Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Do you know where babies come from? It's kinda disturbing, isn't it? I blame it on the global warming. Stay with me here and I'll lead you through this. 1) Storks deliver babies (fact), 2) I, not being very careful about how I word things cause global warming (also a fact), 3) global warming kills storks (my theory) 4) evolution takes over and replaces storks with the undignified system that we have right now (conclusion).

Speaking about not being very careful about how I word things, how about me announcing those DirectX state trackers coming to GNU/Linux in my last blog, eh? By the way, now that's a good transition. The announcement was very exciting, albeit a little confusing, in particular to myself. Likely because it's really not what I meant. Mea culpa!

What I was talking about is adding features to the Gallium interfaces that will allow us to support those API's, not about actually releasing any of those API's as state trackers for Gallium. Gallium abstracts communication with the hardware and the support for OpenGL 3.2 + few extensions and Direct3D 10.x requires essentially the same new interfaces in Gallium. So support for Direct3D 10.x means that we can support OpenGL 3.2 + those extra extensions. I don't think that it's a big secret that while we do have and are shipping Direct3D 9 state tracker and are working on a Direct3D 10 state tracker, to my knowledge, we simply don't have any plans to release that code. It's Windows specific anyway, so it wouldn't help the Free Software community in any shape or form.

I know there's that misguided belief that a Direct3D state tracker would all of a sudden mean that all Windows games work on GNU/Linux. That's just not true, there's a lot more to an API than "draw those vertices and shade it like that", windowing system integration, file io, networking, input devices, etc. If software is DirectX specific then it's pretty clear that the authors didn't use X11 and Posix apis to implement all that other functionality. Those windows.h/windowsx.h includes are pretty prominent in all of those titles. So one would have to wrap entire Windows API to be able to play DirectX games. That's what Wine is about and they're better off using OpenGL like they are now.

The issue with gaming on GNU/Linux isn't the lack of any particular API, it's the small gaming market. If an IHV would release a device that 500 million people would buy and the only programming language supported would be COBOL and the only 3D API would be PHIGS then we would see lots of games in COBOL using PHIGS. Sure, the developers wouldn't like it, but the brand new Ferraris that the company could buy, after release of their first title, for everyone, including all the janitors, would make up for that.

The bottom line is that the majority of games could easily be ported to GNU/Linux since the engines usually are cross-platform anyway, at the very least to support different consoles. DirectX, libgcm, OpenGL ES... either they're all already supported or could be easily made to support them. It's simply that it's not cost-effective to do so. A good example is Palm Pre which is running GNU/Linux and even before the official release of their 3D SDK (PDK) which uses SDL they already got EA Mobile to port Need for Speed, The Sims and others to their device.
On the other hand if a title supports only DirectX or only libgcm it's usually because it's exclusive to the given platform and presence of the same API on other platforms will not make the vendor suddenly release the title for the new system.

So yea, Direct3D on GNU/Linux simply means nothing. We won't get more games, won't make it easier to port the already cross platform engines, won't allow porting of the exclusive titles and will not fill any holes in our gaming SDKs. Besides ethically speaking we should support OpenGL, not a closed API from a closed platform.

Monday, February 08, 2010

New features

Lately we've been working a lot on Gallium but we haven't been publicly talking about it enough. I, personally, spent a considerable amount of time last week coming up with my strategy for the inevitable monster invasion. In general I always thought that if, sorry, "when" the monsters attack I'd be one of the very first ones to go on account of my "there's a weird noise coming from that pitch black spot over there, I better check it out" tendency. Obviously that's not ideal, especially if the need to repopulate the world arises; I just really feel like I should be present for that. In conclusion I'll quickly go over some things we've been doing with Gallium. Admittedly that wasn't one of my best transitions.

There are three new major APIs that we want to support in Gallium. OpenCL 1.0, DirectX 10.x and DirectX 11. DirectX 10.x was somewhat prioritized of late because it's a good stepping stone for a lot of the features that we wanted.

Two of my favorites were the geometry shaders and new blending functionality. I want to start with the latter which Roland worked on because it has immediate impact on Free Software graphics.

One of the things that drives people bonkers is text rendering. In particular subpixel rendering, or if you're dealing with Xrender component alpha rendering
Historically both GL and D3D provided fixed-function blending that provided means of combining source colors with the content of a render buffer in a number of ways. Unfortunately the inputs to the blending units were constrained to a source color, destination color or constants that could be used in their place. That was unfortunate because the component alpha math required two distinct values: the source color and the blending factor for destination colors (assuming the typical Porter&Duff over rendering). D3D 10 dealt with it by adding functionality called dual-source blending (OpenGL will get an extension for it sometime soon). The idea being that the fragment shader may output two distinct colors which will be treated as two independent inputs to the blending units.
Thanks to this we can support subpixel rendering in a single pass with a plethora of compositing operators. Whether you're a green ooze trying to conquer Earth or a boring human you have to appreciate 2x faster text rendering.

Geometry shaders introduce a new shader type, run after the vertices have been transformed (after the vertex shader), but before color clamping, flat shading and clipping.

Along the support for geometry shaders we have added two major features to TGSI ("Tokenized Gallium Shader Instructions", our low level graphics language).
The first one was support for properties. Geometry shaders in Gallium introduced the notion of state aware compile. This is because compilation of a geometry shader is specific to, at the very least, the input and output primitive they respectively operate on and output. We deal with it by injecting PROPERTY instructions to the program as so:
(rest of geometry shader follows)
The properties are easily extendable and are the perfect framework to support things like work-group size in OpenCL.
The second feature is support for multidimensional inputs in shaders. The syntax looks as follows:
which declares two input arrays. Note that the size of the arrays is implicit, defined by the GS_INPUT_PRIMITIVE property.

It's nice to see this framework progressing so quickly.

Summing up, this is what yin yang is all about. Do you know what yin yang is? Of course you don't, you know nothing of taoism. Technically neither do I but a) it sounds cool, b) I've been busy coming up with a "monster invasion" contingency plan, so couldn't be bothered with some hippy concepts, c) the previous two points are excellent.