TOP NEWS
Nvidia's PhysX joins the open-source party
— 6:00 AM on March 5, 2015

If I were a game programmer, I'd be salivating at the bounty of cutting-edge souce code that's available free of charge. Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 5 are open books for anyone who wants to take a peek, and they've now been joined by PhysX. Nvidia has put the full source for PhysX 3.3.3 and its clothing and destruction components on GitHub.

The release appears to be related to Unreal Engine 4's recent liberation. PhysX powers Unreal's "core game physics," according to Epic co-founder and programming guru Tim Sweeney, and the code is accessible via the engine's repository. Interestingly, Sweeney says Nvidia is providing the "CPU-based implementation" of PhysX. GPU-specific source may remain under wraps.

Nvidia will be accepting changes to the code, Sweeney adds, and it may roll modifications into the "main PhysX branch." PhysX updates then will be shared with the community through future Unreal Engine iterations.

In an apparently separate effort, the PhysX SDK has been expanded from its Windows roots to cover Android, OS X, and Linux. The SDK and source have been released through Nvidia's GameWorks repository, as well. Instructions to gain access are available here.

 

8 comments — Last by TREE at 6:56 AM on 03/05/15

Intel announces Achievement Unlocked dev relations program
— 9:51 PM on March 4, 2015

Intel wants to make life easier for game developers targeting its integrated graphics. To that end, the company has announced a new developer relations initiative called Achievement Unlocked at GDC 2015. I'll let Intel speak for itself here:

[Achievement Unlocked is] a coordinated worldwide effort to help game developers succeed when creating games that target Intel Graphics hardware, Intel Core processors, and Intel Atom processors. A new game developer portal supports bidirectional communication with game developers. Achievement Unlocked offers improved technical assistance to developers worldwide and additional success mentoring and go-to-market opportunities. This program coordinates and expands current Intel game industry support activities including involvement in standards organizations, support for academic game development programs, and conference and event sponsorships. Achievement Unlocked provides game developers a great business opportunity to target hundreds of millions of Intel powered Android and Windows devices worldwide.

Intel's IGPs are becoming increasingly capable, so it's no surprise that the company is taking new steps to reach out to developers. Given how many PCs feature Intel IGPs, and with the company's mobile platforms gaining traction in mobile devices like the Dell Venue 8 7000 and Asus' Memo Pad ME176C, developers should find Intel's willingness to cooperate welcome. Interested parties can find out more information about the Achievement Unlocked initiative at Intel's game developer portal.

5 comments — Last by odizzido at 2:49 AM on 03/05/15

Intel partners with Raptr to optimize game settings for Iris graphics
— 9:16 PM on March 4, 2015

GDC — As a sort of response to Nvidia's GeForce Experience software, AMD not long ago started bundling an application called Raptr with its Catalyst graphics drivers. Now, the folks at Ratpr haved added another big partner to their stable: Intel, whose graphics solutions ship in hundreds of millions PCs every year.

Ratpr, the product of a start-up firm headed by gaming celebrity Dennis "Thresh" Fong, recommends optimized settings for PC games by crowd-sourcing data from its user base. For the Intel collaboration, Raptr will use Intel's own internally generated recommendations as a starting point and build from there. Fong shared a tragic figure with us: Raptr's data shows that 85% of PC gamers play at the games' default quality settings. Intel and Raptr hope to improve the PC gaming experience by helping to rectify that problem.

Raptr also notifies users about the availability of graphics driver updates, and its allows users to record video from their gaming sessions. It also supports video streaming to Twitch. Thanks to this new partnership, Raptr is adding support for the QuickSync video transcoding hardware built into Intel processors, so that the CPU overhead of video recording and streaming should be minimal.

Unlike AMD, Intel will not bundle Raptr with its downloadable graphics drivers. Instead, Intel will offer Raptr downloads from its website, while Raptr will work with PC makers, attempting to persuade them to pre-install the software on their systems.

