to say. Let's see what Tim Sweeney of Epic Games had to say about the hardware:
From my point of view, DirectX8 never caught on in a big way on PC. Given that most of NVidia's sales in the DirectX8 timeframe were in GeForce4 MX (DirectX7) cards, and that the Radeon 9700 (which caused the real breakthrough in shaders) was DirectX9, in retrospect Xbox's influence in that area was limited.
You know, his statements are pertinent to my statement earlier about how ATI might have had an even bigger lead when they launched the Radeon 9700 if not for Microsoft's contribution. The Radeon 9700 (R300) represented the work of ArtX and an effort to beat the best desktop chip that NVIDIA *might* have been able to offer. It was an ambitious project that clearly had substantial benefit. Maybe the real story of the Xbox's contribution to PC gaming is in the story of the Radeon 9700 and perhaps, even a look back at the GeForce FX. Did ATI aim higher because of what NVIDIA had done with GeForce 3 (which was the underlying technology for GeForce 4)? That would be an interesting story. There's no doubt that the GeForce 6 and 7 wouldn't be as good of a product today if it weren't for ATI's Radeon 9700 and the two generations of R300 refreshes.
Ben: True, there has always been the stereotype that console games are less sophisticated. But because of the similarity between Xbox and PC hardware, developers now face a much greater temptation to shoot for the lowest common denominator and release a cross-platform Xbox+PC game.
Alan: I think we can both agree that we'll need to dig deeper into the story behind the R300 to really get an understanding of how Microsoft's Xbox investment affected the PC hardware industry. However, anyway you look at it, NVIDIA owes a lot to Microsoft. It was basically a $200 million order and that money certainly could have trickled down into recruiting the best college graduates, spending more money on R&D, and so forth.
Here's what Tim Sweeney had to say about software:
Developers saw Xbox as a game console, which is traditionally a very different market from PC (though that's less of the case nowadays). Nobody expected a lot of overlap. But there indeed was a lot of overlap, with a number of major games (like UbiSoft's Splinter Cell) shipping across all console platforms and PC, and selling well on each platform.
Maybe we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg on how consoles will affect the PC market. No one expected overlap, but there was and now the markets are coming closer together. Will cross-platform games provide a larger user base and higher revenues for companies where more money can be invested into the gameplay R&D and artwork? Or are we looking at an era where more and more resources are going to be diverted away from the PC? We may need to wait another 5 years for the next Xbox and PS4 to find out.
Ben: I agree it's always hard to predict the future. Since I think we are almost out of space let me summarize my worry about the effects of the Xbox by mentioning a work from the far past. Robinson Crusoe is sometimes considered the first English novel. Yet you can click on the link and it is amazing accessible. The basic novel can be developed very cheaply, is going strong after hundreds of years without any technological advances, and can be enjoyed long after publication.
So what? Well, for the reasons I mentioned, I think it's questionable that graphical improvements make gaming more fun. It's possible they have the opposite effect, by making games more expensive to develop, which leads to fewer, more expensive games. Advancements can also shorten the playable life of existing great games.
On the other hand, written language has a proven track-record, and the PC is almost ideally equipped to deal with it. PC games from the Hitchhiker's Guide to Planescape: Torment have shown that text and gaming can be successfully mixed. It would be a shame if the Xbox has encouraged developers to neglect the old-fashioned written word.
Elemental: Fallen Enchantress Preview Elemental: Fallen Enchantress is a standalone expansion pack and follow-up to developer Stardock's previous game in the series, subtitled War of Magic. That 4X strategy game was highly-anticipated and slated to compete with games such as Sid Meier's Civilization V for your turn-based strategy play-time, but was released in an incredibly broken and unfinished state that it never fully recovered from. Lead designer Brad Wardell apologized profusely to fans and set out with his team to go back to the drawing board and try again.
Almost two years later, the result of that proverbial mulligan is currently undergoing closed beta testing. In today's article, Will reports his thoughts on how Fallen Enchantress is shaping up, and will tell you whether or not you should be keeping an eye on it as it nears release later this year.
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ANNO 2070 Review
The year is 2070. The majority of life on Earth was devastated when global sea levels surged after the melting of the polar ice caps. Swaths of previously habitable land are now deep underwater, and sovereign nations are a relic of the past. But there is still hope...
This city-building RTS/simulation game from Ubisoft tasks you with re-colonizing what little land areas are left on the planet following a global warming apocalypse. Does it have what it takes to be worthy of your time and money, or should it be cast out to sea with the rest of civilization? Find out in today's review!
Mass Effect 3 PC Review
This latest release from EA/BioWare is the final entry in their trilogy of sci-fi action RPGs, putting you in a dire situation: rally the troops to save Earth at all costs. There was a lot of hype surrounding the final act of what has been a vast and highly-customizable story-telling experience, and the reception among many hardcore fans has been less than stellar. Even people that haven't played the game have probably heard about all the nerd rage going on over Mass Effect 3's ending...
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