In-game advertising.

I was recently asked as to what I thought about in-game advertisements. Given the fact that I am a game developer, the whole concept of in-game advertisements does seem like an intriguing subject. There are two ways to really look at the whole idea of in-game advertisements.The first and the most obvious one is of course as a potential money spinning tool for developers/publishers and is quite an interesting idea to explore. But there is a also a view that such ads inside games will end up polluting and degrading the overall game experience and could attract an ire from the players or the community as a whole, and in the worst case have an adverse effect on games sales. The last thing you want is a commercial break or a cutscene marketing something inside a fast paced game. Such a thing will be a disaster and I am sure players will frown on games that take this road.

My feeling is, game designs don’t need to this drastic to have the whole in-game advertising thing working for them. It would be a horrendous mistake to have advertisements inside the game that degrade gameplay. However having interactive ads that are properly integrated into the game may not necessarily be a bad prospect. That is exactly why ads in games need to be more than just inert props and simple banners. To a player such things make little impact and might or might not get noticed. The impact from any 2D inert items will be limited, especially if the game features a 3D world (2D games could still make use of banners more effectively than 3D ones, but even they could do better if the ads were interactive). Games typically differ from other traditional forms of digital entertainment in the fact that they are an interactive medium and therefore like every other gameplay element, ads within games will also be most effective when the player interacts with them.

Gamers (, especially hard-core gamers) might frown on the idea of having in-game ads but it may not be all bad. Not all games are ideal for in-game ads, I will touch on that point a little later. I personally haven’t seen any ads in most of the games that I have played. But I have seen it in some games, the example I can sight is Second Life. Second Life is a great example of how ads can make into games without being immediately frowned upon. The player is given a choice of whether he/she wants to interact and view the content (of the ad) instead of something being forced on him/her. A player will appreciate this, and the ad campaign will thus be successful. In the brief time I played Second Life (here), I visited a couple of interesting places where the in-game advertisements looked really great. Music seems to be the best appreciated followed by fashion when it came to ads there, but I am sure people must be advertising all sorts of stuff over there. As I said, my stint with Second Life was pretty brief.

As a game developer I look at the whole scenario of in-game advertisements positively. I am sure using proper game design advertisements can be made sufficiently interactive so that they could “fit into” a game without actually nagging the player. I would even go further and say that if used effectively a game could actually be enhanced (case in point Second Life) so that marketing inside games could be something that player can look forward to and actually find an interest in the whole idea of having an online try-before-you-buy opportunity. Can all games be effective as in-game advertising mediums? No, some might do a better job at it while others might not be as effective. MMOGs like Second Life will probably be far better at it than say a FPS with it’s setting on an alien planet. Some games like shoot-them-up tournaments might not be effective at all. Having said that, we can never be too sure about marketing ideas and how “genius minds” work. So, someone might just find some way to insert a “Matrimony Online” banner inside the Strogg Nexus on Stroggos, you never can tell.

Be-aware while signing up on social networking sites.

Do you get those annoying mails asking you to join up on social networking sites? (Names intentionally left out.) Most are along these lines “Your very special friend Joe Sasquatch has invited you to join the Big Foot community. Please sign-up so you can share your precious and rare photos with your buddies and build a gigantic network of friends.” Hmm… maybe not so annoying if you like a little bit of flattery. All depends on how you take it really. Considering there are literally 100s of social networking sites opening up, I am sure most people must be getting similar emails from time to time. Well, you won’t believe it, in the past two days alone I received 10 such requests. These included requests from former colleagues, friends and some even from distant acquaintances whom I barely know. Some of them were from people with whom I had only briefly interacted with in the past. Maybe just via a couple of emails. Now I know the 10 requests in 2 days maybe purely coincidental but what I like to point out here is the fact that, it made me believe (and rightly so) that somehow those people didn’t always willingly send me those requests.