12 comments — Last by w76 at 6:25 AM on 03/05/15

Socketed Intel desktop Broadwell coming mid-year
— 8:23 PM on March 4, 2015

GDC — In a press conference at the Game Developers Conference in San Franscisco today, Intel offered a few new details about its plans for a desktop version of its 14-nm Broadwell CPUs. The firm plans to release a socketed version of Broadwell in the middle of this year, and this CPU will play to Broadwell's strengths by offering Iris Pro graphics and fitting into a tidy 65W power envelope.

As you can imagine, Intel expects this processor to play well in systems with tight thermal constraints, things like Mini-ITX rigs and custom mini-PCs.

Interestingly, though, this socketed Broadwell chip will also be unlocked, allowing for easy overclocking. One can imagine that enthusiasts will throw tons of cooling on these CPUs to see what they can squeeze out of 'em.

That's my plan, at least.

Speaking of mini-PCs, Intel also reiterated that it plans to release a Next Unit of Computing (NUC) system based on a Core i7 version of Broadwell. That CPU will be a 28W model, and it will include Iris graphics with some reasonably decent gaming chops. That system is expected to ship next month.

 

 

20 comments — Last by chuckula at 6:36 AM on 03/05/15

Microsoft announces PC wireless adapter for Xbox One controller
— 3:58 PM on March 4, 2015

If you're tired of connecting your Xbox One controller to your PC with a USB cable, relief is on the way. WinBeta reports that Microsoft announced a PC wireless adapter for the controller at its Xbox GDC event today.

It was nearly a year ago that Microsoft first released Windows drivers for the controller, so a wireless dongle has been a long time coming. The Xbox One has been on the market since November 2013. The lengthy delay isn't unprecedented, however. Microsoft released the Xbox 360 in November 2005, and the Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows didn't arrive in stores until February 2007, according to Wikipedia.

Unfortunately,  Microsoft reportedly didn't announce a release date or price for the adapter during today's presentation. PC users with Xbox One controllers may still have a while to wait.

23 comments — Last by EzioAs at 3:48 AM on 03/05/15

Wednesday Shortbread
— 2:17 PM on March 4, 2015

The Pick 6

  1. Help Net Security: 0-day flaw in Seagate NAS devices endangers thousands
  2. AppleInsider: 'iPhone 6s' said to ship with 2GB of
    RAM, Apple leaning toward including Apple SIM
  3. PhoneArena: Huawei to partner with Google
    and make the next Nexus, new rumors claim
  4. WCCFtech: Nvidia Grid officially launching in May 2015 -
    updated to handle 1080p 60FPS game streaming
  5. DSOG: CryEngine - GDC 2015 screenshots revealed
  6. RISE Oculus Rift DK2 tech demo in 4K - Unreal Engine 4

Read more...

30 comments — Last by Deanjo at 6:00 AM on 03/05/15

Nvidia demos new Titan X graphics card at GDC
— 12:32 PM on March 4, 2015

Jen-Hsun Huang is quite the character. During Epic's State of Unreal Engine presentation with Tim Sweeney, the Nvidia CEO hopped onstage to answer Sweeney's call for more powerful GPUs. Hidden under his arm, in a balled-up jacket, was Nvidia's next uber graphics card, the Titan X.

We didn't hear much about the Titan X from Huang. All we know is that the card has a 12GB frame buffer and a GPU with eight billion transistors. We also saw an impressive graphics demo running on the new hardware. I assume Huang wants to save the nitty-gritty details for Nvidia's own developer conference in a couple of weeks.

For perspective, the GM204 in the GTX 980 is the biggest Maxwell yet released. That GPU has 5.2 billion transistors and usually ships with 4GB of RAM. Between the increased transistor count and the copious amount of memory, the Titan X should be a beast of a card. If any further details surface, we'll add them to this post.

102 comments — Last by superjawes at 7:01 AM on 03/05/15

Valve's Source 2 engine will be free, too
— 11:46 AM on March 4, 2015

Epic recently made Unreal Engine 4 free for everyone, and Unity 5 is taking a similar approach with small developers. Now, Valve has revealed that its next-gen game engine is joining the party. In a press release posted at Steam Database, the firm says it "will be making Source 2 available for free to content developers."

