Wednesday, July 11, 2012

AMD Radius Brand & Product Exploration

Awhile ago, I wrote out a lengthy proposal for AMD to make a video game system. I only included a rough logo in that post and thought that it was worth doing a deeper exploration of the idea.

The basic logo is toy-like and playful. It’s meant to NOT be “edgy” and “hard-core” because those repel the average consumer. This logo is appealing to all demographics. The offset circle still communicates the "circle" and "radius" concepts, but is more immediately interesting to the eye because of broken lines of flow and contour.

All boxes would initially feature games since we are trying to focus on the experience and not the technology underlying it. The image from the game Crysis is just a placeholder, and AMD-produced games, included for free with the system, would be pictured on the box cover. Boxes would not be uniform. Instead, a variety of boxes would produce an interesting mix of images, projecting dynamic entertainment while on the store shelf, all with the trademark Radius circles apparent on every box.

Using games as the primary packaging graphics further allows AMD to control the impression of Radius' personality to the market. Systems with certain box art could be sent to targeted stores. Gamestop's and local video game stores would get boxes with first-person shooters and RPG's on them. Wal-Mart's and other big-box retailers would get box art with cartoonish graphics, exercise games, and more otherwise casual games.

Eventually, as Radius expands, boxes would begin to feature more non-game material. The Radius would then become an entertainment box, which is precisely what Microsoft is so gracefully trying to do with their Xbox at this very moment. Microsoft's intransigence in this regard leaves AMD with a large opening.

Various icons would represent the technology that would be implementable by games. The headset is exactly that, a headset for communication. Accelerometers can be both included in controllers but also as standalone items in things like wristbands for exercise games.

The home game server is one of Radius' killer "apps." It is a plug'n'play box that wirelessly connects with any Radius enabled hardware in the area and automatically hosts games. It provides extensive networking and communication capabilities similar to Xbox Live, but locally. This will prevent the need for a specific Radius system to "host" the games being played. The hardware will include powerful antennas, providing far-reaching radio coverage for apartment buildings, dorms, and even areas of neighborhoods. The Game Server will double as an ordinary router for all local network applications. All of this provides greater control, and thus value, to the customer and raises the value of the hardware as opposed to the service.

The second feature is called Gamestream. This is when the Radius system connects with light "dumb" terminal game devices and stream full games to the user. The rendering takes place on the system. It depends on the game as to how many Gamestream devices can be connected at one time. The standard system will be able to connect only a few Gamestream devices at once, but when paired with the Home Server, the number of simultaneous clients jumps up. The end result is similar in network design to both the new Wii U and the Gaikai streaming game service.

Radius has an advantage over both of those alternatives. The Wii U will be a limited-use device. It will pale in comparison to the capabilities of the Radius. Gaikai, since all rendering of the games is done on a server in a galaxy far, far away, suffers unavoidably from lag. There must always be a delay between player input and what is seen on the screen. With the distance between the renderer (the system) and the user so much shorter in Radius, lag will be minimized to the point of being nearly unnoticeable.

The system can act like a virtual server, allowing people on multiple devices to play in the same game. Truly, the entire point of this is to shift the server away from the Internet, bringing gamers back into the same room as one another. Xbox Live shifted gamers away, with many games supporting multiplayer only over Xbox Live. The games actually prevent gamers from playing together. Radius will still have a significant online "cloud" that powers a number of services, but unlike its competitors, much of it will be dedicated to local groups and services.

Home theater PC’s are bulky and problematic. AMD can make one that is compact and easily integrates in with other bits of technology. AMD can also use the compact template to allow “stacking” of other Radius products, like the home server, file server, and Gamestream clients. This allows people to build Radius set ups, which is exactly what we want. The hardware is what we are selling, so get people to buy as much as possible. The game server and media server will succeed where things like Windows Home Server failed because it will be a “turn it on” solution. No set-up. Wireless communications detect all other Radius hardware in the area and automatically hook up.

The system itself would take advantage of every piece of technology at AMD's disposal. Their line of APU integrated processors practically cries out for this sort of application. The system would initially implement a physical drive, but this would eventually be eliminated from the standard. In general, to lower the price, increase reliability, and stay within AMD's zone of expertise, solid-state will be chosen over mechanical at every step.

The system designs will be neutral yet high-tech. Cases will be plastic, polycarbonate, and acrylic since radio communication is the critical element of the system. A beautiful but neutral design avoids the system being classified as a "video game" system exclusively or as a "toy." Multiple colors will also make integration into larger home theater arrangements easy.

Does the game box immitate other game box designs? Damn right it does. We want to put a great deal if distance between Radius and tradtional PC gaming. We want to give an impression of “it just works.” We can do that by copying the aesthetic of game companies.

A complete gaming and entertainment system, loaded with cheap and free content, with AMD hardware as the key to access it all.

A note on OUYA.

As I was writing this, the OUYA launched on Kickstarter to immediate success. Within days, it had raised five million dollars. OUYA sets out to do exactly what the Radius would do. There are some key differences though that make the OUYA a non-contender.

First, the OUYA is low-power. It relies on cell phone hardware, namely the Nvidia Tegra 3, and does not avail itself of the fact that it will be plugged in. The Radius will use full-power desktop hardware, giving it a massive performance advantage. This places the Radius in competition with dedicated gaming systems. The Tegra 3's performance lines up well with gaming hardware from ten years ago. Whereas AMD's line of APU's are in line with gaming hardware from five years ago or less. If AMD moves up the ladder to their more expensive processors, the graphics power of the Radius would be an order of magnitude greater than the OUYA.

The OUYA folks chose their cellphone hardware very much on purpose, even though it meant less power. They had to, because the OUYA runs on Android. This allows games to be sold through the Android marketplace. This is great for many Android gamers, not so great for the hilariously-fragmented Android ecosystem. Radius will be easy and unified.

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