Monday, March 19, 2007

Extreme Tech's Turn in on the Stove Top

I normally don't read Extreme Tech. While their editors are fairly competent, they tend to suffer from the same problem AnandTech suffers from. They try to hard to please the guys buying ad space. Recently Extreme Tech put Phil Rogers from AMD/ATi into the "hot seat."

Well, the Seat wasn't all that hot, and as far as I'm concerned Extreme Tech and Phil Rogers both completely blew parts of the interview. I posted in the ZD forums calling foul on the interview, but I have a slight feeling that ZD's webmasters are not going to like being called irresponsible. So, here is the reply plus some more explanation.

Rogers and extreme tech blew it.

ExtremeTech: Part of what makes Vista interesting for gamers is of course DirectX 10.

Rogers: To begin with, DX10 is very far reaching and a radical departure from DX9.

Um. No. It isn't. Not by any stretch of anybodies imagination. From the game developers themselves, like Tim Sweeny or Gabe Newell, much of the talk about future shaders and DirectX 10 is that it doesn't actually do anything for games. All DirectX 10 does is run a few shader functions... FASTER... than DX9C. There isn't any specific shader function or ability in DX10 that is not in DX9c. From the code gurus on Rage3D or Nzone forums, to the code writers behind OpenGL 2.1, the code view is unanimous. The guys actually writing the code when asked what can they do in DX9c and not in DX10 always results in "nothing, but we can get a few more frames in DX10." Now, ask them about the differences between DX10 and OpenGL 2.1 and you'll get a long list of differences and what each does best.

ExtremeTech blew in presuming that Vista is interesting for gamers. Um. No. It isn't. Not by a long stretch of imagination. DX10 is downright boring. Now, if you want to talk about OpenGL after 2.1? Sure, you got my attention. I'm more interested in code and games that I can run on Wii, Playstation3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Playstation Portable, Gamecube, Linux x86-64, Linux x86, Linux PPC, Windows x86-64, Windows x86, BSD x86 (also includes Mac for ExtremeTech), BSD PPC (again, this includes Mac), Solaris x86, Solaris SPARC, and Solaris x86-64.

As a gamer, I am not by any means interested in a technology that only works for Vista, and would require creating another shader path in order to be useful on equipment I already own. ExtremeTech blew it in failing to hammer Rogers over ATi's OpenGL support outside of the Nintendo Gamecube and Nintendo Wii systems. As is, I'm not really interested in DirectX 9.c either, considering that would lock developers into either WinNT5 systems or Xbox 360.

Rogers Blew it by saying that DX10 is/was far reaching and a departure from DX9c. It isn't, everybody knows it isn't, and ExtremeTech should have immediately jumped on that and reminded Rogers that all the guys actually coding the games and graphical interfaces agree that it isn't.

Now, okay, fine. I'll accept that Ziff Davis has a responsibility to it's clients, but this interview was just disgusting.

Oh, and ExtremeTech, you may want to take a closer look at Vista's flopping. You should have been asking Rogers what AMD/ATi is planning to do in conjunction with Dell and HP moving to offer pre-loaded Linux systems. You should have been talking about how AMD/ATi is going to take advantage of Beryl in order to help move more units. You should have been talking about what AMD/ATi is doing with Khronos in order to help develop the OpenGL after OpenGL 2.1. None of these topics were addressed at all. Again, this was extremely irresponsible on the part of the Ziff Davis employees conducting the interview.

Part of the point in the response is that Game Developers who choose to use Microsoft's DirectX Technology when building their games shoehorn themselves onto a limited number of platforms. A game built on the Xbox using the official Microsoft Tools would use a version of DirectX 8.1. In order to put the same game on the Playstation2, or Gamecube, a developer would need to re-write the code behind the graphics engine from DX 8.1 to the PS2's engine, and to the GameCube engine.

However, if the same game were programmed using OpenGL as the backend display, then the game could be compiled and run without major modification on both the Xbox and Gamecube which used traditional CPU/GPU setups. Porting OpenGL code to the Playstation2 would also be an easy task given that it is a Linux Operating System Computer.

While there would have to optimizations to the code to get the most performance out of the engine, using a single code base would allow the developer to spend more time optimizing the code for the respective system, and less time having to port or change the code for the system.

Now, I'm not saying that DirectX does not have its place in gaming today.

What I am saying is that DirectX only has a place for developers who only want to release their games on a limited number of Microsoft Platforms.

Now, call me crazy, call me insane, but I thought the whole point of selling a product is that you want to sell it to as many people as possible. The larger your potential market of buyers is, the more units you probably will sell.

Most accountants with Video game and software developers don't see that though. For example, Psychonauts. The game saw a release on the Playstation2, Xbox, and PC. The game which received critical praise, did not sell in retail channels. However, the Platforming adventure games on the Gamecube sold very well. I for on think the game probably would have sold much better on the Gamecube as more Gamecube owners were interested in the type of game that PyschoNauts is/was.

The same is also proven with the Wii and DS. Neither system caters to the hardcore market that buys a new graphics card every 3months to get 5 more frames in Counter Strike. However, both Systems cater to the HardCore gamer who wants an epic game experience, and the casual gamer who couldn't care less if they save Hyrule from Gannondork.

Nintendo, finally, got the picture that everybody else had been missing. The larger your potential audience is, the larger sales you'll probably get.

Okay, so maybe Nintendo isn't getting 35% of the market that wants an Xbox 360. That doesn't matter to Nintendo. They now have 100% of the market that wants something casual and easy.

That is the fundamental problem with DirectX and Developers using DirectX. All they see is that limited subsection of the market that is already using the product, and their accountants continue to try to carve out slices of that market.

What would happen though if Valve Software released Half-Life 2 on Steam for Linux... tomorrow? Okay, fine. Valve may not have 50% of the First Person Story Shooter market on Microsoft products...

but they would suddenly have 100% of the market in Linux.

I'll dig more into Valve's need to distance themselves from Vista and Microsoft in another post, but I think the original point is made rather clearly now.

I personally think ATi did themselves a disfavor by ignoring Linux and OpenGL for so long. Many uses today still point to Nvidia as a Linux solution provider despite ATi's superior record over the past 12-15 months.

It will take a lot to remove the distrust and ill-will towards AMD/ATi. And Extreme Tech did nothing to help with that particular point.
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