There's no mention of whether the freebie will have royalties attached. However, Valve adds that a Vulkan-compatible version is also on the way. It sounds like developers may be able to choose between two versions of the engine.

The press release doesn't provide a timeline for when coders can get their hands on Source 2. The final Vulkan spec is due later this year, so that version of the engine may be a ways off. We may learn more during Valve's GDC session on Thursday.

19 comments — Last by Klimax at 2:59 AM on 03/05/15

FREAK vulnerability exploits old encryption export restrictions
— 10:38 AM on March 4, 2015

To understand the latest security problem facing the web today, we have to use the DeLorean and return to the 1990s. It was a different time. Gasoline was cheaper, we were all trying to figure out exactly what Kurt Cobain was singing, and the NSA controlled the export of encryption from the U.S.

As one might expect, the NSA controlling encryption exports was a contentious issue. The agency had no particular interest in helping anyone outside of the U.S. actually secure their communications. It created a split world in which American citizens had access to better encryption ciphers, such as SSL with 1024-bit asymmetric encryption and 128-bit symmetric encryption. The rest of the world, meanwhile, was only eligible for encryption approved for export, which limited SSL to 512-bit asymmetric and 40- or 56-bit symmetric encryption. This weak export encryption solution gave the NSA the ability to continue monitoring international communications. More than just SSL suffered from this NSA decision, as well. The ancient VPN protocol, PPTP, supports three strengths of encryption to accommodate export: 40-, 56-, and 128-bit. Export restrictions even created controversy around Microsoft operating systems.

What makes the situation silly is that the NSA's efforts weren't all that effective. It was possible to bypass the IP checks and obtain the stronger encryption reserved for the United States. Security organizations like RSA took advantage of foreign branches because importing strong encryption was easier than exporting it. You could implement foreign libraries to re-implement stronger encryption in RSA's software. The 128-bit version wasn't even the front-and-center option for folks in the U.S., resulting in a large swath of the populace running the weak international version. Bill Clinton finally brought about sanity to this mess with his executive order 13026 (PDF).

A recurring theme in security and computing is that nothing stays secret forever. Secret instructions in a processor will not remain a secret. Neither will secret backdoors in software. The choice to create a separate, weaker set of encryption tools for the world had implications for legitimate global commerce then, and it's come back to bite us with a FREAK vulnerability disclosed yesterday.

OpenSSL and Apple's Secure Transport interface both have a bug. They will accept inferior, export-grade keys even when the client doesn't ask for them. This situation opens up a perfect man-in-the-middle (MitM) situation. The attacker can take advantage of a MitM proxy and force the client to downgrade to an export-level cipher while asking the victim's desired resource to also provide export encryption. The server replies with a weak 512-bit RSA public key, which can then be factored to uncover the matching private key. When the client finally passes the secret key for the symmetric half of SSL/TLS, the attacker is able to decrypt the public key encryption protecting the secret key. At this point, the world is a place of plain-text bliss, as this harmless video demonstration shows.

Several questions may stem from this, such as how are the bad guys managing to factor this public key so quickly? Through the cloud, of course. Nadia Heninger has created "Factoring as a Service" that takes advantage of the CPU horsepower on tap through a cloud-based virtualization service to factor 512-bit keys in just seven and a half hours. The cost? $104.

If you're thinking that timeframe still seems too slow, keep in mind that servers only have one export key pair for all the SSL/TLS transactions they handle. In other words, the bad guys only have to put in the time, money, and effort once to impact everyone who uses a given service. Why so few keys on a server? The easy answer is CPU time. The more complex answer is CPU time and a sufficient entropy pool.

Some of you may be seeing this as an issue for servers, as well. If servers didn't offer the option, then flawed clients wouldn't be in quite so perilous a situation. Unfortunately, at press time, 36.7% of the 14 million secured sites on the web still offer an export-grade cipher. In a bit of hilarity, nsa.gov is one of those sites. I'm happy to report that TR does not offer weaker encryption.

