|Introduction & Day One|
Over the course of the last few years, we've managed to make our way to a countless number of events all over the country. Without question, one of the highlights of each year would have to be QuakeCon. Whereas the foundation of most events is based around a vendor showcasing their latest products, the foundation of QuakeCon is entirely different. Here, the event is based around gamers and is intended as a way to give back to the gaming community. From the LAN party consisting of a few thousand hardcore gamers to the late night parties in random hotel rooms, every aspect of QuakeCon is about having a good time with friends and getting in a few frags on the latest and greatest games.
As we count down the hours until we land in Dallas, we can't help but wonder how this year will manage to top years past. Obviously, the LAN party itself has grown an incredible amount over the last few years. What was once a collection of a few hundred gamers has now grown to an onslaught of a few thousand of the country's most hardcore gaming enthusiasts. Over the years, iD Software has also had some memorable times such as the launch of the highly anticipated title Doom 3. In similar fashion, this year iD will be giving QuakeCon attendees a preview of the multiplayer component of Quake 4. Beyond product launches and random amusing happenings each year, there is also Hard|OCP's hardware workshop. At the workshop, attendees get an in-depth look at the latest and greatest hardware and get insight from several key figures in the industry. Now, anyone that knows Kyle of HardOCP knows that there has to be some sort of dramatic spin on things to keep the workshop interesting. Who can forget the image (and movie) of Kyle displaying the meager internals of a Phantom gaming console to the crowd before crushing the plastic vaporware with a giant mallet in his best Gallagher impersonation? Its things like this that keeps people coming to QuakeCon each year and we can't even begin to imagine what sorts of things this year has in store.
Despite having gone to the last four QuakeCons, we never fail to be amazed and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people waiting in line for the BYOC. Here, there is always a phenomenal line of people with an eclectic mix of hardware ranging from state of the art uber rigs complete with sexy LCD's, to archaic tan boxes and enormous CRT monitors. In similar fashion, the gamers themselves are a bizarre mix to say the least. From the rowdy and young to the reserved and old, there is a unique sampling of people waiting in line to frag one another. Walking from end to end, there is no limit to what you might see. Girls covered in tattoos (we originally thought it was a shirt!), husky guys wearing clothes infinitely too small, and one of the most pristine and amazing super-mullets of all time are just a few of the more memorable sights from this year.
Once we had finally managed to get through registration and account for all the gear we were lugging in, we walked through the main doors and witnessed an ocean of tables and network cables. sufficient for a few thousand hardcore gamers. Fortunately, Kyle and the gang at HardOCP had managed to reserve us some spots in their group and we were soon up and running some BattleField 2 to ease the frustrations from registration.
Unfortunately, the last sentence above was a bit premature. You see, with this many computer-savvy people in one place something is bound to go awry. Sure enough, some systems somehow became infected with a malicious worm which would crash Battlefield 2 and force random reboots. Luckily for those who suffered this fate, the group running the show at QuakeCon was more than prepared and soon had burned CD's and distributed them throughout the hall with all of the appropriate files necessary to clean the worm and get everyone up and running. Little things like this remind us all that QuakeCon is NOT your local LAN party and is run by an exceptional group of dedicated professionals. Keeping more than 4,000 gamers happy and online is not an easy task, and nobody does a better job than the gang at the NOC.
One of the greatest aspects of QuakeCon is seeing hardware vendors put the PR machines on hold for a few days and actually take part in the gaming community. Both Brian Burke and Andrew Fear from NVIDIA stopped by our area to get a few rounds of Battlefield 2 under their belt. We can't begin to express how impressed we were to sit down and game with these guys without a single word regarding NVIDIA or any hardware whatsoever being spoken. Instead, we were following each other through the various maps trying to hold off the enemy and laughing hysterically at our collective failures and successes. From people who typically has to endure countless hours of PowerPoint dribble and marketing fluff each year, it's no wonder that QuakeCon is one of our favorite events.
Now, before anyone starts assuming that QuakeCon is nothing more than a giant LAN party, let us clarify that there is an almost ridiculous amount of action going on at all times. In addition to the giant BYOC area inside the main hall, there is also a large exhibitor section where various vendors showcase their latest and greatest products. The main presence in this area is from the key sponsors of QuakeCon which are namely NVIDIA, Creative Labs, Intel, Alienware, and Kingston to name a few.
NVIDIA's booth was easily one of the largest in the hall, with a variety of products showcased ranging from notebooks with GeForce 6800 Go graphics to the recently announced GeForce 7800GT. One the of the largest attractions to the area, however, was the collection of Dell XPS desktops which were each equipped with dual GeForce 7800GTX gpu's running on the new nForce4 SLI x16 motherboards. As you might expect, there was always a handful of people waiting in line to see the latest hot titles running on a ridiculously fast system such as the new Dell XPS desktops.
