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Monday, July 3, 2000
Developer's Thoughts on the X-box
1:55 PM | Toby Allen | Comment on this story

Recently Microsoft's upcoming next-generation console, known as the X-box, has stirred up some controversy among game developers. A lot of developers are commenting on the effect that X-box may have on the current and future gaming industry. Due to the Direct3D-only nature of the X-box, industry standard 3D API OpenGL is at risk of losing support among developers. Microsoft is currently putting some pressure and restrictions on developers in this area, since the X-box officially supports Direct X8. Developers like the actual features of the X-box; in some cases they prefer it over the Sega Dreamcast and Sony's Playstation 2, since it is much more powerful.

A variety of games are now destined to be released for the X-box, such as Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 Arena, Black & White and Microsoft's latest acquisition: Bungie's Halo.

Gaming industry guru John Carmack has been posting his opinions and views regarding this new platform all over the net. Here are some of his opinions from a X-box.IGN interview:

IGN Xbox: You're about as hardcore PC as they come. What about the Xbox has really captured your attention, technology-wise?

John Carmack: Xbox only sounds impressive because it is being talked about a year and a half before it's launch. With one exception, a hardcore PC gamer's system in that timeframe will be superior in every way (at a higher price point).

I do think that the unified memory architecture is a Good Thing. High end graphics cards have so much more memory bandwidth than the primary memory subsystem that it makes a lot of sense to just get rid of the main system and let the CPU leech off of the graphics memory. When the graphics system is busy, they will contend over the memory a bit, but in idle conditions the CPU should actually get more memory bandwidth than even the highest end server configuration with standard components.

The X-box is still over a year away from launch; this doesn't stop Carmack from discussing DirectX8 and OpenGL support on the X-box. Although Apple's support for games in OS X is uncertain, currently, Carmack mentions that Id Software will definitely release their future title for Mac OS X (Not OS 9), which is great news. Here is Carmack's view on DX8 and the future of OpenGL:
DX8 is good. Microsoft has a long history of shipping an initially crappy product (DX3), then aggressively improving it until it is competitive or superior to everything else. Many people underestimate the quality of microsoft's products by only forming opinions on early versions, and never revising them.

The crucial advances of DX8 are the vertex and pixel shaders. I think that the basic concepts are strong, and they will give real benefits.

I expect that functionality will be exposed through OpenGL extensions by the time I need it.

For one thing, DX8 is modeled pretty closely on Nvidia's hardware, and Nvidia's hardware is already fully exposed through their register combiner extension, even somewhat more so than under DX.

The issue will be finding consensus between the other hardware vendors.

The upside is that not all hardware designs are exactly in line with DX8, and some usefull and interesting features exist that DX8 doesn't expose. It is looking like several hardware vendors are making moves to expose ALL of their functionality through OpenGL extensions to be available when the product ships, rather than at the next DX cycle.

The other issue is still portability. I am 100% committed to delivering our next title on linux and MacOSX (NOT MaxOS-9), in an effectively simultanious timeframe. That would be more troublesome if I was gung-ho for DX8.

I'm happy that microsoft is doing a better job, but I don't feel that I will be in a disadvantaged position continuing to work with OpenGL.

In addition to Carmack's thoughts, Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor, who is currently working on the very impressive Dungeon Siege, shares his views on the Microsoft's console. He is quite optimistic, and confident that the X-box will be a new type of console and will certainly push the console industry further. Taylor comments on X-box:
DR: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the success of the Xbox? Is it something internal, like Microsoft's corporate structure, or something external like Sony's enormous install base or Microsoft's image?

CT: Sony and every other big company has just as much corporate structure, so this is not really an issue. Market dominance could scare a few, but hey, what happened to every big video game company before Sony? As far as image goes, the MS games group has been making great games, and the hardware group has been producing the best gadgets. Software sells hardware, which means there will need to be great games for the Xbox... and that's all there is to it.

Needless to say, the X-box promises a lot; in about a year's time we will have a clearer view of it's future and specifically its affect on the gaming industry. Whether or not this console will negatively impact the Mac and PC games markets remains to be seen, but the PSX2 and Dreamcast have not caused the 'console flight' that doomsayers were declaring was a virtual certainty when those consoles were released. Make sure you check out our GameCenter Alliance partner MSXBox for more details on this console.

Chris Taylor's views on X-box
X-box web site
Carmack on X-box and DX8 on Slashdot
IGNXbox Talks to John Carmack

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