Creative patents Carmack’s reverse

This story made the Shortbread yesterday, but we’d be remiss not to mention it more prominently. You may have been wondering what was behind the recently announced “agreement” between id Software and Creative that will bring EAX tech to DOOM 3. Turns out Creative had a software patent on the shadowing technique known, in one of the great ironies in the annals of patents and prior art, as “Carmack’s reverse.” Beyond3D managed to get a quick comment out of Mr. Carmack about patents in general and about what happened in this case:

The patent situation well and truly sucks.

We were prepared to use a two-pass algorithm that gave equivalent results at a speed hit, but we negotiated the deal with Creative so that we were able to use the zfail method without having to actually pay any cash. It was tempting to take a stand and say that our products were never going to use any advanced Creative/3dlabs products because of their position on patenting gaming software algorithms, but that would only have hurt the users.

Apparently, NVIDIA’s Sim Dietrich described this technique to attendees of a Creative developer’s forum, according to a forum post from September 2003 that’s linked from the HardOCP:

Don’t worry about it fellas. I described this technique publicly a few months before they filed the patent – hence Prior Art. Ironically, it was at a Creative Labs developer’s forum. During my stencil buffer talk, I described doing shadow volumes the ‘reverse’ way. At the time, I didn’t realize the major reason why the z fail method is better than the z pass method, although I did realize they were logically equivalent, which is why it’s now known as ‘Carmack’s Reverse’ and not ‘Dietrich’s Reverse’!

So John gets naming rights from the gentlemanly Dietrich for first figuring out how and why this technique is particularly helpful, but Creative gets the patent from Uncle Sam for filing the appropriate paperwork. Despite the clear examples of prior art, id didn’t care to tangle with Creative in court over it.

For Creative’s take on the matter, see this story at the Inq.

Comments closed
    • kyleluce
    • 12 years ago

    I don’t understand. As far as patent law is concerned, I had thought a algorithm and/or data structure was not applicable. For example, what if someone patented a priority queue, quick sort etc, or some other well known commonly used algorithm/structure?

    GNU software and nearly every piece of common software I can think of would have to pay up.

    BTW, I am implementing a revision of Carmak’s reverse right now (modified z-fail given by Kilgard’s paper 2002 SIGGRAPH ) for a school project. Would this make my project illegal! LOL..


    • Delphis
    • 16 years ago

    ‘Creative’ ??? .. that’s pretty fucking ironic….

    • SonicSilicon
    • 16 years ago

    I’ve been a bit wary of CL for a while, especially after finding out there’s no way to upgrade from an original series Live! card short of buying a new one, despite the hardware being nearly identical and the new drivers being “locked” to the new cards. One less person who listens to empty promises of vastly upgradable capability, which is what sold me on their first uses of the EMU10k1.

    Anyways, I’m in a bind. I use Creative’s SoundFont technology a lot, as well as the real-time audio manipulation. The latter, I figure, I can get on other sound cards, but does anyone know of other sound cards that use SoundFont or a similar technology? I’d go with DLS, but that’s been dead since day one and finding pre-made sample libraries is next to impossibe, it seems, nevermind an editor.

    • --k
    • 16 years ago

    CL hw is pretty decent. It’s their overstating marketing and bloated drivers that manage to screw up their products. Once CL gets rid of their 48khz resampling AC97 codec, it will be able to go toe-to-toe with VIA in sound quality.

    You have to realize that the soundcard market is highly volatile to the whims of OEMs. Without volume deals, most of these soundchip firms bleed money. Even the lauded Envy24 line wasn’t a cash crop until VIA bought ICEnsemble. Aureal which was an OTC stock would have gone under anyway, CL being the helpful company they are, just gave it a nudge. 😉

    • FireGryphon
    • 16 years ago

    This is like what SCO was doing to Linux… damn the patent office, someone with a valid comp sci degree needs to get hired there.