Creative Labs was also on hand to promote their new XFi series of premium soundcards. Utilizing a totally new audio processor with a profound increase of processing power, Creative has seemingly raised the bar in terms of PC audio quality. Taking things one step further, some models will also feature up to 64MB of onboard memory to further offload the main system resources and increase overall efficiency. We're told this all amounts to a sizeable increase in performance and framerate over conventional audio solutions, though we'll reserve final judgment until we can get a sample in house and conduct our own testing.
One of the most bizarre yet amusing events would have to be NVIDIA's pseudo launch party for the new GeForce 7800GT. With former MTV Real World cast member Julie as the guest host, the theme of the event was a Fear-Factor type scenario where audience members would have to complete some dramatic task to win a prize. Right off the bat, we knew some odd events would be seen as the very first event required contestants to chug several bottles of water before they were forced to put their hands on a brand new Dell XPS SLI desktop. In order to win, you had to be the last person standing without taking your hand off the system. More than an hour into the event, the audience had already seen one person vomit and not a single person had been disqualified. The same tenacity seemed to apply to the rest of the events as well as contestants freely completed some disgusting and embarrassing tasks. Here we witnessed people devouring sticks of butter, saw more geek-flesh being bared than we ever wanted to, and even had two girls shave their heads bald for a measly(given the circumstances) $149 graphics card! Fortunately, NVIDIA did have several attractive helpers to make watching this all a bit easier to endure. Regardless, after almost two hours we had taken all the geeky table dancing we could handle and were forced to leave. Ironically enough, we had not even heard a single word regarding the new GeForce 7800GT during the "launch party".
Alienware was on hand to showcase their infamous desktops and notebooks. In addition to having a unique aesthetic, the systems pack some potent performance. Alienware aimed to drive this point home by holding a contest to see whose system could match their own flagship ALX desktop 3DMark05 and Doom3 scores. Overall, there were some impressive results turned in by the audience although no scores managed to best the Alienware systems.
Kingston was displaying a robust line of memory products ranging from some cutting-edge DDR2 modules to some insanely large flash memory cards. Memory is often overlooked as one of the most critical components when overclocking systems. The gang here at HotHardware have used Kingston memory considerably and can attest that they are some of the highest quality modules money can buy.
Ageia was on hand to demonstrate its new PhysX discrete physics processor. There were several impressive demos showing the sheer magnitude of manipulative objects that could be seen in applications when using their new hardware. Although it is unclear when technology like this will be implemented, seeing this hardware in action certainly makes it seem certain that it will be coming in the near future as the results speak for themselves.
Armed with their latest family of robust power supplies, Enermax was on hand to fuel the show. With SLI and processors requiring massive amounts of power, it was no surprise to see some immense PSU's sitting on the table ready to handle the most power-hungry systems.
In typical Intel fashion, there was a large display area complete with dozens of systems for the audience to use. From the latest desktop hardware to the most convenient notebooks, there was something for nearly anyone's needs. Still, it was a bit odd to see Intel at such a large gaming convention such as QuakeCon given the profound performance advantage AMD has these days with the latest titles.
Lastly, we saw Linksys and their latest group of networking components including the heralded SRX series of MIMO devices. Gamers looking for networking hardware should remember that Linksys has been a longtime supporter of QuakeCon and is always willing to help gamers out with any issues they might have at home, regardless of whose hardware they're using.
|John Carmack Keynote|
The next major event at QuakeCon was a brief meeting of sorts to go over the upcoming movie based on iD's famous Doom franchise. Here, members from the studio walked through the premise of the movie with Todd Hollenshead from iD Software. Although this event failed to get the crowd overly excited, it was a relief to hear that the studio was remaining truthful to the franchise's past and that the movie would please even the most hardcore Doom fan. Fortunately, the event was short and John Carmack's following keynote was sure to not disappoint.
One of the most interesting aspects of QuakeCon is always the keynote speech by the legendary John Carmack. For the first time in three years, John managed to make it to the event to give the keynote in person. This year, the main topic of discussion was the next-generation consoles and how multi-core processors would effect the gaming industry over the next few years. Unlike previous years where John would whim philosophical about the most complex programming concepts you could imagine, this year's keynote was surprisingly easy to follow and digest.