I have nothing against social networking in general, but I decided to find out more. So I went ahead and began the sign-up procedure on one of those, and there; it asked me for my email and password for that email account. “What the…!” That left me a little stumped. The official reason given was “Automatically link with all your friends”, which is a euphemism for, “We will open your email, go through your address book (and emails), find out who you have communicated with since the dawn of time and then send them invitation request.” Wow! Do you know what just happened here? You could have just given them your email address and password instead. Their spider probably went through ever email and contact you ever had and sent each of them an invitation request on your behalf. Is it just me who sees a problem here? Hell I wouldn’t want someone to send any email on my behalf to every joe and jane I have had contact with! My God that would be a catastrophe 😉 . In simple terms it means, “Dude! Your email and its password is with them.”

OK let me make it clear that this happens on some sites and not all. So the point of this blog entry is to make people aware (, it would seem most aren’t) of what takes place behind the scenes when you fill that little email box and punch in it’s password. Read their privacy statements, no explicit guarantee of safety of your data is made. Your exposed data to any organization could be used to generate a profile of you, your habits and the people you communicate with. Again I am not saying they will or are doing it, I am trying to make everyone aware of what could happen. Fear not, if you have been a victim of this, it’s just a matter of changing the passwords on your email accounts. Do it now. Oh yes and don’t be crazy and use your work email on any of these sites, ever!

Larrabee isn’t necessarily a means to a custom graphics API.

Has the graphics world come a full circle now that we see Intel’s first tech presentations of Larrabee? Will we see a resurgence of people writing custom software rasterizers? Is the heyday of the GPU truly coming to an end? Are APIs like OpenGL and Direct3D going to become redundant? I have seen these and a lot of similar questions being asked the past couple of days. People even going as far as the saying that technologies like Larrabee could be used to write custom graphics APIs. This has been, in part, due to the huge emotional response to the OpenGL debacle a couple of days back and partly due to the fact that Intel unveiled portions of it’s (up until now mysterious) Larrabee technology recently. Some people seem to have thus drawn up conclusions that soon we may not require the currently used graphics APIs anymore. Larrbee does promise freedom from the traditional hardware based approach. Rendering APIs today are closely connected to the underlying hardware and the graphics programmer using them is, thus, limited to what the hardware offers him/her.

Technologies like Larrabee do offer immense flexibility and power. There is no doubt in my mind that if needed one could create a custom graphics API using them. Unfortunately writing custom APIs might not be the answer or an option and there are good reasons to not do that. The first and probably what people see as a less important reason, is the fact that APIs like OpenGL and Direct3D are standards and therefore it is not advisable to dismiss them outright. What if code needs to ported across platforms where Larrabee might not be available? Then how do you scale custom API for that hardware? But one could argue that you could probably get more performance cutting across any layer that sits inbetween and using a direct access to Larrabee hardware. Call me a skeptic but I see issues here as well. It maybe very easy to hack up a simple rasterizer, but it’s a completely different thing to produce a vector optimized one even for a technology like Larrabee. It’s not a trivial task even if we have the best vector optimizing compilers from Intel. I would lay my bets on the star team working at Intel to produce a better rasterize than I probably can. Also I am pretty sure this (rasterizer) will be exposed via Direct3D and/or OpenGL interfaces. Yes you could probably make certain specific portions of your engine highly optimal using generic Larrabee architecture but a custom rendering API may not necessarily be the best option.

As a piece technology Larrabee is very interesting especially for real-time graphics. For the first time you will have the capacity to be truly and completely (maybe not completely) free from the shackles of hardware. There are so many more things you could accomplish with it. There are other things you could use Larrabee for, like for instance parallel processing and/or for doing intensive highly vectorized computations very efficiently.

Couldn’t have put it better myself….

OpenGL 3.0All in a day’s work!

OpenGL 3.0 is finally released, and it disappoints.

ARB has released the much anticipated OpenGL 3.0 spec and if you were the one following developments of OpenGL for sometime, you would know that hopes were riding high on the fact that OpenGL 3.0 would be a revolutionary redesign of an ailing and a rather old API. Apparently it’s none of that and even worse it’s actually nothing at all. OpenGL was drugging along for the past 15 years, adding on layer upon layer of muckish extensions to the point that many had expected ARB to really go ahead and make radical changes in the 3.0 specification. None of that has happened. Most of the radical changes promised have not been delivered. All that seems to have happened is the standardization of already existing extensions by making them a part of the the standard. Sad, really sad.