So let's talk about who's impacted and what you can do.

  1. Check your status here.
  2. Apple iOS and OS X are impacted. Apple is expected to release a patch for both platforms next week. If you use Chrome on OS X, make sure you update to version 41.0.2272.76. Firefox on Macs is also safe.
  3. Android is impacted, though Firefox on Android is safe. Google is likely to fix its own software through Google Play Services, and Nexus devices should get an OS update to address the problem. Other device makers may only push out OS updates for newer products, though. Much like the Heartbleed situation with Android 4.1.1, some systems will likely remain broken.
  4. There are sporadic reports of Blackberry 10.3.1.2267 devices being affected, plus some sort of weird regression in the Windows 10 Beta. (No supported production Microsoft OS or browser is impacted.) These may not be accurate.

17 comments — Last by Jigar at 11:25 PM on 03/04/15

Zotac's Steam Machine is ready to power your living room
— 10:00 AM on March 4, 2015

Despite a long series of delays, Valve is still finding partners for its Steam Machine hardware initiative. One of the latest entrants is Zotac, whose Steam Machine SN970 packs what looks like some potent hardware into a form factor similar to a bigger Zbox. Have a look:

The exact nature of the hardware inside the SN970 is shrouded in mystery for the moment, unfortunately. Zotac's press release says the SN970 contains a "sixth-generation Intel CPU," which probably means this box is built around Intel's upcoming Skylake CPUs. On the graphics front, Zotac says the SN970 has "a discrete GTX level graphics card with Nvidia's Maxwell GPU." Again, not much help.

Maximum PC did get up close and personal with the SN970, however, and they say the GPU inside is a GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of VRAM. Whether that's enough processing power to substantiate Zotac's claim that the SN970 is capable of "smooth 4K gaming" with "graphics sliders on ultra" remains to be seen.

Each SN970 will come with SteamOS preinstalled, along with one of Valve's Steam Controllers. Maximum PC says a fully-equipped SN970 will run $999, which seems like a lot of money for something that's meant to take the place of a console. Zotac didn't provide a release date, but Valve news site SteamDB reports that a number of Steam Machines are slated for a November release.

41 comments — Last by ronch at 4:45 AM on 03/05/15

BitTorrent Sync exits beta, offers free private cloud storage
— 6:00 AM on March 4, 2015

Cloud-based storage makes it easy to share files between multiple users and devices, but what if you don't trust third-party servers with your data? One option is Sync, a private cloud system from the people behind the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. In development for over two years, Sync can share files across a wide range of PC, mobile, and NAS platforms. The latest iteration, version 2.0, finally delivers what BitTorrent Sync VP Erik Pounds describes as a "final product" devoid of beta branding.

There's a fancy promo video and everything:

Sync, er, syncs files with direct, device-to-device transfers wrapped in a comforting layer of encryption. Folders can be shared not only between devices, but also between users, making Sync an intriguing option for both individuals and groups. There's also a Pro tier that's licensed specifically for business use.

The free version of Sync 2.0 is limited 10 folders, but there are no caps on folder size or transfer speeds. For $39.99 per year, the Pro tier offers unlimited folders, better permission control, and additional support, among other perks.

If you want to puff your own cloud, Sync 2.0 is available for pretty much every operating system: Windows, Windows Phone, OS X, iOS, Android, Fire OS, Linux, and Free BSD. Compatible apps are either already available or coming soon from all the big NAS vendors, as well.

13 comments — Last by jstern at 7:32 PM on 03/04/15

Valve's $50 Steam Link looks like a Chromecast for games
— 12:49 AM on March 4, 2015

Valve's bid for the living room includes more than just standalone Steam Machines. At the Game Developers Conference yesterday, the firm announced Steam Link, a $49.99 device designed to stream games from local PCs.

According to the press release posted by Steam Database, the device supports 1080p streaming at up to 60 frames per second. Valve promises low latency, though the official product page (which has since disappeared) notes that Steam Link is designed for folks with a "fast home network." A wired network connection—or a very fast wireless one—will likely be required to get the best experience.


