The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is now over, and aside from a lot of interest in hand-held devices (MP3 players, phones, etc.) there’s not a lot new in the graphics area. NVIDIA showed its mobile chipsets off as well as some SLI cards, ATI started showing off their PCI Express cards. Infinium was showing off the Phantom, and users could play Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex: Invisible War, but these played exactly like the PC versions and came preloaded, so there was no hint as to the service itself. The lap-top keyboard/mousing-surface was certainly a nice feature.
|DirectX Next – Oh Pleeeze!
The slides from Microsoft’s Meltdown 2003 are available here. I’ve not been a fan of DirectX’s piecewise distribution of shader technology – not so much for the hardware folks as for the consumers. When I’d chat with the folks who write shader code for a living (outside the Evil Empire) – I’d get hints as to the stuff “for the next release”. This was particularly annoying as I was writing a book targeting this audience at the time and you’d think Microsoft, at the very least, would want to publicize this stuff. The hardware folks, the top-tier game writers, they were all in the know. They’d let me know, generally, that there was more to be had. Even when they did come out and state what was going on, I, under NDA, couldn’t disclose what I knew. It was very frustrating. For all intents and purposes, Microsoft does indeed seem to want to disseminate this info. Unfortunately they don’t seem to speak with a single clear voice since Phil Taylor left for the warm arms of ATI. Sigh, instead of having someone spoon-feed this out to the public, you’ve now got to glean this stuff yourself. Let’s look at the recent Meltdown slides for example.
What’s new with DX?
Long before there was a Game Developers Conference, E3, Meltdown, Mojo Days, etc. there was Siggraph. You could expect to see the coolest, latest, and most memorable eye-popping stuff there. Siggraph was where academia, engineering, art, and implementation met in a week long frenzy of tutorials and lectures during the day, and partying, banquets, schmoozing and being schmoozed at night. It was (and remains) a bacchanalian graphics geek love fest where you can’t help but be impressed by some of the stuff folks are doing. My only complaint is that about 10 years ago Hollywood discovered that they could do really cool things with computer graphics and since then there’s been a very noticeable increase in the Hollywood-centric orbit of Siggraph, most notably plunking the thing in LA every other year. This year is slightly different – they managed to slide it down the coast to San Diego so at least there’ll be different things to do in those off-hours. If you’re in the area and you missed GDC, then sign-up for Siggraph this year! The courses are great, the Siggraph steering committee has been very interested in getting some input from and classes for game developers. Siggraph is still the big arena where graphics hardware and software announcements are made. It’s not as loud as E3, it’s less game-centric than GDC, and it’s got the coolest collection of art, demos, software, hardware, geeks and academics. It’s got day-care for the kids and an even ratio of white-haired professors to tattooed/pierced developers/artist to sharks in suits. At $US800 for the full conference pass it’s a relative bargain. Just attending the exhibition is much cheaper if you just want to see the latest from ATI, NVIDIA, 3DLabs, Microsoft, Intel, AMD, Softimage, etc. etc.. Siggraph 2003 – San Diego – July 27-31.
If you attend Siggraph, don’t miss the Game Developers BOF (Birds of a Feather) meeting, Monday, 28 July, 2 pm – 3 pm, Coronado Room @ San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.
One of the more technical DirectX conferences is Microsoft’s own Meltdown (July 16, 17 in Seattle or July 29, 30 in London) and is a premier chance to learn from the DirectX team directly. If you don’t get a chance to attend any of the other conferences and are interested in learning some hard-core DirectX programming then you really can’t beat Meltdown. Learn more about it here. Meltdown covers all aspects, from shader programming to QA’ing DirectX apps, including the test suites, where you can bring your code and run it on the latest GPUs and CPUs and talk to the engineers about how to optimize your software. If you’re just interested in graphics, however, you might want to wait till ATI & NVIDIA hold their own mini-conferences (typically in California and England). The European Meltdown is inconveniently concurrent with Siggraph this year. There’s a discount for early registration, so don’t dawdle.