As a game developer and more as someone who has been using OpenGL for the past 8 years I am pretty disappointed. I was hoping to see a refreshing change to OpenGL. I am at a loss of words here; no really I am. There is really nothing more to say. The changes have been so shallow, that I wonder why it called for a major version number change in the first place. 2.1 to 3.0, phooey, it should have been 2.1.1 instead. Let me put it in another way; my current OpenGL renderer which is based on OpenGL 2.x could be promoted to 3.0 probably with 4 or 5 minuscule changes or maybe none at all! Where is the Direct3D 10+ level functionality what was hyped about? Where is the “radically forward looking” API?

What does this say for the future of OpenGL? Sadly not very much at least in the gaming arena. It was already loosing ground and there was a lot of anticipation that ARB would deliver a newer OpenGL to “take on” Direct3D. I must say that a powerful Direct3D (thanks to DirectX 11) looks all set to become the unequivocal champion when it comes to gaming graphics. OpenGL will clearly take a back seat to DirectX here. While some may argue that OpenGL will continue to flourish in the CAD arena, I am not so sure that Direct3D wont find favor over there as well. OpenGL drivers from most vendors already fall short of their Direct3D counterparts. That’s to be expected. It’s not their fault either. What else can they do when you have a 15 year old API to support whose legacy functionality is out of touch with modern day reality.

EDIT: The major thing missing as far as OpenGL 3.0 was a clean API rewrite. When you compare OpenGL 3.0 with Direct3D 11 it’s how things look from here on forward is what bothers me. Direct3D is more streamlined to address developments in hardware and while vendors could also expose similar functionality via OpenGL using vendor specific extensions, the whole situation doesn’t look too good. Making a driver that is fully OpenGL compatible will cost more in terms of manpower. That is because the specification is so large. Yes there is opportunity to deprecate things but I am not too sure how things will pan out there as well. Supporting older features on newer hardware means compromises and sacrifices in quality and performance. Driver writers cannot optimize for everything and that is why in the end performance suffers; or in worst case, ships out broken.

Avoid online tutorials as a learning resource.

If you starting with programming (of any kind, especially game programming,) avoid online tutorials as a source of reference as far as possible. I am not talking about online course-ware offered by institutes, I am referring to code snippets and short tutorials that show small but very attractive demos which could be easily mistaken by a newbie as his launchpad to the next Crysis. I too was guilty of these very things in the past and it’s after having been down that road you realize that some of the things taught were not the correct way to learn those things. The problem with online tutorials is, most authors who write these tutorials have little clue on how to tutor and/or present learning material. While their intentions are Nobel and the authors themselves do have a grasp on the topic (at least some do), it doesn’t necessarily translate into a great learning experience for a beginner. There may be exceptions, I am not saying all tutorials are bad. However such tutorials are far from being productive for a beginner. In fact, I would say they are actually counterproductive. As I have often found, the main focus in such tutorials is mostly on what the author himself knows and in worst case these issues could be totally irrelevant or not as important from a beginners point of view .

Lets make a distinction here. It’s not that tutorials are bad, it’s just that they are not meant for a total beginner trying to get his/her “feet wet” with the subject. They are often excellent resources to put ideas across, or to demonstrate advanced topics on a subject to an audience that has a fair amount of experience on that subject. The best way to begin learning anything is to go to your nearest book-store or, find the best book on the relevant topic and invest some money into buying it. Those books are rated as the best in their class for good reason. It’s because people have previously used that material and have actually gained knowledge after having read through them. A lot of painstaking effort goes into creation of a good book and a lot of experts review it before it hits the shelves, at least this is the case with most good ones out there. Start with chapter No. 1 and read through the book step-by-step even if the examples and material might look downright mundane. By the time you’ve finished with it, you would would have gained more all-round knowledge regarding the subject you were trying to learn than if you had referred to some online tutorial.