    I’m ashamed to be using an Audigy 2 card. Quick, what can I /[

      • indeego
      • 16 years ago

      Not quite. Creative has actual IP and a product. SCO doesn’t have a single real product and is basing their entire future on this litigationg{<.<}g

      • CasbahBoy
      • 16 years ago

      M-Audio Revolution
      Philips Ultimate Edge
      Terratec Aureon Space
      Turtle Beach Catalina
      Hercules Gamesurround Fortissimo III
      Audiotrak Prodigy

      Each of those are 8-channel sound cards (7 with subwoofer, or 7.1 channel).

    • primitive.notion
    • 16 years ago

    Darn, was getting ready to buy an Audigy2 mostly for the firewire and a nice little sound upgrade. But the way Creative’s behaving, it looks like I’m just going to get a basic firewire card and keep running my old SBLive.

    If I do eventually get an audigy, you can be sure it’ll be used.

    • Krogoth
    • 16 years ago

    WTF!!!!!!!!! What the hell is wrong with Creative? Can those bastards take no for an answer? EAX was a POS from day one when compaired to A3D. Creative doesn’t like the idea that gamers wouldn’t have buy their cards for Doom 3 for exclusive audio features. So Creative tried to legally gang-rape ID, forcing them to feature EAX. ID at least had some balls and remove the so-called patented “shadowing techiques” at the cost of performance decease.

    Creative is already the #1 gaming audio card since, they effectively killed their compantion a while ago. Every gamer and their grandma already has a Creative sound card. The lack of frequent audio upgrades is Creative’s own fault for being a lazy POS both in hardware and driver deparment. 96/24 audio and EAX 3.0 (still a POS versus A3D) by 2003? That’s hardly progess.

    Examples like this is why the current patent office (which is FUBAR) and it’s existing patents should be abolished. Anyone with the dough and friends in high places can patent an ambigous idea to sue violaters later on.

      • zgirl
      • 16 years ago

      I’m a gamer and I don’t use a Creative card.

      Since I have to game with headphones on late at night I use an M-audio. It offers some environmental audio support in the drivers. Works well enough for me.

      That and for TV, Movies, and Audio it sounds WAY better then Creatives offerings. Used to get a lot of static from my Audigy.

        • Krogoth
        • 16 years ago

        The M-Audio while, an excellent alternative; consumes far more system resources then the said Audigy. Every hardcore gamer wants the most FPS by removing as many bottlenecks as possible including CPU overhead for audio.

          • zgirl
          • 16 years ago

          Really, where is the proof? I simply do not see any difference in my process and CPU utilization with the M-audio over the Audigy.

    • Ryu Connor
    • 16 years ago


      • CasbahBoy
      • 16 years ago

      I hope I’m correct when you mean “Not Invented Here”, they don’t want to use a superior technology and choose to sit on it indefinitely because they did not make it, and doing so would be an admission of their incompetence in the sound market.

      I am *[

    • Crackhead Johny
    • 16 years ago

    I will never buy another Creative product again. I said this when they killed Aureal with fraudulent law suits.
    They are evil.
    I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they keeps boxes of kittens in their break rooms so that their execs and lawyers can relax by throwing them at the wall.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 16 years ago

    Wow, now I truly hate Creative and I have never had beef with them before. Only once when they killed Aureal, now this! Now let’s hope that nVidia keeps making better versions of SoundStorm so I will never have to use a Creative card again.

    • TO11MTM
    • 16 years ago

    Take this quote out of context, as I have, and laugh it up:

    “DoomIII from the outset will not support our EAX gaming technologies and there are a number of reasons for this, the primary of which is that id decided to implement the best audio implementation they could,”

    (The rest of the quote being: “that would work equally well across the widest percentage of PC systems possible.”)