The final hardware will look something like this. Source: Valve

The press release and product page are surprisingly bereft of details on the actual hardware. However, the product renders show a slim, compact device that appears to be fanless. I count one HDMI output, one Ethernet jack, and three USB ports, one of which isn't pictured in the image above.

The number of USB ports suggests Steam Link is compatible with third-party controllers. Steam Link will also be sold with Valve's own controller for an additional $49.99, but it won't be available for a while. Valve says Steam Link is due in November, just in time for the holidays.

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has been pushing in-home streaming since 2013. The functionality has been part of the Steam client for almost that long, and it works reasonably well over my home gigabit network. Streaming games isn't as good as playing them natively, of course, but Steam Link may still be able to deliver a compelling experience given its low asking price. $50-100 is a lot less than the cost of even a low-end gaming PC.

42 comments — Last by travbrad at 8:29 PM on 03/04/15

Nvidia introduces Shield set-top box with Android TV
— 10:14 PM on March 3, 2015

Tonight at GDC, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang introduced the latest in the company's lineup of Shield devices: a set-top box running Android TV.

The set-top box is officially called just Shield. This newest Shield is based on Nvidia's Tegra X1 SoC, which has an eight ARM CPU cores in a big.LITTLE configuration plus Maxwell-based integrated graphics with 256 stream processors. Thanks to its H.265 and HEVC decode capability, plus an HDMI 2.0 connection, the Tegra X1 allows the Shield to handle 4K video output at 60Hz, which should be nice as 4K TVs become more prevalent.

Huang says Nvidia is committed to providing a great gaming experience on the Shield. To that end, the company will be curating games within its own storefront on Google TV. The hardware sounds up to the task, too. Huang says the Shield's Tegra X1 should provide about twice the performance of the Xbox 360 while consuming one-fifth of the power.

Those claims aren't just hot air, either. Nvidia demonstrated Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, The Talos Principle, Doom 3: BFG Edition, and Crysis all running fluidly on the Shield. That's impressive performance for a 10W chip. All told, Huang claims that there will be over 50 titles in Nvidia's Shield store at launch.

The Shield itself is an ultra-thin, anodized aluminum slab with some fancy green lighting highlighting its fractured-looking outer fascia. Gaming input is handled by the same Shield controller we know and love from other Shield devices. Aftermarket add-ons include a stand to hold the Shield vertically and a remote for issuing voice commands to Google TV's Google Now features. In its base configuration, the Shield will cost $199, with general availability scheduled for May 2015.

50 comments — Last by The Dark One at 6:59 AM on 03/05/15

Tuesday Night Shortbread
— 8:01 PM on March 3, 2015

Eight is Enough

  1. Kroll Ontrack survey reveals solid state disk (SSD)
    technology highly adopted, but not infallible
  2. Microsoft: A first look at the Windows 10 universal app platform
  3. Softpedia: PC gaming expected to grow to 35 billion dollars by 2018
  4. PC Gamer: Valve announces $50 Steam Link
    streaming box and StreamVR for November release
  5. Polygon: Valve announces Source 2 engine, free for developers
  6. WCCFtech: Stardock's DirectX 12 game looks so
    good that the partners wouldn't believe it was real
  7. VideoCardz: Khronos releases OpenCL 2.1 provisional specification for public review
  8. WCCFtech: Find out if Qualcomm's still got it; Exynos
    7420 vs. Snapdragon 810 benchmarks analyzed

Read more...

18 comments — Last by oldog at 6:27 PM on 03/04/15

With LiquidVR, AMD aims to make virtual reality more fluid
— 7:39 PM on March 3, 2015

Virtual reality is a hot topic at this year's Game Developers Conference, and AMD has its head in the game, too. Today at the show, the chipmaker announced LiquidVR, a set of tools designed to bring about the holy grail of virtual reality: a "motion-to-photon" latency low enough to make the experience subjectively seamless—an effect VR aficionados call "presence."