It’s come to my attention that not only did NVIDIA have the band Smashmouth at their E3 party, they had porn star “Catalina” there as well. (view the party pix here…) which has apparently upset some shareholders on the Yahoo NVDA board. Jeez, whom do they think the target audience is anyway? Alcohol fueled nerds being wooed at a party by a video card company is no big news, it’s expected!. Besides ATI supposedly had Smashmouth at their E3 party in 2001, so NVIDIA is just playing catch-up. Hell, ATI was expensing lapdances for some select game developers at E3 in Atlanta a few years ago, so having a porn star bounce around is certainly going to be cheaper in the long run. Whatever it takes to get game developers favoring your cards is the name of the game, and selling sex to nerds is certainly fun and easy. Though – looking at the pictures is a bit pathetic – like Siggraph at New Orleans, when the girls flip their tops up for beads and all the nerds bring their digital cameras came out, I was genuinely ashamed to be associated with those pathetic guys. But I’m not complaining, the nudity certainly livened things up.
Well, in an about face from previous years, there was lots going on at this year’s GDC. Here are some highlights.
NVIDIA Announces new cards – The GeForceFX 5200 and 5600. Both are DirectX 9 cards. The 5200 is expected to sell starting at $79 MSRP. NVIDIA becomes the first card company with DirectX 9 capable cards in its entire front line.
ATI Announces new cards – They announced the 9200 (DirectX 8.1) , 9600, and 9800 (DirectX 9) cards. Also under-the-radar was incorporation of F-Buffer (fragement-stream-buffer) in SmartShader 2.1, which is supposed to allow shaders of any length without resorting to multipass rendering. These cards compliment the 9700.
3DLabs – not to be left behind – announced the WildCat VP990 Pro.
ATI and 3DLabs announced they are working jointly on our fav shader tool – RenderMonkey! In a not so subtle swipe at Cg, ATI and 3DLabs have teamed up to work on RenderMonkey. ATI will continue to work on the framework and both will work on plug-ins for HLSL and OpenGL’s shader language GLSL. In addition they say they’ll work closely with 3D party vendors to incorporate RenderMonkey functionality into tools – so expect to see RM plug-ins for Maya, 3DSMax, etc. in the near future. Press announcement.
Microsoft withdraws from OpenGL ARB – citing failure for OpenGL to keep pace with graphics features, Microsoft says that it’ll focus on DirectX.
DirectX 9.1 is it – for now. According to Microsoft’s Dean Lester, the next major release of DirectX isn’t scheduled until the release of the next OS (codenamed Longhorn), which is now due out sometime in (survey says) 2005.
Why in God’s name they have to hold the thing in San Jose or Santa Clara every year I’ll never know. One year they did hold it in Long Beach and that was at least different. But in any event, it’s that time of year again. If you’ve never been to one, you really should, particularly if games are of professional interest to you. This year’s should be particularly interesting, NVIDIA is going to unveil the GeForceFX (wait – didn’t they do that at Comdex?) (Thursday night at the Fairmont – let’s see if they can party like ATI can!), Microsoft is having an High-Level Shader Language workshop – it’s first come first serve for these two-hour sessions, register here. If you want a more general introduction to shaders you might try Wolfgang Engel’s session on Friday at 10:30 am. Things I’ve heard but haven’t confirmed are the announcement of DirectX 9.1 from Microsoft and the announcement of the next generation of ATI cards based on the R350 chip. Of course you don’t want to miss Suite Night at the Fairmont, Friday, 7:30 pm. (Hint: about 9pm wander the stairwell peeking out on each floor, listening for those loud, private parties, or see if you can score a suite party list.)
While there’s no doubt that the GDC is a money-making interest (the top-shelf VIP pass is a staggering $1975) it’s the only games-dedicated conference around (There’s a GDC Europe as well later in the year).