[In this Intel-sponsored feature article, Intel Software and Services Group application engineer and game development veteran Orion Granatir speaks about the importance of multi-threading and visual computing trends.]
Increased processing power is opening up new levels of game experiences. Dual- and quad-core CPUs and even GPUs are becoming the computing standard, and even more power will be available in the future with the many-core Larrabee architecture. But along with this potential comes new development challenges for game studios.
That's where Intel application engineer Orion Granatir comes in. Prior to joining Intel, Granatir worked for independent developer Insomniac Games, where he contributed to the PlayStation 3 titles Resistance: Fall of Man, Resistance 2, and Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, giving him a behind-the-scenes perspective on the rigors of developing a modern triple-A title.
Today, along with other members of the Intel® Software and Services Group, he educates developers about progress in the world of multi-threading and other emerging visual computing standards, and assists them with their own game projects. The editors of Gamasutra.com spoke with Granatir about the principles of multi-threading, current and upcoming trends in visual computing, and his work supporting developers.
What is your role at Intel?
Orion: At Intel, our group is part of Visual Computing Software Enabling -- we work with game companies to make their games work better on Intel products.
My group uses technical demos, presentations, collateral materials and other resources to help teach and influence people in the game industry to take advantage of what Intel is working on now, and what's coming out in the future.
Do you work directly with the studios?
So a game that has an Intel splash screen when it loads might indicate that you've helped them out?
Orion: Yeah, seeing a full Intel splash screen or a game being packaged with an Intel logo usually means we've done some work to try to make the game run better.
What issues do you work on? Is multi-threading a big one?
Orion: Exactly. We help them tackle these challenges: (1) using multi-threading and learning how to use all of the cores Intel is putting in the CPUs, and (2) taking advantage of Intel® Graphics.
I assume you work primarily with PC developers then.
Orion: Yes, exclusively. That being said, most game companies nowadays do a PC version and support all the consoles as well.
These days, is multi-core equally relevant on PC and console? Do PC developers still mainly have to support single-core processors?
Orion: Specific numbers have been published on the actual percentage, but most of what is out there right now is at least dual-core, and those numbers will continue to increase. And you're right -- the consoles, such as the PlayStation 3's SPUs, are now supporting multiple cores or multiple co-processors.
This means multi-threading is becoming more relevant for all platforms, PC and console. The cool thing is, regardless of how many cores a system has, your game can take advantage of them if you set up the threading correctly. Your game can scale well to take advantage of not only a single core, but two, four, and eight cores -- whatever is coming down the road.
Same thing with consoles: if you set it up right, in theory, your PlayStation 3 game could scale well to whatever Sony has in mind for the PlayStation 4.
Going from the world of the console to the world of the PC might seem different at first, but the challenge is the same: It's all about taking advantage of the processing power, regardless of the manufacturer that is putting it in the platform.
Do you think that the multi-core presence on the console side has had a bounce-back effect by encouraging more multi-threading on the PC, where they may not have needed to before?
Orion: To a certain extent, yes. Having multi-core on the console means the dollars spent will just work better on all platforms. It's much more worthwhile.
How long do you think it will be until multi-threading is ubiquitous, or until developers can just think of development basically in those terms?
Orion: That time is already here. Nearly all of the processors that Intel is shipping, along with what AMD and everyone else are shipping, are at least dual-core. I read some marketing numbers that give the percentages, but nowadays the main spec of the games hitting the market is dual-core.
But the challenges remain. We might say to people, "Hey, we have this super kick-ass processor coming out. What can we do to support this or try to take advantage of these high-end machines?" They sometimes respond, "Well, we're really spending a lot of our time and effort trying to support some of these low-end machines." So there is still an abundance of those low-end machines floating around.