Archive for September, 2009
It’s almost time for Windows 7 and along with that the first lot of DirectX 11 class hardware has started to appear. This time the first off the block was, surprise surprise, ATI. The 5800 series cards were released a couple of days ago and there are already impressive reviews about the new cards all around. I am sure it wont be long before Nvidia, which has been uncannily silent, comes out with their line-up. So it is safe to assume that there will be DirectX 11 class hardware on the shelves going into Windows 7 release (Windows 7 RC already has DX 11 support and will also be available for Vista soon). It will however, still take a few weeks more for the initial euphoria to settle, and we should see prices of the cards drop around the holiday season, and probably that is when I will go in for an upgrade as well. I have been running the HD 4850 for some time now and thus far it’s proving to be sufficient, not only for gaming but also for my programming needs. The HD 4850 has been surprisingly good given it’s price point and one would expect the same from 5800 series given the already positive reviews.
There are a couple of things that are in favour of DirectX 11. The first is the API itself. DirectX 11 offers more than just a simple evolutionary upgrade (more here). DirectX 10 was mostly a non event. The enormous success and the longevity of XP and the XBox 360 ensured that the 9 version of the API far outlived most expectations (and probably will continue to live for some time to come). The story of DirectX 10 is also intrinsically connected to Vista. Vista’s low adoption meant not enough people were running a DirectX 10 capable software platform, which Microsoft stubbornly refused to port to XP for whatever reasons. Even though 10 class hardware was available during Vista’s reign, nagging hardware issues and poorly implemented drivers meant DirectX 10 never really caught on like 9 did.
That brings us to the second point in favour of DirectX 11 — Windows 7. XP is old, and I mean seriously old. I am still running a 2004 copy of XP on my machine and though it’s doing it’s job admirably, it’s due for an upgrade. Windows 7 seems to have gotten over those little annoying quirks of Vista which we hated and shouted so much about. My hunch is most people who have stuck with XP will probably upgrade too. Maybe not on immediate release, but 2-3 months down the line when things settle in, after those initial bugs have been addressed and more and more reviews of the OS come out; 7 should slowly see wider adoption. With Vista it seemed like things were rushed into and hyped up. In contrast Microsoft has been careful with Windows 7. The RC of Windows 7 has been somewhat of a “soft launch” and though I haven’t myself had the chance to try it out, it would seem (from reviews and from what people are saying) Windows 7 is much better off than what Vista was. So it’s fair to assume that 7 will catch on more than Vista and in the process DirectX 11 will “get on” to the Desktop.
Does it mean DirectX 11 will be the defacto API for coming games? For that lets look at the games developed today. Yes most of the games that are developed today are still developed primarily for DirectX 9.0 class hardware. Why? Consoles that’s why. You do see AAA titles advertise DirectX 10 and 10.1 support, but even those games are developed with DirectX 9.0 class hardware in mind. Yes some features here and there, usually eye-candy to impress your overzealous graphics fanboi can be found, but the engine and tech itself is designed for platform compatibility. Which ironically means not all of the features of the newer DirectX versions are exploited. As I said before, DirectX 11 is more than just a simple upgrade to the API, it’s also a new way to do things. But since the older hardware still has to be supported, compromises have to be made. There are probably no AAA titles exclusively for the PC, so even if PCs all around were to have DirectX 11 support, it’s not until the consoles catch up will you see all the cool things the newer API has to offer come to the fore.
There is little doubt that version 11 of will make games look better. But there is so much more to the API than just improving looks for games. Many of the features in the new API mirror hardware changes that have taken place, like moving away from the fixed function pipeline, the evolution of GPUs as massively parallel compute devices. All this does mean that DirectX 11 is an API to look at seriously. But how quickly will games start using all these features? I guess only time will tell.
