Playing games at Comdex
(IDG) -- Think of Comdex as a monstrous state fair -- only for a state populated largely by technophiles. You'll find booths for every gadget and device imaginable, pick up tchotchkes by the wheelbarrow-full, and hobnob with people from every spot on the globe and every technological walk of life.
That's the good side. The bad side is you've got to sort through myriad booths to find one displaying actually "useful" products. You need to keep the trinket pickups to a minimum or you'll quickly be laden like a llama. And you've got to force your way through mobs at every turn. Yummy.
But, despite the bad scenes, Comdex has become geek Mecca. To be a true nerd, you must journey to this event at least once in your life. Or just read my account and save yourself the trip.
First thing Monday morning was the Voodoo 4 and 5 announcement from 3dfx. It was at the Las Vegas Venetian, a few casinos down from the Flamingo (where I was staying), so I decided to hoof it. Despite what "sin city" represents, it's tough to deny how cool it is to watch the morning sun glint off the crazy faux monuments.
3dfx had rented out the entire Wax Museum at the Venetian for the event. Winding through the maze of life-sized celebrity candles, I was struck by how short most of them are. (Harrison Ford looked about 4' 8"). Crammed into the tiny theater, we listened to corporate speak -- "3dfx is the best," "Our business model kicks ass!" and so forth -- until the company finally made its announcements.
I liked what I heard. While the Voodoo 4 and Voodoo 5 cards won't be out until the first quarter of 2000, they should offer sweet acceleration -- the Voodoo 5 5500 especially, with its four VSA-100 Voodoo chips, 128MB of video memory, external power supply, and $600 price tag, will definitely deserve a look-see.
After 3dfx handed out their notebook bags (easily the best tchotchke of the event), I headed to the main show over at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Being the largest technology event in the world, its registration computers were down, so I spent the first few hours using a hand-written badge for entry.
One of Monday's gems was finding Reality Fusion and their Game Cam. Now, this technology isn't new, and they're not the first to attempt to sell a product like this, but it functioned well and actually looked worth the $129 cost. Basically, it's a quick cam that's set up on your PC and displays your image onscreen. The motion-sensing software reacts to you, letting you shoot basketballs, spike volleyballs, and make psychedelic music videos. Look for a review soon.
Other highlights of the first day:
I spent a good chunk of the second day in the Sands Convention Center. This place really had the county fair feel. (I actually saw a guy in overalls saying to a woman with him: "Stick with me and you'll get lots of stuff. I'm a trick or treater!") But there were more gaming products than at the larger half of the show.
Creative had a monster booth at the Sands, with lots to show off, including its new Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer card, featuring EAX sound, four-speaker surround support, and a gaming bundle, as well as their Annihilator graphics card, which boasts the Nvidia geForce 256 chip. Look for reviews of both of these shortly.
Aureal was also at the Sands, and announced their A3D 3.0 standard for 3D sound at the show, which provides MP3 support, additional geometric sound reverb for better 3D sound effects, volumetric sound sources (such as more realistic crowd noises in a racing game), and Dolby digital support.
I got a nice tour of Guillemot's lineup -- nothing new, but it's good to see the Thrustmaster line alive and well -- as well as those for Kensington and Gravis. The latter's Dual Control Xterminator, a joystick/gamepad combo that works great for flight-sims and racing games, was the highlight. But a rep hinted that a half-dozen new game controllers would be due out in the first half of next year.
Second day highlights:
All told, I left Comdex with sore feet, a blinding headache, and way too many press kits. But I also left with a stronger appreciation for the finer things in life: not living in Vegas, the wondrous abilities of strong coffee, and the fact that all those technology folk were working towards a common goal -- making better machines for gaming.
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