Once the Q&A session began, we managed to ask John a question concerning the development cycle between the upcoming consoles and the PC. Without question, a hot topic of debate as of late has been the difficulty in programming and porting titles between the consoles. My question revolved around the optimization of titles for each platform and how a title simultaneously released on all platforms would compare with one another. As we know, there is an immense amount of resources necessary to get a title up and running on a single platform whether it be PC, Xbox 360, or PS3. Given the nature of the programming and development characteristics of each platform, it's not surprising to hear smaller developers being forced to choose either Xbox 360 or PS3 and not develop for both. Even the select few who do choose to develop for both run the risk of having sub-par titles as they lack the time and resources to optimize the titles for both platforms, and instead just get the games up and running.
Given the quality and polish we've come to expect from iD Software, I was eager to see what direction they would take. John's answer was surprisingly simple and direct, with no attempt to sidestep the question. With each console requiring a different approach to get the best performance from the hardware the approach taken in development would be critical. Here, John believes that the most effective programming model to produce the best results on all three platforms would result in developing around the PS3's CELL architecture. Although this would not be the most efficient method for programming for the PC and the Xbox 360, this is the direction which would likely result in the most polished title for all three platforms. However, exploiting the simplicity and ease of programming on the Xbox 360 is by far the easiest solution and is likely the route that iD Software will be taking. This model is much more aligned with the PC and will result in a much more tolerable development cycle overall. That is not to say that iD is neglecting the PS3 and is focusing on Xbox 360. Rather, it simply indicates that the PS3 development will require a bit more effort in the long run to ensure the same quality and gameplay we'll find on Xbox 360 and the PC.
|[H]ardware Workshop & Conclusion|
As we mentioned in the introduction, one of the staples of QuakeCon would have to be [H]'s hardware workshop. And as usual, Kyle had assembled an A-list of vendors to provide prizes and give presentations regarding the latest and greatest hardware on the market.
With more than $15,000 worth of the latest hardware sitting on stage, it was no surprise to see a packed conference room. With each audience member getting a raffle ticket when they walked through the door, the odds were looking pretty good for everyone to walk away with something. Here, you could end up with anything from a T-Shirt to a flagship GeForce 7800GTX with just about any kind of hardware you can imagine in between.
Logitech was the first vendor to be brought onstage and they came armed with an entire family of new gaming mice and even a radical new keyboard. The new laser mice appear to be incredible with more customization than any other product we've seen thus far. From dialing in the dpi to being able to change the weights inside the mouse itself, these new products are sure to be popular with the LAN crowd. Logitech also has an impressive new keyboard that is complete with blue backlit keys and a custom LCD panel. Perhaps the most impressive feature however is a "gaming switch" which disables the Windows key when gaming. Now if I had a dime for every time I inadvertently hit that Windows key during a fast and furious fragfest...
Andrew Fear from NVIDIA was on hand to field some questions and tackle the topic of software and driver development. Although the presentation was brief and mainly directed towards audience questions, Andrew did make it known that mobile drivers would be a major focus for NVIDIA in the coming months. As someone gaming on a notebook at QuakeCon, this is welcomed news to say the least.
Ageia's CEO was next on stage and he brought a series of demos to showcase the company's new PhysX physics processor. From complex plane crashes to thousands of boulders crashing down a mountain face, there was little doubt in the audience that we would all like to see what developers could do with this kind of power at their disposal.
Harry Yen from Abit was present to discuss the company's new RMA policies. As one of the highest quality motherboard vendors over the years, Abit has earned a solid reputation for performance and service. In keeping with that tradition, Abit has developed a new online RMA policy that allows you to service any defective product without ever picking up a phone or emailing the company. Taking things one step further, Abit even cross-ships you your replacement so that you have no down-time with your hardware. If you're in the market for a new motherboard, things like this should certainly be kept in mind.
Lastly, ATI was on hand to briefly discuss some of their upcoming hardware. From Xbox 360 to new gaming-specific cell phones, it seems like ATI has some solid plans for getting in the hands of gamers in the coming months. Now if only we could get our hands on R520 and a CrossFire board, we'd be truly impressed with our friends from Canada. Regardless, we were told to expect these products in September so it might be safe to start holding your breath.
Having spent the better part of three days in Dallas, and witnessed a fair amount of debauchery and gaming to go home with a clear conscience, we must admit that this year has earned the right to be called our favorite QuakeCon thus far. The gaming was excellent, the new hardware exciting, and the people were as rambunctious as we could have ever asked for. Without question, this event is one of the staples of the gaming community and is responsible for bringing hardware vendors more in line with the needs of today's competitive gamer. Throughout graphics card reviews, we find ourselves referencing the "gaming experience". For those who haven't made the trip to QuakeCon yet, do yourselves a favor and register for next year. A day or so at QuakeCon and you'll understand what the true gaming experience is all about.
Thanks to all who participated and assisted with this year's event. As usual we walked away extremely impressed and eagerly looking forward to next year.