PAX East 2011: Nvidia Gets Serious About Tablet Gaming

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With the insides of tablets becoming more and more powerful by the month, it’s to be expected that games on the platform become more impressive. Nvidia is leading that charge and wasn’t afraid to show it as it showed off its mobile gaming prowess at PAX East with its Tegra 2 chipsets.

Two of the three tablets that Nvidia had on display to show off the power of its Tegra hardware were old news — the Motorola Xoom, which we recently reviewed, and the Dell Streak 7 — but the third was the Acer Iconia A500, a tablet that has been announced but has yet to see a release. It was a solid device that sported a pretty standard set of specs, including a 1 GHz CPU, 32 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, and a 10-inch, 1280 x 800 touchscreen display. Other specs included headphone and HDMI jacks, as well as micro USB and USB ports.

It was a bit of a disappointment, however, to see that the Iconia was running Android 2.2 (Froyo), especially now that the first Honeycomb tablet, the Xoom, has already hit shelves; this made it feel like the Iconia was already dated and it hasn’t even been released yet. With hardware as impressive as the Tegra 2 chipset, it’s best optimized on an operating system that is intended exclusively for tablets. Word on the street is that Honeycomb is planned for the final release, but I couldn’t get confirmation from a rep about what the final choice would be. Here’s hoping the Iconia hits shelves in April with Android 3.0.

Proving how serious it is about tablet (and smartphone) gaming, Nvidia was playing up its recently introduced Nvidia Tegra Zone app for Android, which was installed the Iconia as well as the other two tablets. The Tegra Zone app serves as a hub, a free centralized location for all games and apps that capitalize on the Tegra hardware. Neatly organized and featuring summaries, screenshots, and a sizeable catalog of suggested titles, the Tegra Zone struck me as an ingeniously simple way for Nvidia to encourage gaming on its mobile hardware. I may not be especially secretive about my general disappointment in tablet gaming, but even I was impressed with this statement that Nvidia was making by keeping gamers in the loop about the best software for their Tegra chipsets.

One of the games I got to see in action was Riptide GP, a jet-ski racing game from Vector Unit (makers of Hydro Thunder on the Xbox 360) that sported some wonderful looking water effects. As Nvidia representative Paul Jastrzebski  mentioned in our video, the water physics and animations are done in real time and as such, never look exactly the same as you race, turn, splash, and crash. It was a simplistic game, to be sure — nothing else is required of you other than to use the tablet’s tilt sensor/accelerometer to direct your jetski as it automatically shoots forward — but it was a fantastic showcase piece that used the Tegra chipset to its full potential. And besides, it was a short demo and an early build, so maybe it will turn out to be a slightly more immersive experience and I’ll eat my words. We’ll see when the game drops in April.

I also got to spend a little time with Samurai Vengeance 2, a simple slasher that featured a charming, colorful art style that was awfully reminiscent of Okami. It may have sported the dreaded on-screen controls, but it was so basic that it didn’t really matter…you really just had to slam the attack button and watch the heads fly. Occasionally, the game would shift into slow-mo when you finished off a bad guy, added some cinematic flair. I wish it hadn’t been top-down, though; with a creative visual style that didn’t necessarily stress the Tegra hardware, I feel like the developers could have afforded to do something with a third-person camera behind the character (akin to Dungeon Defenders: First Wave).

And it seems that some of these games aren’t enjoyed on just one platform at a time; in an impressive display of the Tegra technology, Nvidia was showing off the cross-platform capabilities of its chipset by running a multiplayer session of Dungeon Defenders: First Wave on a tablet, a laptop, and a PS3 with Move simultaneously. Cross-platform gaming is something that, unfortunately, has not really been much of a success in the past (see: Shadowrun, Lost Planet, and the handful of other cross-platform titles on Microsoft’s Live service), but hopefully Nvidia is ushering in a new era and bringing tablets along for the ride.

Riptide GP

Walkthrough of Nvidia Tegra Zone



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