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ComicCon 2013: Will New Hardware and Content Revive Video Games?

I know I should be on vacation enjoying myself, but Comic Con in San Diego allows me to mix business and pleasure. As I say every year, there were more nerds than you can shake a light saber at.

For those unfamiliar with ComicCon it is the largest convention for comic books in the world. However, it covers a great deal more. Science fiction and fantasy TV and movies are heavily represented. These are usually tied in with comics and animation. There is also a strong tie in with video games.

For the sixth straight year ComicCon was sold out for all four days with attendance of 125,000 each day. It is the largest convention through out the year for the city of San Diego. The event ran from July 18 to July 21. There are so many companies that want to tap into the energy and excitement of Comic Con that a lot of activity has spilled out into downtown San Diego. Many people who cannot get badges into the convention center take advantage of this. Consequently several companies demo upcoming video games for all platforms at various venues spread out over the area. Microsoft had a separate gaming lounge in one of the major hotels.

Content is King! Without enough material there is little incentive to buy the hardware. What consumers want to see and how they want to interact with it drives the development of the electronics. It is not surprising that many attendees are technically savvy early adopters.

ComicCon 2013

At ComicCon one sees the rich source material for new entertainment. This is very important for the video game market. The fans of the sci-fi/comic genre want cutting edge graphics and special effects. They represent a key segment of the video game market. ComicCon is a venue for previewing many new upcoming games for the holiday season. Unlike previous years there was little in terms of consumer electronics other than games on the exhibit floor. Intel did not have a centralized location but was seen throughout Comic Con and outside locations with various partners. AMD had an offsite venue.

Microsoft and Sony had demo areas in the convention center for their upcoming consoles, respectively XBox One and Playstation 4. The graphics of the XBox One are very impressive and nearly lifelike. Many gamers commenting on the demos noted that the Microsoft game controllers for XBox One were great to play with. The video game titles demoed for XBox One, such as “Ryse: Son of Rome” excited many of the gamers at the show. However, the PS4 was criticized for not having better games that could fully exploit the console’s graphics capabilities. Some games were described as cartoonish. It seems that Sony needs to have better titles by the time of release later in 2013 in order to compete with Microsoft and Nintendo. Both of these game console vendors have new platforms featuring AMD processors and graphics.

Ubisoft was promoting its upcoming “Assasin’s Creed IV Black Flag” which features pirates and is set in the West Indies in the early 18th century. The company leased a maritime museum, the JackDaw, outfitted as a pirate ship and docked it in the marina behind the convention center. Inside were several gaming platforms to demo the new game. A historian gave a fascinating lecture on pirates and their weapons. He said that Unisoft has made the game historically accurate to the period. The game will be available on all gaming platforms, including PCs and the upcoming XBox One and PS4. The ship was packed with gamers, many of whom were pre-ordering the game.

AMD Brings More Power to the PC Gamers

AMD continues to focus on the PC gamers in addition to supplying processors and graphics to the game consoles. At an off-site venue AMD offered gamers the opportunity to try out top of the line desktop and notebook platforms. The attendees were rewarded with a boxed A8-6600K, 3.9GHz quad core APU.

AMD demoed its beast of a desktop which it had revealed at E3. This is based on the 9550FX APU with ATI 7990 dual GPUs. The retail price is on the order of $5,000. Of course this is the equivalent of the Ferrari at a car show. In fact, they pointed out that it was painted Ferrari red.

More in line with consumer prices were desktop PCs featuring the 8350 APU with 7970 GPU, in the $1,700 range. The notebooks were based on the A10 APU with 7970M GPUs. All of the systems shown are available on the market today. The APUs have integrated graphics, but adding the ATI graphics card further enhances the platforms for gaming. AMD spokespersons pointed out that the APUs and their GPUs work together in tandem using a hybrid technology. This is in contrast to other platforms in which an add-in GPU card will disable the integrated GPU.

Both the notebook and desktop platforms support AMD’s Infinity technology. This allows up to three screens to work together for a panoramic view. In a notebook this setup includes the screen and monitors on both sides. AMD spokesperson pointed out that this can be done directly off of the APU without an external GPU. Two years ago at Comic Con 2011 AMD demoed a high end desktop with three monitors which required an add-in graphics card to support Infinity. Clearly AMD has made great strides with its integrated graphics in its APUs.

Some Other Fun Things

There are so many other fun things to mention. At the Nerd HQ in Petco Park there were several things to see. Fiat was showing off its all electric Fiat 500 (Cinquecento). Similar to other electric cars on the market it is a compact car with a driving range of 80 to 100 miles.

There were several gaming titles and platforms at Nerd HQ such as the latest Dungeons and Dragons.

What caught my eye was a game platform that is literally a platform you stand on. Virtuix was showing off its Omni. This is a hexagonal shaped platform that a gamer stands on and uses as a virtual reality interface. One can move freely within a game, the Omni is essentially a 360 degree treadmill. It works with all game platforms and games. It is used in conjunction with other game controllers such as a game rifle or a heads up display. According to their website, “A Microsoft Kinect is used to register the user’s movements and translate these movements to mouse and key strokes that steer the avatar in the virtual environment.” Virtuix emphasized this is not for an arcade but for in home use. The company has started a Kickstarter campaign to launch Omni. I asked the company spokesperson if Omni itself uses any MEMS sensors. It does not currently but that is something they are considering for future designs. In addition to gaming Omni may be used for other VR applications.

Semico Spin

ComicCon International is a whirlwind of activity. It can be an overwhelming flood of visual and audio stimuli. One can see Harry Potter reading a Kindle, a Star Wars storm trooper checking the schedule on his iPhone and attendees tweeting or posting to Facebook via a Samsung Galaxy so they can win a prize. Any place that offered free charging was packed. This is an event that I find provides insight into how our popular activities and electronics become intertwined.

Clearly there is a great deal of excitement for gaming in 2013. It is not just because of the soon to be released XBox One and PS4 which will offer increased performance and greatly improved graphics. There are new titles for all current platforms. The PC gaming was well represented. While overall PC consumption has been hampered by cell phones and tablets, there is still an avid segment of gamers that will keep desktops and notebooks viable. This bodes well for the gaming and PC industry, especially for the 2H 2013 and the holiday shopping season.