3 March 2009—Amid all the noise at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, video-game developers heard the siren call of a new frontier. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), the Sunnyvale, Calif.–based microprocessor manufacturer, and the Sherman Oaks, Calif.–based graphics software maker Otoy announced what they claimed will be the world’s fastest graphics supercomputer: the AMD Fusion Render Cloud.
AMD chief executive officer Dirk Meyer promised that the technology, which will begin beta testing by this summer, will ”break the one-petaflop barrier and...process a million compute threads across more than 1000 graphics processors.” When running Otoy’s software, gamers will have an intense payoff: high-definition three-dimensional graphics that can be rendered on a high performance computer and then streamed in real time online. Otoy CEO Jules Urbach, whose company has provided effects for such films as Transformers, says the software will empower developers to create a ”playable video game that has the quality of movies and runs on a Web page.”
But this won’t mean anything unless game developers believe in—and get behind—the innovation. So what do they think? While the notion of a real-time ”holodeck” streaming to an iPhone sounds intriguing, developers are divided on the promise and perils of this new technology.
On one hand, the potential seems great. Corrinne Yu, the Seattle-based principal engine programmer and technical lead for Halo, Microsoft’s blockbuster sci-fi shooter, says, ”The promise of fidelity to lighting and rendering is enormous,” noting that ordinarily onerous processes will now be feasible. For instance, the supercomputer could handle tasks such as radiance transfer, the real-time rendering of complex lighting. ”Radiance transfer can then perform numerous expensive surface visibility operations that would have been too power consumptive for set-top and desktop power supplies,” she says.
Mike Acton, engine director for Insomniac Games, the Burbank, Calif.–based developers of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance, agrees. ”Server-side rendering is a hot topic because it has a certain amount of promise to it,” he says. ”The promise is to render a lot more and render things better than you could do on an individual console or PC.”
David Lightbrown, senior artistic technical director for the Montreal-based developer A2M, says the technology could enable a bold new generation of mobile games in particular. ”This allows iPhones and other thin-client devices to have really high-end graphics without having a big, expensive hot video card in them that draws battery life,” he says.