AMD says this quest involves optimizations across "the entire processing pipeline," from the GPU to the display hardware on VR headsets. Here are the main features of the LiquidVR 1.0 SDK, in the company's own words:

  • Async Shaders for smooth head-tracking enabling Hardware-Accelerated Time Warp, a technology that uses updated information on a user’s head position after a frame has been rendered and then warps the image to reflect the new viewpoint just before sending it to a VR headset, effectively minimizing latency between when a user turns their head and what appears on screen.
  • Affinity Multi-GPU for scalable rendering, a technology that allows multiple GPUs to work together to improve frame rates in VR applications by allowing them to assign work to run on specific GPUs. Each GPU renders the viewpoint from one eye, and then composites the outputs into a single stereo 3D image. With this technology, multi-GPU configurations become ideal for high performance VR rendering, delivering high frame rates for a smoother experience.
  • Latest data latch for smooth head-tracking, a programming mechanism that helps get head tracking data from the head-mounted display to the GPU as quickly as possible by binding data as close to real-time as possible, practically eliminating any API overhead and removing latency.
  • Direct-to-display for intuitively attaching VR headsets, to deliver a seamless plug-and-play virtual reality experience from an AMD Radeon™ graphics card to a connected VR headset, while enabling features such as booting directly to the display or using extended display features within Windows.

The official LiquidVR page mentions cutting motion-to-photon latency to "less than 10 millisconds." That means delivering a solid 100 FPS to the user's eyes—and it's about in line with the target I heard Oculus quote at AMD's APU13 conference a couple years back. I seem to recall Oculus mentioning tricks like time warping, as well, which it said would enable low latencies without requiring the GPU to sustain triple-digit frame rates.

Developers (and users, too) can sign up to learn more about LiquidVR here. AMD has also posted a LiquidVR video on YouTube, but there's not much in there beside a back-to-the-basics explanation of how VR works.

16 comments — Last by Val Paladin at 11:03 PM on 03/04/15

Gartner: Apple overtook Samsung as top smartphone vendor last quarter
— 3:33 PM on March 3, 2015

It's that time again: in the endless horse race of quarterly smartphone sales, we now know who's a nose ahead and who fell off the pace—at least, according to one firm's numbers. According to a new report by market research firm Gartner, Apple narrowly took the per-vendor unit share crown from Samsung in the fourth quarter of 2014. Have a look:

Company Thousands
of units sold
(Q4 2014)
% market share
(Q4 2014)
Thousands
of units sold
(Q4 2013)
% market share
(Q4 2013)
Apple 74,832 20.4 50,224 17.8
Samsung 73,032 19.9 83,317 29.5
Lenovo 24,300 6.6 16,465 5.8
Huawei 21,038 5.7 16,057 5.7
Xiaomi 18,582 5.1 5,598 2.0
Others 155,701.6 42.4 111,204.3 39.3
Total 367,484.5 100.0 282,866.2 100.0
Source: Gartner.

Apple has plenty to be happy about of late. Thanks to the most recent round of iPhones, the company posted record results last quarter, with $74.6 billion in revenue and $18 billion in profit. What's more, Apple's rise to parity with Samsung comes even as the average selling price of iPhones continues to increase, according to research firm IDC's similar report from January.

Samsung isn't sitting still, though. As we reported yesterday, the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge feature the same metal-and-glass construction as Apple's high-end devices, plus higher-resolution screens and more photon-hungry camera optics. Nonetheless, Apple's iOS is still a unique selling point, and Samsung is still using a version of its much-maligned TouchWiz Android skin on the latest Galaxies.

No matter which enormous multinational corporation you favor, I'm curious to see whether Apple can sustain its growth—and whether the Galaxy S6 will be enough for Samsung to move back into first place. I suppose we'll find out next quarter.

51 comments — Last by ronch at 5:15 AM on 03/05/15

Unity 5 wants to be the game engine for everyone, everywhere
— 1:40 PM on March 3, 2015

Today at GDC 2015, Unity released the latest version of its eponymous game engine: Unity 5. The company emphasized the egalitarian philosophy and broad cross-platform compatibility of its engine, and it talked up the power and performance that the new version of Unity brings to developers of all sizes, from indie to AAA.

