It’s true, trueSpace is indeed free.

Update: Microsoft has taken down the Caligari website and terminated trueSpace. Don’t bother looking for it, trueSpace is dead. If you are looking for a free powerful 3D modeling package, try Blender 3D.

I couldn’t believe it at first, but after the acquisition of Caligari, Microsoft has released the fully-featured 3D authoring packagetrueSpace for free. Simply put trueSpace is a 3D modeler and seems a pretty good one looking at the features it supports. It may not dethrone Maya or Max anytime soon, but for nada it packs a lot of punch, especially if you are an indie game studio or a budding 3D artist and can’t or don’t have the finance to invest in something along the lines of the top modelers mentioned above. I am not saying trueSpace is the best, quite frankly I haven’t even given the package a complete look through as yet. It takes a considerable amount of time and a sizable investment in effort to fully grasp any 3D authoring package. Well, it takes probably a lot more before you can become truly productive at it. trueSpace is no different. I haven’t personally gone and modeled anything with it as yet, nor do I currently have the time to invest in such an endeavor (maybe after the game ships).

However from the looks of it a free trueSpace seems to be something that can’t be ignored. The next thing I wanted to look for is whether the modeler could be integrated with a dev cycle for a game. That would require the package to have some sort of scripting system and/or allow an SDK, using which custom export scripts and engine functionality can be integrated with the authoring system. I was browsing the website and from the looks of it, C++/C SDKs and Python scripting is in fact offered by trueSpace. Again I haven’t had a good look at it, but the fact that it’s there should be a good enough reason to have a look at it if you are interested. The most important factor in selecting any authoring package is the availability of tutorials and that’s also another reason trueSpace stands out. The documentation and the video tutorials are also made available along with the package. Yes, I know it seems too good to be true. Video tutorials are invaluable while learning any 3D modeling. I remember years ago it was Blender video tutorials that really got me going with Blender. While my 3D skills leave a lot to be desired, most of the current game wouldn’t have been possible without those tutorials.

All of the above points make trueSpace a serious option to consider if you are a beginner or an indie game developer. While not the best, trueSpace is very attractive given the feature set and the price (which is 0). To be fair, I have only given the package a fleeting glimpse and that’s not how I would like to evaluate trueSpace, or for that matter any 3D package. So make your own assessments about the strengths and weaknesses of trueSpace by using the package yourselves. I would recommend having a go at the videos and tutorials first.

Doofus gets a dose of Optimizations.

Ah! It’s the optimization phase of the project and I am knee deep in both CodeAnalyst and NVIDIA PerfHUD. As far as memory-leak testing goes, most, no all of the memory leak testing is done by my own custom memory manager built directly into the engine core, so no third-party leak detectors are needed by the game. AMD’s CodeAnanlyst is a utility that is invaluable when it comes to profiling applications for CPU usage and the fact that it’s free makes it even better. NVIDIA PerfHUD is probably the champion among graphics performance utilities and which, I think, is vital when it comes to bullet proofing any graphics application for GPU performance. Too bad it doesn’t support OpenGL yet, but the O2 Engine’s renderers mirror each other almost to the point where an performance enhancement under the Direct3D renderer is almost similarly experienced under the OpenGL renderer. I would have really liked PerfHUD to have supported OpenGL though. There are some issues under GL; like for instance, FBOs under OpenGL perform a tad bit slower than Render-Targets under Direct3D (on the same hardware), which I must admit has left me a little dumbfounded. Maybe it is just for my GPU (yeah My GPUs are a bit old I must say,) or maybe the drivers are at fault but I have noticed a performance variance between the two even after considerable experimentation and optimization. It would have been good to have a utility like PerfHUD to probe directly at the dra calls and/or FBO switches. I am trying my luck with GLExpert, but I am not there yet. I must however say that GLExpert is nothing compared to PerfHUD.

Code Analyst
AMD CodeAnalyst

Doofus running under NVIDIA PerfHUD

DirectX 9 to DirectX 11, where did 10 go?

This week there was a lot of buzz about DirectX 11. Yes, the newest version of the graphics API was unveiled by Microsoft at the XNA game fest and it has an interesting feature set that, I think, were long overdue. Most of DirectX 11 doesn’t diverge from version 10 (and the almost not eventful, version 10.1), but I think DirectX 11 should see a renewed interest from game developers since it provides features that were desperately needed in light of recent hardware developments. 11 (of course with the features of 10 and 10.1) now seems to be a more complete API to addresses issues related to game and graphics development and seems to be a more complete solution for the future.

