Thursday, July 31, 2008

ARM Assembly

So I decided to increase my relationship to iPhone programming a bit and bought an ARM assembly book to learn how to program ARM assembly. The target is to figure out how to program the MMX like instruction set that comes with the processor. Then I would create a vectorized math library ... let's see how this goes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PostFX - The Nx-Gen Approach

More than three years ago I wrote a PostFX pipeline (with a large number of effects) that I constantly improved up until the beginning of last year ( .. look for the outline of algorithms in the PostFX talk from 2007). Now it shipped in a couple of games. So what is nx-gen here?
On my main target platforms (360 and PS3) it will be hard to squeeze out more performance. There is probably lots of room in everything related to HDR but overall I wouldn't expect any fundamental changes. The main challenge with the pipeline was not on a technical level, but to explain to the artists how they can use it. Especially the tone mapping functionality was hard to explain and it was also hard to give them a starting point where they can work from.
So I am thinking about making it easier for the artists to use this pipeline. The main idea is to follow the camera paradigm. Most of the effects (HDR, Depth of Field, Motion Blur, color filters) of the pipeline are expected to mimic a real-world camera so why not make it use like a real-world camera?
The idea is to only expose functionality that is usually exposed by a camera and name all the sliders accordingly. Furthermore there will be different camera models with different basic properties as a starting point for the artists. It should also be possible to just switch between those on the fly. So a whole group of properties changes on the flip of a switch. This should make it easier to use cameras for cut scenes etc.

iPhone development - Oolong Engine

Just read that John Carmack likes the iPhone as a dev platform. That reminds me of the fact how I started my iPhone engine Oolong Engine in September 2007. Initially I wanted to do some development for the Dreamcast. I got a Dreamcast devkit, a CD burner and all the manuals from friends to start with this. My idea behind all this was to do graphics demos on this platform because I was looking for a new challenge. When I had all the pieces together to start my Dreamcast graphics demo career, a friend told me the specs of the iPhone ... and it became obvious that this would be even a better target :-) ... at the time everyone assumed that Apple will never allow to program for this platform. This was exactly what I was looking for. What can be better than a restricted platform that can't be used by everyone that I can even take with me and show it to the geekiest of my friends :-)
With some intial help from a friend (thank you Andrew :-)) I wrote the initial version of the Oolong engine and had lots of fun figuring out what is possible on the platform and what not. Then at some point Steve Jobs surprised us with the announcement that there will be an SDK and judging from Apple's history I was believing that they probably won't allow to develop games for the platform.
So now that we have an official SDK I am surprised how my initial small scale geek project turned out :-) ... suddenly I am the maintainer of a small little engine that is used in several productions.

Light Pre-Pass - First Blood :-)

I was looking for a simple way to deal with different specular values coming from different materials. It seems that one of the most obvious ways is the most efficient way to deal with this. If you are used to start with a math equation first -as I do- it is not easy to see this solution.
To recap: what ends up in the four channels of the light buffer for a point light is the following:

Diffuse.r * N.L * Att | Diffuse.g * N.L * Att | Diffuse.b * N.L * Att | N.H^n * N.L * Att

So n represents the shininess value of the light source. My original idea to apply now different specular values in the forward rendering pass later was to divide by N.L * Att like this:

(N.H^n * N.L * Att) \ (N.L * Att)

This way I would have re-constructed the N.H^n term and I could easily do something like this:


where mn represents the material specular. Unfortunately this requires to store the N.L * Att term in a separate render target channel. The more obvious way to deal with it is to just do this:

(N.H^n * N.L * Att)^mn

... maybe not quite right but it looks good enough for what I would want to achieve.