I remember being annoyed at Nvidia, when I saw they had invested in remaking a variety of mobile phone games to take advantage of their Tegra 2 processor. The reason being that I had repeatedly criticised them for just padding console ports with badly optimized effects, rather than investing in high end games to justify GPU sales on PC.
I mean; where is the appeal in buying a modern GPU, if it's just to run a badly performing ambient occlusion and maybe some slapped on tessellation, on what is largely a carbon copy console port? How will that sell the latest GPUs? Paying out for a upgrade, so you can continue to look at console art assets; and yet still experience performance drops. That deters people from PC gaming, not draws them to it.
So I see these half baked attempts at justifying modern GPUs; in what is largely a console specification limited market, and I see Nvidia investing significantly more time and effort into a mobile phone processor. I had to wonder why. So I did some looking up, and I found a year old video about the Tegra 2.
A video were Nvidia... declared the end of the PC era.
In this video, they announced their commitment to the next era, the era of personal computing. They don't specify it in this video, but they have a road map for Tegra going into 2014, right up to Tegra 6. Which is stated to be 75x more powerful than the Tegra 2 chipset they are using in the highest end mobile phones today. Nvidia isn't showing as much commitment for PC gaming as they used to, because they have abandoned PC gaming for the mobile computing market. Now saying they have abandoned the PC gaming market is a strong thing to say. After all, Nvidia still shows a strong commitment to PC hardware. I wouldn't expect them to just drop PC completely, that would be financial suicide. What I mean is, they have redirected their primary attention, and it isn't PC gaming. They have set their strategy for transitioning away from PC gaming.
For a company like Nvidia to do this to PC is, needless to say, significant. It's a consolites wet dream, a perfect opportunity to bash PC as a gaming platform. This is one of the largest companies to support PC gaming, and they said the PC era is over. That they were turning their focus onto mobile computing devices like tablets and phones.
But there is a lot more to this.
Now to somewhat redirect the subject, I've been curious about the latest phones as of late. I have a cheap Android phone, I love it, and I wanted to look into potential upgrades. What I found was surprising.
I saw mobile phones that can connect to your HDTV via mini HDMI, and offer a console like experience using a bluetooth controller. I saw the Tegra 3 chipset running 1440p video, higher than Blu-ray quality video offered by PS3. And check out the graphical capability, considering this is a mobile chipset. Witnessing Windows 8 running on a Tegra tablet, I decided to look up that as well, and found Microsoft were designing the next Windows specifically to be cross platform with a range of mobile devices.
The future appears to be, at least according to Nvidia and Microsoft, in mobile computing.
So does this say something bad for PC gaming? Totally. But exclusively PC gaming? I think we are at the eve of something truly extraordinary here. A paradigm shift in not just gaming but general computing as a whole.
The mobile phone has been grabbing at everything we want and integrating it into its own design. It's not just a phone. It's a camera, camcorder, personal organizer, web browser, media player, GPS, portable gaming device and increasingly more. Now it is getting some serious hardware performance. Can play and in some cases starting to record high definition video, 3D gaming, replacing your portable computer in some cases. It is becoming a computer in your pocket.
5 years from now, what are these phones going to be capable of?
Do I think they are a threat to PC gaming? No, they in no way duplicate the PC gaming experience. Something else is threatening PC gaming, the same thing that is threatening console gaming, the same thing that is resulting in so many lowest common denominator cross platform games. Development costs are killing hardcore PC gaming, and it is killing console gaming as well. Nintendo has already placed their bets for next gen with a current gen performance console, and a Sony executive even stated it was unlikely that PS4 would be much more powerful.
Console gaming, as well as PC gaming, has hit a dead end. Not because of a lack of performance, not because of a lack of audience. But because it's too damn expensive to continue moving forward from here. Gaming has stagnated on these systems, with the majority being cross platform regurgitation's of tried and proven game formulas. Developers being terrified of trying anything risky when dealing with current gen budgets.
I've become so disillusioned with modern gaming, every game on my list this year was a disappointment. The new Alice is out now, which I was a big fan of the original, but I cannot even motivate myself to go try that. Know what I spend most of my time playing now? Sandbox games. Because you cannot dumb down and streamline a experience were the majority of it is player imagination and creativity.
I think, maybe, that mobile phones are big bang two. A industry reboot. They have a far greater install base than any console, and they have low adoption costs; thanks to contracts.
Their currently low specification keeps development costs low, enabling a focus on creativity again. It's a 21st century platform, born as a truly mobile and connected device. The more recent models can connect with your HDTV or HDMI enabled monitor. Bluetooth offers the potential of supporting a game pad; or a mouse and keyboard to taste, enabling one device for the couch or the desk. Android is a open platform, welcoming anyone who wishes to develop for it. It's something you take everywhere with you, it stores its own credit for digital purchases and it helps you share your experience with friends and family. There is also beta implementation of mobile phone purchases in retail shops, so it could even replace your wallet some day. Though at this moment, there is little consumer interest regarding that.
This could easily replace the console, it could even replace the typical PC. Something you plug into your desktop hub at home and get a full desktop PC experience. Then just unplug and take it with you, access the same files and content on the bus, plug it in at your friends; and play the latest multiplayer game on the TV.
I'm not saying I want this future or that I prefer it over PC gaming, but everything is telling me that this is where we could be going. A future generation of gaming and computing, in your pocket. The Wii demonstrated that the typical consumer can be happy with less than modern graphics, so the performance advantage of a dedicated console may not be able to compete with the all in one device that everyone uses. Even then, Nvidia has already set a road map to significantly improve mobile phone performance.
As with my impressions in earlier blogs, we'll have to wait and see.