CGI & 3DS Max

Autodesk released a new SDK which allows you to customize the DCC FBX exporters and importers for 3ds max and Maya.

On the Autodesk website it says:

Autodesk FBX 2009.3 technology now includes published source code for the FBX and COLLADA readers and writers, enabling developers to extend and adapt the code for use in custom pipelines.

[…] and thus protect their investment in their FBX plug-ins.

And the docs specify:

  • Extend the FBX and/or Collada file format to support additional kinds of data.
  • Extend the functionality of the FBX plugins for 3ds Max/Maya to support the reading and writing of files that use your file format.
  • Use FBX SDK directly to read and write files that use your file format, without passing through 3ds Max or Maya.

You can download this SDK which is entitled as "FBX Extensions Software Development Kit". The size of the download is 298 MB. 

Today I was on a local IDGA event and this news was mentioned. Initially I thought that the FBX format itself has become open but this seems not to be the case, unfortunately

😐

Still, it's good that now one can extend the file format and those plugins. 8)

Autodesk seems to follow a strategy to go deeper into the "real-time, interactive 3D authoring tools" market.

The acquisition of Softimage was completed before yesterday (18th Nov.). In a public FAQ it says the following (emphasis added):

[..] It is hoped that this acquisition will promote Autodesk’s growth in the fastgrowing games market, and accelerate its strategy to deliver real-time, interactive 3D authoring tools for games, film and television. As well, it is hoped that the acquisition will broaden the appeal of Autodesk products into the hobbyist/game ‘modder’ segment. […]

[…] it is hoped that the acquisition will accelerate Autodesk’s effort to build the next-generation of real-time, interactive 3D authoring tools.[…]

 One of the key competitors is Dassault Systemes. But also the overall evolution is that interactive 3D becomes part of other products – as seen in Photoshop or Microsofts XAML/WPF. Autodesk clearly mention this in that FAQ too:

[…] The 3D competitive landscape is fast evolving. Relatively new competitors, from Google to Adobe, are entering the 3D market, and others such as Dassault Systèmes are reinforcing their position. The production pipeline is rapidly expanding beyond simple digital content creation (DCC) tools. […]

A bit strange is this statement:

The Softimage product line will benefit from Autodesk’s scale and research and development (R&D) investment capabilities, providing new opportunities for innovation and interoperability

It is said that XSI 7 with it's new ICE technology, was a nice release. Do they really need the R&D teams of 3ds max and Maya? They probably wanted to say that they can now do a big remix with the hope of heavy synergies.

So we have some big key players going into interactive 3D, but what about the smaller ones? Gamebryo expands to the casual game market … and tiny Unity3D expands to the MMO market. CryEngine2 goes into architecture and public viewing. Interesting times, everybody expands to other market-segments.

What a surprise! It's a bit strange because is getting more and more like a monopoly …

It looks like there are coming a lot of negative comments from the 3D community about this. Some people quit using 3ds max because they felt that improvements didn't went fast/intense enough … now they are back in the same house. Autodesk keeps repeating about a secret plan for gaming …. talked about it here, too. So now we will get a mega-dcc-solution-suite? … …

Gamesindustry.biz titles "Google Lively to become online games platform" and quotes from an interview with Kevin K Hanna who works at X-Ray Kid, the company that was contracted by Google to produce during 2 years 3D content for Lively. Kevin says:

There is a longer term goal of opening up the API so the architecture of Lively could be used as an online games platform

Moreover he states

I'd like for it to be invisible, where when it makes sense to have 3D aspects of the web, that everyone will have already downloaded the plug-in, it's one of the first things you do when you install your machine, and you're able to just jump around and play in a creative space

Now, Kevin is not working at Google directly but both statements can be considered as a clear intention/vision. If this is the direction, they will try to create a big user base and enable the platform over a period of time.

… Beta-Style … 😉

In the late 90s and early 2000s we had Web3D like Pulse, TurnTool, Blaxxun etc etc where in most cases the interactive experience was very limited. Virtools with it's webplayer and it's hierarchical graph behaviour engine was ahead of it's time. I believe that nowadays we a have a new generation of web3d. So many companies come up with web3d applications and more and more of them are of complex interactivity like online 3d games. In addition to that more and more 3d authoring systems with webplayers are available or in the works.

The integrated 3D Gfx Intel chips still hurt as we see in the casual HW market stats published by the Unity3D guys. But it might be that with more and more available interactive 3D content, Intel has to deliver more performant integrated solutions. Larabee might do the job.

