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Google's gaming plans revealed as Google Stadia

This is a streaming-based system that uses Google's global data centres to deliver high-quality gaming to a range of devices, and it's coming this year.

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Today is the day that we've all been waiting for, as Google has stopped teasing what they call the "future of gaming" and actually revealed during their keynote at the Game Developer Conference (GDC) what they have up their sleeve, and anticipation couldn't have been higher for the occasion.

With a slew of big personnel connected to the company in recent weeks, like the reveal of Jade Raymond as VP and the likes of Amy Hennig, Crystal Dynamics, Raph Koster, id Software, and Ubisoft joining them in San Francisco, we knew they meant business, and they certainly delivered when it came to the announcement, which was rumoured to be a streaming service for games.

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Google's CEO Sundar Pichai opened the presentation by talking about the technical advancements made by Google, including the test of Project Stream last year. They've been working to bring games like Assassin's Creed: Odyssey with high fidelity graphics to low latency networks, and this involves the cloud and network infrastructure that reaches over 200 countries as an open platform.

Google made clear their desire to "build a game platform for everyone", linking gamers, viewers, and developers; building "one place" for all of these pillars to connect. This is where Google Stadia comes in, the new platform that Google's Phil Harrison revealed to us. Project Stream in October last year was just one part of this, and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot was even in the audience to celebrate the partnership between the pair.

Odyssey was used once more as an example to show how games can be played on any platform. Say you saw the official trailer on Ubisoft's YouTube channel - you could then click one button to play now and jump into the game in five seconds with no downloads, as Harrison explained. This is because there's a single code base across multiple devices, from desktops to laptops, TVs, tablets, and phones. He then proceeded to show the game running seamlessly over all these devices, from a phone to a TV using a Chromecast Ultra HDMI streamer, all of which picked the game up exactly where the last one left off.

In terms of controllers, you can use a mouse and keyboard or your own USB controller, but there's a specific Stadia Controller that was revealed as well, available in multiple colours and pictured below. This links directly to the game running on the data center via WiFi, and features a capture button for sharing and saving to YouTube, starting with one button click. Then there's the Google Assistant button too, providing immediate access to a built-in microphone for features enabled by developers.

VP of Project Stream Majd Bakar then came onto the stage to break down the tech a little bit, especially the powerful computing at the heart of the Stadia architecture. Fiberoptic links and subsea cables between data centers helps the connectivity, and there are more edge nodes bringing the computing closer to players, numbering around 7,500 worldwide.

Testing has been going on internally within Google, but Project Stream in October achieved 1080p and 60 FPS. At launch, however, we can expect 4K and 60 FPS along with HDR and surround sound, expanding up to 120 FPS and 8K in the future. You can share directly from the data center to YouTube at 4K and 60 FPS as well, and there is a fast transfer speed between instances.

Bakar also revealed that AMD has teamed up with Google to make custom GPUs to power Stadia, providing 10.7 teraflops of power, which is more than the closest competitors Xbox One X and PS4 Pro combined (6 for the Xbox One X, 4.2 for the Pro). Google has already partnered with Unreal, Unity, Havok, CryEngine, and Simpygon, with many others already working with the technology on offer. It was also made clear that you can develop in the cloud and Google promises a flexible development environment.

Marty Stratton of id Software joined the stage to reveal that, since the 2016 Doom was built on Vulkan API already, making Doom Eternal work on Stadia only took a short amount of time, and running on one single Stadia GPU, it managed the smooth 4K and 60 FPS you'd expect from the series.

But the important thing to note is that games can use multiple GPUs at once, with the example of a real-time tech test showing high-quality water simulation. No traffic is exposed to the public internet, so there's low latency and reliability at all times, including wilder physics and perhaps more players in a battle royale match. Harrison also promises "no cheating and no hacking", as well as the fact that Google is embaracing "full cross-platform play" and cross-progression.

Google's Erin Hoffman-John then walked onto the stage to break down some of the other features Stadia is offering, including high-performing multiplayer. She used the example of split-screen falling out of fashion in recent years due to extra computing power needed, but with Stadia multiple screens can be added, with a tech test showing various different angles on one scenario via Stream Connect, each based on a separate Stadia instance.

Tequila Works' chairwoman Luz Sancho then came on to explain how the 24-month development cycle consisted of a lot of polishing when it came to the art style. Hoffman-John then introduced a feature called Style Transfer ML, applying machine learning to art visualisation. This demo took a grey model and applied a still image onto it, at which point the system built the game around that style. The team has tested hundreds of art styles already too.

Q-Games president Dylan Cuthbert then helped introduce what's called State Share, where developers can choose to enable world state, player position, items, and other properties to be encoded into a link to make that exact moment sharable for players to pick up on. The studio is working on a secret game that's the biggest they've worked on, and it's built around this system.

Then came Ryan Wyatt, head of gaming at YouTube, and content creator MatPat. These two were here to represent the pillar focused on creators, as you can highlight, livestream, and capture directly with Stadia. Crowd Play is a feature that lets fans connect directly too, as one button prompt on a stream lets you queue to join the next game and play with the creator.

Speaking of YouTube, if you're stuck on a game (Harrison used Rise of the Tomb Raider as an example) you can press a button to get a walkthrough up at that point without having to stop the game, providing seamless assistance.

Stadia will feature comprehensive parental controls, and in terms of the hardware, this has been shipped to over a hundred studios and over 1,000 creatives, but that's not all that we had to talk about when it comes to gaming. Jade Raymond was introduced to the stage, who revealed that she is the head of the first party studio Stadia Games and Entertainment. They'll be working on projects, but Raymond revealed that they'll be working with external developers to make tech available to partner studios too.

In terms of the launch, Stadia is coming this year to UK, Canada, US, and most of Europe first, and Harrison promised that we'll get more details - including on games - this summer, so maybe at E3.

Did the reveal live up to your expectations?

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