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GDC: Allard champions high-definition future in opening keynote

Microsoft's XNA supremo J Allard has delivered a keynote at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in which he outlined the company's belief that three key factors will revolutionise the industry in the next generation.

Microsoft's XNA supremo J Allard has delivered a keynote at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in which he outlined the company's belief that three key factors will revolutionise the industry in the next generation.

High definition equipment in the living room, a greater public awareness and expectation of connectivity and a strong consumer demand for personalisation and self-expression in media were the factors which were highlighted as the three key drivers of what Allard called the "HD Era".

Speaking to a packed auditorium in the Moscone West Centre in San Francisco, Allard avoided describing the next-generation Xbox in any detail, saying that Microsoft is saving all the hardware details for E3 in May - but he did reveal that since GDC last year, more than 3000 Xenon devkits have been shipped to studios around the world.

High definition was the buzzword of the keynote, with Allard claiming that the move to HD visuals will change gameplay rather than just improving graphics, and arguing that the transition to HD gives videogames a chance to become "the cultural force that other mediums look to" and to dramatically expand the audience of the medium.

"The opportunity is now and it's enormous," he commented, "but make no mistake, we have the power to blow it. The HD Era is going to happen with or without us... I'm focused on what it's going to take to enable you to create the experiences that will capture the imagination of the mass market that the HD era is going to attract."

Although much of the content of Allard's speech was already known to attendees, courtesy of a leak from within Microsoft earlier today, there were still a number of interesting points to the keynote - not least a thinly veiled broadside on Sony's console development strategy.

Outlining two console development strategies, Allard said that one approach was "all about the hardware" and mentioned a "super-customised approach... designed at science fairs. Maybe you slap a fancy label on it," he quipped. "Forget the fact that it's hard to program for, it's cool!"

This approach, he said, "can't mask the fact that it's not designed for developers," and in a clear swipe at Sony's early development woes with the Emotion Engine powered PS2, said that "no good games come out until a year after the creation... The only emotion that can elicit from [developers] is frustration!"

By contrast, he claimed, the Xenon hardware has been designed so that "the platform is bigger than the processor," arguing that "hardware is no good if you can't light it up".

"Three years ago, we sat down with IBM and ATI and built a custom designed system," he said. "This system is a monster - it's going to deliver over a teraflop of targeted performance. It's going to be an amazing system. We're going to deliver custom, hand-coded silicon just like the other guys, but with the HD consumer in mind."

Describing the Xenon as a "perfect balance of software, hardware and services," Allard revealed a number of new initiatives from Microsoft - including team-focused development and workflow management called Visual Studio Team System and XNA Studio, which will launch this April and next year respectively, and a consistent user interface for Xbox Live functionality on the next-generation platform.

That platform, he claims, will include the ability to buy new pieces of content using a micro-payment system, as well as a number of consistent interfaces for alerts, friends lists, custom soundtracks and other such elements - all of which will be required features for all Xenon titles, and all of which will be implemented in a completely standard way across all game titles.

"We change the rules on the gamer every time," he said. "No more. We've got to create consistency."

Allard opened the keynote by congratulating Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell - whom he described as one of his childhood heroes - on their induction into the "Walk of Game" in San Francisco's Metreon Centre last night, and closed it by thanking the assembled developers for their support for the firm's initiatives in the ten years since DirectX launched at GDC 1995 - by giving away 1,000 Samsung HDTV screens to the audience.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.