What is really interesting to see is the emergence of what Microsoft terms as the “Compute Shader”, no doubt a marketing speak for GPGPU which they claim will allow the GPU, with it’s awesome power to be used for “more than just graphics”; which smells like CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if both turned out to be very similar (remember Cg/HLSL). In any case, what is important is the fact that such technology will be available to game developers under version 11. Technologies like CUDA (GPGPU) are the requirement of the hour and this could be the fact that 11 might see a lot more interest than the earlier (10.x) versions.

There is a lot of talk about hardware based tessellation, but frankly I haven’t seen too many details on that. At least not enough to make a detailed comment on it. From what little is being said, DirectX 11 hardware based tessellation could be used to make models appear “more smooth”. How this ultimately translates to actual implementation will be clear when more details come out. I am hazarding a guess here, but there should be something along the lines of some technology that allows sub-surf LODs to be calculated in real-time and/or displacement/bump/normal mapping to be done on the fly. I am not too sure as yet, but could be something along those lines, or maybe something in-between, or a combination of those techniques. Whatever it is, this would mean really good looking games in the future.

Issues like multi-threaded rendering/resource handling are things that were long time coming and yes, it’s a good thing we will finally see them in the newer version. It just makes my job as a game developer a whole lot easier. Most details on Shader Model 5.0 are pretty sketchy, so I won’t go into things like shader length and function recursion. However, I hope such issues are addressed satisfactorily in the newer shader model.

So will DirectX 11 succeeded where DirectX 10 failed? Will it get mass adoption like DirectX 9? Difficult to say. While most cutting edge games have adopted DirectX 10, it’s usage remains low because of several factors. For one many people still use XP which doesn’t support version 10 (or greater) of the API (for whatever reason) which means most developers have to adopt the lowest common denominator of the alternatives available, and that generally is DirectX 9.0. Also many people still don’t have DirectX 10 class hardware and that is also another reason not to go for 10.x. The issue with DirectX 10.1 is a total mess. It’s interesting, but there is even talk that NVIDIA might skip over 10.1, giving the version a total miss and aim directly for version 11 class hardware. There is logic to that decision; given that most games (except of the really high end ones) don’t even bother to use DirectX 10 let alone 10.1. All this makes adoption of 10.x a non lucrative issue for game developers.

Version 11 does bring in some really good features to gaming in general but that is not necessarily the reason the API will succeed. As a game developer, 11 holds some serious promise and could be a success if Microsoft plays it’s cards right. However there are some issues (mentioned above) that still bother me. Microsoft is still fixated on releasing version 11 only for Vista, so don’t expect your XP machines to ever run DirectX 11 even if you buy brand new hardware. That said, like most previous versions, DirectX 11 is backward compatible with version 10 and 10.1 and even 9.0. It would be impossible for Microsoft to ignore 1000s of games that already use DirectX 9 so it’s almost a written fact that newer versions of the API will continue to be backward compatible until and unless we see a complete divergence of a sizable amount of games to newer versions, and that could be a long way away since many games even today are still being produced on the 9.0 version.

What’s so special about the ribbon control?

Having seen Autocad 2009 I was exploring the usage of tab controls for a modeling application and that is when I read about the ribbon control being patented. I was kinda shocked to see that, not surprised though. I don’t get it. What’s so special with the ribbon control that it warrants a patent for it? If you look at it objectively it’s nothing more than a tab control with fancy buttons and controls and a carefully managed layout system. The layout system could probably be done with existing layout systems present in Qt and wxWidgets. OK, so toolkits like MFC and the newer .NET ones don’t have fancy layouts, but nothing has been innovated and is certainly not to an extent of being ground-breaking as claimed. Please! Many (many) applications already have tabbed tool-bars. Having controls, pretty pictures, an outlandish theme and a cool name doesn’t automatically qualify something as an innovation. OK, I would agree that that those tabbed menus do offer productivity, or maybe not (depends on the user’s taste) but the fact remains that tabs controls have been in GUI systems ever since GUI itself became mainstream.

Unfortunately I have never used Office 2007. All of my documents are done using Open-Office, so I really don’t know what “special” innovation Microsoft has done with the ribbon. I however, have used the tab-notebook far too often in GUI designs. I know the patent hasn’t been acquired yet, but to turn around, replace menus with tabs and claim that somehow this is an innovation, is outrageous. Having a patent just complicates matters. As said on the wiki page “the ribbon is licensed to third-party developers royalty free” but the control has to conform to Microsoft’s guidelines and users have to sign an NDA. So let me get this straight, if I were to use a tab-notebook control in my application and somehow “infringe” on the patent, then would it mean I am in for a lawsuit from MS? Oh OK then, whenever I use the tab-notebook I have to let Microsoft know about it. Wow!