Key features in Unity 5 include a powerful built-in DAW-class audio editing platform; 64-bit support, which allows for bigger and more complicated game worlds; real-time global illumination based on the Enlighten lighting engine; and physically based shading support, which makes it easier to create convincing-looking interactions between light and simulated materials like wood and stone.

I'm not a game developer, but the internal demonstrations and games from guest developers Unity featured did look (and sound) impressive.

Republique Remastered, one of the featured games built on Unity 5.

Keep in mind this isn't just a PC-targeted engine, either: developers using Unity 5 can target up to 21 platforms, including consoles and mobile devices. The Unity engine's "write once, run anywhere" capability was a major selling point during the keynote, and Unity emphasized the labor savings that this WORM capability provides.

Unity is looking to the future of gaming, as well. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey came on stage to announce that built-in Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR support is in the alpha stages for Unity, and a beta version of this platform support will be made available to Unity developers later this month.

Unity also showed one of its PC-targeted demos from last year's GDC playing in a web browser using WebGL. The company teased the prospect of being able to share a full-fat 3D game across the web with the click of a link.


Unity's keynote highlight reel, as shown at the GDC presentation.

With all of this power on hand, one could be forgiven for thinking that building on Unity is an expensive proposition. However, the company is making the full-featured engine available for free to small developers with less than $100,000 of revenue or investment backing. The professional version of Unity isn't free, but it is affordable; developers can pay either $75 per month or a $1,500 one-time fee. The professional version includes features for commercial studios, such as Unity Cloud Build, which makes it easier to coordinate development efforts for distributed teams, and Unity Analytics, which provides "actionable insights into your players' behavior." Whether you choose to develop with the personal or professional edition of Unity, both are royalty-free.

Putting a full-featured, cross-platform development engine in the hands of anyone who wants it is exciting. Given that Unreal Engine 4 is now available free of charge to anybody who wants it, developers seem to be faced with an embarrassment of riches when choosing their development platform these days. If you're interested, you can download Unity 5 today.

28 comments — Last by delsydsoftware at 1:59 PM on 03/04/15

ARM and Geomerics announce Enlighten 3 engine
— 11:00 AM on March 3, 2015

GDC — In 2013, ARM invested in a company called Geomerics, which provides a middleware lighting engine for real-time graphics and games. This week, at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, ARM and Geomerics announced a new version of that lighting engine, Enlighten 3.

Enlighten is distinguished from other lighting algorithms by its ability to achieve what is more or less the holy grail of real-time graphics: global illumination with multiple bounces, essentially a simulation of how actual light acts in an environment. Of course, given the limits of current hardware, Enlighten has to take some shortcuts in order to achieve a reasonable fascimile of multi-bounce global illumination. Still, ARM says Enlighten can scale across multiple platforms and classes of hardware, from Windows-based desktop PCs to game consoles to Android mobile devices.

ARM's involvement in this space might seem like an odd fit, but lighting is one of the key fundamentals in graphics. ARM says Geomerics "influences and informs" its processor roadmaps, no doubt including the plans for its Mali GPUs, which are widely used in mobile devices these days. Nvidia, another contender in the GPU space, has its own global illumination middleware solution known as VXGI.

Enlighten is already the primary lighting routine for the popular Unity game engine, and it's available as a licensable option for Unreal Engine 4, as well. Version 3 of Enlighten adds a number of new features, including improved indirect lighting with certain types of geometry, support for richer simulated materials, and better transparency.

ARM and Geomerics have released a couple of demos showing Enlighten's new features in action. Here's real-time global illumination at work:

And this "Subway" demo shows a number other new features.

In addition to the integration with major game engines, Geomerics is also releasing a new lighting editor known as Forge that allows stand-alone editing and fast visualization of light environments.

Enlighten with Forge includes a software development kit, and Geomerics says its software is "already integrated into many leading in-house engines."

