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There's plenty of cool stuff at the Game Developers Conference, but no one seems to have any hard plans for Mac development. As it is with Mac games, it's wait-and-see - wait for a product to make money on the Windows side before we see it on the Mac.
Falcon force feedback: When we looked at the Novint Falcon, we couldn’t help but think that it was about to jump at us like some creature from Doom 3. That feeling intensified when we grabbed the white, bulb-like handle and manipulated it as we moved through a specially-built level of Half-Life 2. As we carefully stepped over the body lying on the floor, the Falcon bumped our hand up. Then in conjunction with the staccato of gun fire, the Falcon pushed our hand forward, signaling to us that we were being shot from behind. We turned around quickly and began shooting back, only to find out just how hard it was to hold onto that damn bulb while firing a machine gun.
The Falcon uses haptic feedback technology.
Novint Technologies new haptic feedback device is built from Force Dimension’s robotic technology. The Falcon’s three armature layout allows for a freedom of movement in three-dimensional space. The haptic feedback is remarkably accurate, as when we played through a tutorial, we could really feel the boulder we touched, the molasses we pushed our hand through, the ice our hand slid across. The Falcon debuted at the GDC this year, though it’s not quite ready for release, which is scheduled for June. But players can pre-order the device right now, and doing so will guarantee not only a slightly lower price ($189, down from the MSRP of $239), but also a bundle of 24 mini-games and drivers for Half-Life 2 - all for Windows. The company says that the Falcon will eventually support all USB platforms, and we've been told that the device should work on a Mac, but there would be no official support for it when it's released.
No more Command-Tab: Playxpert (PXP) announced and demonstrated the beta version of their new in-game toolset available for massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). PXP allows gamers to manage virtual communities, access tools such as Thottbot and Allakhazam, and use community-developed widgets to extend PXP’s behavior, all while in game.
We previewed the software at the Playxpert booth, where the company played a canned video of the software instead of showing an actual software demo. Charles Manning, president of Playxpert, said the playable demo wasn’t finished in time for the GDC. Manning said that the playable beta will be released right after the GDC. The PXP user interface floats at the top left hand side of the screen where users can access chat functions, monitor hardware stats, control music players (such as WinAmp or iTunes), or access game tools. The user interface was a grayish color that would definitely interfere with the enjoyment of the game, but Manning says that the final release will include a transparency feature where the game will show through the widgets and chat screens, and the ability to skin the dock.
Members of Playxpert's Inner Circle, a group of invited gamers who have been testing the software and providing feedback for the past year will get sole access to the beta version. The Windows version will be released first, with a Mac version out by the end of the year.
A light at the end of the Mac gaming tunnel: At the beginning of the GDC, Sun Microsystems announced that it was releasing the source code to Project Darkstar. Project Darkstar is an enterprise-level MMOG single server platform written entirely in Java. Because of its Java roots, Project Darkstar is operating system agnostic, and will work on any operating system that works with Java.
Sun's MPK20 Virtual Workplace was created using code from Project Darkstar.
We had the chance to speak to Chris Mellisinos, CTO and Chief Gaming Officer at Sun, about Project Darkstar. Mellisinos says that Darkstars’ Java roots don’t stop developers from writing APIs in any code for any platform. In fact, Sun demo’d several games at GDC 2006 running on Darkstar servers but playing on PSP, PC, and Solaris machines at the same time.
Mellisinos said that Sun is still in the initial stages of cleaning up the last of the code and finalizing the GPL license that will be used, so developers downloading the current binaries shouldn’t be confused by the temporary license on the site. Sun fully intends developers to be able to write games for the Darkstar platform for commercial release.
Sun also announced the opening of applications for the Darkstar Playground, allowing developers to gain access to Sun server resources free of charge to start developing their online games. Mellisinos says that applications are limited, and the playground will be live at JavaOne 2007 in May.
Omaha Sternberg is the producer and host of the iGame Radio podcast.