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Game Developer's Conference 2006 Wrap-Up

The annual Game Developer's Conference was held late last week. While not anywhere near a huge event like E3, there are always a few new tidbits revealed. This year was no different, though for Sony the talk was mostly a reiteration of the plans they'd revealed at their own business briefing earlier this month. That doesn't mean exciting things didn't happen, though!

The head honcho of Sony Computer Entertainment, Phil Harrison, kicked off his presentation by summing up the Playstation's past success. He cited that over 100 million PS2s have been sold since its release and that people in some parts of the world were still purchasing PS1 titles. Then, to show off the fact that, despite the PS3's eminent release, the PS2 still had some life left in it, Harrison welcomed David Jaffe onto the stage to show some new footage from God of War 2.

After the crowd was wowed by Kratos severing the heads of some new mythical beasts, Harrison shifted to talking briefly about the PSP's new peripherals slated to be released later this year. He cited that the camera attachment would be available sometime around September, with the GPS following in October. Beyond the GPS functionality in a new Hot Shots Gold game (revealed at the business brief), it is still unknown how their capabilities will be used in conjunction with software. To wrap up the portable section of his talk, the prez showed off a demo of Sony's quirky action-puzzle title, Loco Roco, due out worldwide this summer.

Finally, it was time to talk about the PS3. Mostly this was a confirmation of details that we already knew, like the PS3 launch in early November and that devs would be getting their final kits in June. One tidbit of new info did squeak out, though, and it's a fairly exciting one: the PS3 is purported to be region free. That's right, if you're willing to pay the no doubt sky-high prices for import software, you're free to do so.

A few demos were also shown: a ragdoll/Havok physics engine display using soldiers from Heavenly Sword, a nice-looking car getting realistically ripped apart by gunfire from an unnaounced game by the same studio making The Getaway, and a lighting demonstration using real-time footage from Warhawk.

In addition, footage was shown from several other PS3 games like Lair, The Getaway, Motorstorm, Resistance: Fall of Man, and the previously unannounced Ratchet and Clank. That's right, unlike Jak, R&C will be continued next-gen! The teaser was especially impressive for its ability to render a futuristic city as busy and detailed as those found in the movie The Fifth Element or the concept art from Final Fantasy XII.

You can view pictures of these demos and titles here.

Besides all the games being shown, Harrison also talked a little about the PS3's business model and online plans. Sony will be concentrating on "four C's." Respectively: content, communication, community, commerce. Most of this well come from a basic service, free of charge, but no doubt a premium subscription plan will offer even more features to those willing to pay. Among the key aspects of the plan, though, will be voice chat, video chat, friends lists, pay content, in-game access to these functions, and the ability for third-parties to maintain their own servers indepedently from Sony (though they will be connected to the main service, like a hub). Perhaps one of the most interesting features, though, is the ability to have a video chat window overlay on top of the screen in-game, providing a step-up from the usual voice chat functionality.

Sony also has quite an extensive business plan for the system, to be integrated into the online service. It includes network sales, downloadable content, episodic content, in-game ads, mobile gaming and connectivity, games which will be available only by downloading them, online auctions for in-game items, merchandise, and a plethora of multimedia content to round it out.

Needless to say, the big show is coming in just a short month-and-a-half, but if the GDC is any indication, this year's E3 will be one hell of an event, with Sony leading the charge.

3/31/2006 Cavin Smith

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