8 comments — Last by Milo Burke at 9:09 AM on 03/04/15

Vulkan is the low-overhead future of OpenGL
— 10:38 AM on March 3, 2015

Another piece in the next-gen graphics API puzzle has fallen into place. The Khronos Group has formally announced Vulkan, the API formerly known as glNext. The open standards body revealed its intention to rebuild OpenGL as a low-overhead API in August, and Vulkan is the result. I'll let the press release fill in the details:

Vulkan is a unified specification that minimizes driver overhead and enables multi-threaded GPU command preparation for optimal graphics and compute performance on diverse mobile, desktop, console and embedded platforms. Vulkan also provides the direct GPU control demanded by sophisticated game engines, middleware and applications with the cross vendor performance and functional portability resulting from simpler, more predictable drivers. The layered design of Vulkan enables multiple IHVs to plug into a common, extensible architecture for code validation, debugging and profiling during development without impacting production performance; this layering flexibility is expected to catalyze strong innovation in cross-vendor GPU tools.

In another significant announcement today, Vulkan and OpenCL 2.1 are now sharing core intermediate language technologies resulting in SPIR-V; a revolution in the Khronos Standard Portable Intermediate Representation initially used by OpenCL™, now fully defined by Khronos with native support for shader and kernel features. SPIR-V splits the compiler chain, enabling high-level language front-ends to emit programs in a standardized intermediate form to be ingested by Vulkan or OpenCL drivers. Eliminating the need for a built-in high-level language source compiler significantly reduces GPU driver complexity and will enable a diversity of language front-ends. Additionally, a standardized IR provides a measure of shader IP protection, accelerated shader load times and enables developers to use a common language front-end, improving shader reliability and portability across multiple implementations.

More information on the API is available in this overview presentation (PDF). The Game Developers Conference is also hosting two sessions on Vulkan this Thursday. One will provide a technical preview of the API, while the other promises demos and interaction with the folks behind the standard. Scott is at GDC this week, and I expect he'll be attending at least one of those sessions.

Vulkan remains a work in progress, but the initial specification and first implementations are due later this year. The Khronos Group says it has made "rapid progress" since last summer, with "significant proposals and IP contributions received from members." Some of those contributions came from AMD, whose low-overhead Mantle API shares a similar focus. AMD Gaming Scientist Richard Huddy told us in August that the firm had done "a great deal of work" with the Khronos Group on the next-gen OpenGL spec. It's unclear how much of Vulkan is derived from a mind meld with Mantle, though.

AMD isn't the only hardware company with a hand in Vulkan development, of course. Intel, Nvidia, ARM, Qualcomm, and Imagination Technologies are all part of the group behind the standard. Interestingly, the Khronos Group says it also experienced an "unprecedented level of participation from game engine ISVs." Valve is even presenting one of the GDC sessions on Vulkan.

57 comments — Last by BobbinThreadbare at 12:04 PM on 03/04/15

Video shows Microsoft's Project Spartan browser, Cortana in action
— 10:07 AM on March 3, 2015

Microsoft confirmed the existence of Project Spartan, its Internet Explorer replacement, back in January. At the time, the company touted the integration of its Cortana digital assistant with the new browser. Now, thanks to a leaked release in the hands of the folks at WinBeta, we know a little more about how Spartan will work with Cortana. Have a look:

It appears that Cortana will automatically notify the user whenever she can provide contextually useful information (in this case, the details for a restaurant), at which point one can click the Cortana symbol in the address bar to pull up a sidebar with the relevant info. WinBeta says one can also invoke Cortana when needed for small tasks like looking up info on a neighborhood or defining a word. Handy.

While WinBeta warns that this build of Spartan isn't yet available to the public and is likely subject to change, I'm impressed by the browser's clean interface and fluid animations. Cortana also looks quite useful. Maybe Spartan will be good enough to tempt me away from Chrome and Firefox for a while when it's released with Windows 10 later this year.

34 comments — Last by MadManOriginal at 8:51 AM on 03/04/15