Some random 3d related things:

a low cost 3D paint package is 3D-Coat. It's a bit like an indie version of Z-Brush oder Mudbox. Some people on CGTalk were very sceptic but after giving it a test-drive many of them like it. Some even love it's retopology feature and use 3D-Coat complementary to Z-Brush.

painting in 3D Coat drawing a new topology

This procedurally animated 3D spider in flash is very nice! I guess in the next years there will be more and more 3D in flash.

3d spider in flash

The results of the Ogre3D user survey 2008 has been released. Here is one quote of it

Just over 63% of the respondents were using OGRE either for their own enjoyment or as part of their studies, with just over 50% of that group intending to go commercial with their products later. 29% of respondents were using OGRE for commercial products, with 83% of that group producing closed source products. The remaining 8% of OGRE users were mostly dominated by Academic / Scientific users, with a small handful of government users.

Zign Track is a low-cost facial tracking software. It exports to BVH. No idea how well it works but for that price it might worth an evaluation. The following picture is from a demo video:

Zign Track demo video

Unity Technologies has released extensive statistics from user's hardware where the Unity3D webplayer installation was successfull. They say that it's based on 3 millions data entries. The target audience is the 'casual gamer. It has already been said that this group has older, low-end hardware and usually do not update their system (like drivers etc). Aras (the main guy behind this) resume is:

Casual machines: capabilities quite okay, performance low, low, low. That’s life.

Something that surprised me is, that Mac is still a tiny market share (~ 2.6%). In Berlin's Bars and Cafés I mainly see people with Macbooks – it really increased a lot in the past years. On the other hand, in July, at the Paris airport I mainly saw PC-based notebooks. Their owners were mostly business men.

Blade3D is a XNA based authoring tool. I had a look at – i think over a year ago. It seems to do nice progress and they are currently working on a webplayer. In addition to that it also has a visual scripting system which you can use i.e. to define particle-behaviours. Besides this there are some nice feature like: PSSM shadows, spline-based roads and rivers, terrain engine, foliage rendering and physics.

blade3d image collage

Very interesting is their pricing model – it's a monthly fee per seat – without any up-front fee. I wonder if you can pause payment for a couple of months – i.e. between two Blade3D projects – and resume later when required.

There is another tool that is XNA based, but last time I checked I really didn't like the usability: Visual3D.Net. Something interesting though might be it's globe-like terrain engine.

In the past I mentioned that Intel, Nvidia and AMD/ATI are trying to expand to each others application domains (CPU und GPU fusion, a demo with OGRE3D and Nvidia's expansions). One may think that it's about market share but if you consider that parallelism is the key for future performance increases, then it looks more like a natural evolution.

GPUs no longer separate Pixel- and Vertex-Shader processing units on hardware. With DX10 it got unified – pixel and vertex (+geometry/tesslation) shaders are executed by the same hardware units. Therefore if a scene uses few vertices but a lot of pixels the hardware is less idle as it adapts accordingly – which is equal to higher performance. Therefore GPUs become more programmable while CPUs become more parallel. 

At Siggraph 2008 there have been a couple of talks about CPU/GPU architecture. Their course notes are now online: http://s08.idav.ucdavis.edu/  

Interestingly Kayvon Fatahalian thinks that Intel's chips needs ~ 32 Larabee units @ 1GHZ to reach the processing power of a current GPU which he says is about 1 TFLOPS. But today a game needs GPU AND CPU processing power. 

No matter how fast the CPU gets, CPU+GPU will always be even faster! Of course money matters and if the ratio moves heavily towards one favor, it might create a change. And that's maybe the point. INTEL's Larabee introduces a much higher flexibility, i.e. easy access to render-targets, so this could reduce costs. For this aspect also checkout the notes from the ID software guy where he mentions Voxels engines and other examples. On the other hand it brings even more choices and that doesn't make life always easier!

Wink

Until a shift happens (and if ever) we will probably see Larabee as add-on chip. Here's an interesting Intel statement from one of the sources of my earlier blog articles i mentioned at the beginning:

"Intel is not predicting the end of the discrete graphics business. Moore's Law has allowed Intel to innovate and integrate. As a result, we expect that we and others will integrate graphics and visual computing capabilities directly into our CPUs in the future much like floating point coprocessors and other multimedia functions have in the past. However, we don't expect that this integration will eliminate the market for higher-end discrete graphics cards and the value they provide."  