    5 Bucks says the rest of the quote was hastily added to cover their own bums.

    • arb_npx
    • 16 years ago

    The worst part is that it’s not even a sound patent, it’s a graphics patent. And yet the Creative PR guy touts the “no fewer than 11 PhD’s”, all the time promoting their sound. And then there’s this jab: i[<"Creative created a graphics technique in 1999 and despite the pace of graphics development it is still applicable 5 years later. The same cannot be said for game engines - no matter how good they are when they first launch."<]i First, the sound world has been surprisingly stagnant for the last five years, mostly thanks to little competition and the Aureal buyout. Where were we five years ago in the graphics world? Q3 and UT were months from release, and everything was still restricted to 256x256 textures, and 32-bit color was relatively new. Yet the Q3 engine has been used in many different projects, the latest one I can be certain of being Call of Duty (and there's an expansion for it in the works). DirectX was back at version 6 or 7 (I forget which), and now it's at 9.0c, with things like bump mapping becoming commonplace. How far has sound advanced since '99? Not very far. 5.1 sound output hardware is popular now, but not used to its full potential. EAX has been bumped up a couple of major versions, but a lot of us still run DirectSound Stereo because EAX is a CPU hog. Furthermore, someone has written a better sound driver set for Creative's EMU10K1 and EMU10K2 based cards, with lots of features that aren't in the standard driver set, which are still problematic FWIH. Even if their cards have above-100dB SNR (which I doubt highly), they're avoided in the enthusiast market in favor of M-Audio and Terratec. NVidia's SoundStorm has attracted a rather large gathering, even though it's restricted to onboard currently. Where does Creative stand in the graphics world today? They put NVidia chips on boards and sell them under the Creative name. They put Intergraph chips on boards and sell them under the 3DLabs name. That's it, that's all. This one patent was just easy money. This situation was a lose-lose-lose for them. If they let the patent infringement slide, the patent would be invalidated due to non-enforcement, and they would get no income. If they enforced it with a hardline stance, Id and Activision would have used their leverage to make Creative notorious, and Creative would've lost a huge amount of market share on the enthusiast market, and most likely other markets. So they cooked up a deal with Id, made some money off of it, and only those enthusiasts in the know are riled over it. The lesser of three evils.

      • yokem55
      • 16 years ago


        • arb_npx
        • 16 years ago

        well, then it would be safe to say that money was the motivation, right?

      • Willard
      • 16 years ago

      Good analysis. Thanks.

      • DaveBaumann
      • 16 years ago

      “They put Intergraph chips on boards and sell them under the 3DLabs name. That’s it, that’s all.”

      A.) Integraph had long since /[

        • Corrado
        • 16 years ago

        Took over…. or BOUGHT? They did the same thing with Ensoniq… BOUGHT them and slapped their name on everything, rehashing the same chip on no less than FOUR identicle sound cars with different drivers only. Ensoniq AudioPCI, PCI32, PCI64, PCI 128… all were Ensoniq 1370/1371s. The did the same thing with EMU. You guys think they MADE the emu10k chips? The bought another company and put them on their cards, simple as that. Why have they not taken the A3D stuff they aquired and rolled it into a hardware chip and taken credit for that yet? Who knows. Creative is a money hungry corporation that could give a crap about the enthusiest except that they get our money and they don’t even seem to care about that. *sigh*

    • Freon
    • 16 years ago

    Wow that’s awesome. Good job Creative. Can they just die, please?

      • trongod05
      • 16 years ago

      Yea, really, Creative products may be well know and sort of a standard, but I really don’t want their claws in anything else at this point. Unless you want bad driver support and crap customer service intermingling with you product, company, or even your good name, I would steer clear. They should take them to court! id must destroy Creative in a Doom 3 manner!

        • Spotpuff
        • 16 years ago


        I went for a SB Live to a Hercules Fortissimo II and never looked back.

        I’m using on-board soundstorm now, but both the fort II and soundstorm are MILES ahead of creative, in terms of sound NOT CRACKLING like crazy, and having drivers that are < 30MB.

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