It’s interesting, but our good old menu-bar, yes, the one having “File Edit View …” on it, is slowly disappearing from some of the most popular software apps. Today I happened to wander across to the Firefox proposed UI design page and the thing I immediately noticed was the absence of the menubar in the new designs. Good riddance! No seriously, how often do you use the browser menu-bar? For me the browser is the second most frequently used application and 99% of the time I never bother about the menu-bar. I, however, would love every millimetre of screen space while browsing and am more than happy to see the menu-bar go.
There have been some subtle changes in UIs over the past couple of years. No I am not talking about glass effects and pretty pictures and icons, I am talking about design. Though not the first, it was MS Office that got the world’s attention by replacing the menu-bar with the “Ribbon Control”. A bold step, but the idea was to combine the tool-bar and menu into a single tabbed interface. To be honest, yes the ribbon idea is cool, maybe not innovative, but definitely cool. The interface had mixed reactions initially, but as people got more and more familiar with it, things started to get comfortable and soon other applications followed suite. At a first glance having no menu-bar is disorientating for a long time computer user. I did find it a bit “unusual” to navigate my way around Office 2007 (the one and only time I used it). On the other hand, I never missed the menu-bar (even once) while using the Chrome browser. I guess the whole idea needs a bit getting used to, but apart from that, I really did like the whole concept of replacing the menus and tools into one single compact unit. Makes sense. Tool-bars, after all, only do complement the menus. It is therefore logical that both be combined into one.
I personally feel this use of the tab interface is a step in the right direction when it comes to exposing complex UI. The resurgence of the tab control and it’s innovative use in hiding complexity whist combining two separate controls (the menu-bar and the tool-bar) into a single entity to service both options is intuitive and resourceful. A similar usage of the tab control has also found it’s way into the mobile device world where it is going to be the main stay of the Moblin Linux platform. That is interesting indeed. So will we see our “Desktop Application Panels” and “Start Menus”, which are basically menus too, being replaced by tabs soon?
Holy cr*p! It’s been like 40 days since I have posted anything! That’s probably the longest the blog has gone silent. Well, that’s partly because I have been working on a new game and yes a new game engine. The new game will not be a 3D game but a 2D game. No, I haven’t abandoned the O2 game engine, to the contrary the O2 Game engine has had quite a few updates to it. So why another game engine?
Long long ago (, maybe not far far away) when I was designing/prototyping the O2 engine, I had plans for it to be a 2D and a 3D game engine. Overambitious? Yeah, maybe. But tell me who hasn’t had overambitious design plans? Anyway, during that time a lot of design went into the 2D part. I even went ahead and created a mock prototype of 2D game builder UI. In any case, that was soon put on the back burner since we started in earnest on the 3D game. The design however, lingered in the archives, until I had the time to revisit it after the Doofus game was completed. Instead of letting the design rot, I decided to peruse and finish the 2D part.
A couple of problems immediately arose when I had a re-looked. The O2 engine is designed to be a 3D engine and a lot of abstraction has been made to ensure that the engine does 3D properly and efficiently. That’s not really required for 2D. 2D is a lot less complicated than 3D and most of the sections of the 3D game engine felt over-engineered when considered in the context of 2D. Most of the book-keeping required for 3D is down right unnecessary for 2D. In the end the two designs were a significant overlap, so I decided to rehash the 2D concept using similar design but start over from the engine core. Basically meaning, a rewrite of a significant section of the game engine code. To my surprise the process was completed far sooner than anticipated, and that too without significant regressions. Yes the new engine uses a lot of same code-base as the O2 engine, but the engine itself is very different from the 3D engine.
Next came the game. There was an old prototyped 2D game (more details soon) that was lying with me for ages. Most of the game was polished up and ported to the new engine (lesson: Never throw away your old experimental code; ever. ), and that’s about it. I am pretty happy with the results of my 2D experiment thus far. Completing a game is a complicated process. It requires a lot of things to come together and work correctly. True, 2D is lot easier than 3D, but there is still work to be done finishing the game and I hate to give out a release date just yet (, because of the fear of being proved abjectly wrong yet again ) .