Like this it sounds a bit like Intel's Next-Gen GMA chip. That's probably the short-term perspective. It is said that Larabee is available in 2009 with 24 to 32 cores. But if they release those at 2 GHZ per core it sounds more like a GPU replacement unless you consider the too high power consumption (sources: german , english).

If you want to read a bit more about NVIDIA's new GTX 200 architecture and it's performance, Tom's hardware has a detailed review.
And here a very detailed article about Larabee from early august.

Happy reading 😉 

Eye.I.It's already old news but I just came across it. Boy, there are many acquisitions lately!!

Some RealViz products will be discontinued. One of them is Matchmover of which we have a license… Surprised
I guess if it gets integrated into 3ds max, we won't mind at the end.

(…) 

Autodesk intends to develop and sell REALVIZ’s Stitcher Unlimited, Stitcher Express, ImageModeler and Movimento software as standalone products. Matchmover, Retimer and VTour will no longer be available as standalone products; core technology from these REALVIZ products will be integrated into future versions of Autodesk’s existing products, enabling customers to bring the real world into design environments.

The following REALVIZ offerings have been discontinued: Stitcher Pro, Stitcher Unlimited DS, StoryViz, and hardware and software product bundles. Education versions of ImageModeler and Stitcher continue to be available.  Student versions of ImageModeler and Stitcher are no longer available.

(…) 

Source: Autodesk Press Release  

Also take note of the part I highlighted. This probably means image-based modeling/lightning and pathfinding+traffic modules for Max, Maya etc. 

(…)

where it's easy to build 3D environments or virtual sets by stitching pictures together or derive 3D models very quickly from set photos using image-based modeling. Games now require a lot of facial animation. Animators can rough out facial animations using a webcam and optical motion capture.

(…)

We have plans to use these technologies across a wide spectrum of industries… Every country in the world is starting to model their cities in 3D, and the Kynapse technology offers some very relevant potential for these applications. The path-finding and AI technology can be used to do simulations of crowds inside of buildings or stadiums or to model and simulate car traffic in digital models of cities.

Source:  VFX World Interview

As previously mentioned, INTEL is trying to bring GFX calculations back to the CPU system. Their argumentation for this is

(…) that Intel processors offered “more bang for the buck” and that it was more economical to go from single to multiple core processors versus popping multiple graphics cards into a machine.  “The fact of the matter is that you’re going to have one graphics card, you may have a dual graphics card, but you’re not going to have a four graphics card or eight graphics card system,” said Fosner.

(…) 

This quote comes from this tgdaily article about an interview they had with INTEL on the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai. The real-time demo shows 8 hardware thread on 4 cores in action. It's based on a game-engine framework called "Smoke Framework" and currently it's using OGRE3D for rendering.

Nehalem demo shown at the Intel Developer Forum

INTEL is considering to release the sourcecode to the developer community as stated on the OGRE3D forum. As the OGRE3D community is currently working on DX10 support, the Smoke Framework probably will continue using OGRE.

There are two videos available about the demo and the interview – one is the article mentioned above but I'll list them both here again:

Somehow related to the topic:

Maybe you already saw the plenty of ads everywhere about GarageGame's new gaming portal called InstantAction. I think it's very well done. Most of the site is HTML – only some areas do require flash and of course the games are using an extra plugin. Installation of that plugin in firefox was very smooth – very nice with pictures for each step. The website design is trendy and makes it already stand apart, but also the fact that you can quickly play multiplayer 3d games in your browser – after registration and installation of the plug-in.

On the negative side I found, that after downloading a new game, the process does often hang. Leaving and rejoining the game fixes it. I also had to give internet-connection rights to each game separately. In addition to that, in the lobby you don't see ping times thus lag or disconnection might occur often in some matches. If you want to try it yourself, I'll suggest "Marble Blast" or "Think Thanks". The others are less interesting. A Tribes-Like title is announced called: Fallen Empire Legions.

Lobby area of Marble Blast Marble Blast Online Think Tanks

The announced title Fallen Empire Legions

As we are talking of GarageGames, there is maybe something else interesting especially in regards to the topic of one of my recent postings. They have a 2D-Game Authoring environment called TorqueX Builder. It's layered upon their for their new XNA based engine called TorqueX. They now announced that they added 3D support on the engine level – the editor will be 3D enabled in the future. TorqueX allows deployment on Windows and Xbox360.

TorqueX Builder for 2D XNA games 3D with TorqueX