Redmond, Wash., August 7, 1998 — Microsoft’s DirectX 6.0, released this week, is expected to spur creation of a new breed of higher-caliber games and other multimedia products in time for the 1998 holiday season. DirectX 6.0 will enable game developers to create more exciting software for consumers and will allow video game enthusiasts to play Windows-based games that look and sound more realistic.
As the multimedia infrastructure for the Windows operating system, DirectX is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that enables software applications to work with all the different multimedia hardware devices on a personal computer. It is the standard Windows technology that allows the video-game software to interact in real time with the graphics chip, the audio chip, and input devices such as the joystick, mouse and keyboard.
Although DirectX is used as the basis for video- and sound-editing tools, education software, and music composition tools, it is most commonly used by software developers to link their game software with the wide variety of hardware available for the Windows platform. Today, more than 20 million people play video games based on DirectX, and the majority of top-selling PC games are created using this technology.
By providing a consistent interface between the software and hardware, DirectX makes it possible for Windows software to work with nearly all hardware designed for the Windows platform. This saves a tremendous amount of time for software developers because they only have to write one version of their software for all the available hardware on the market. It also assures consumers that the software they buy will work with their hardware – today and in the future.
“The important thing about DirectX is that it provides transparent access to the broadest range of hardware products,” said Kevin Bachus, Microsoft product manager for DirectX. “When you purchase a game, you want to make sure that it will run on your system and take full advantage of all its capabilities. DirectX makes that possible.”
DirectX is composed of several APIs. Among these are APIs that make it possible for users to view real-time 2-D and 3-D graphics, perceive sound as if it is coming from a specific area in the room, feel the joystick vibrate when driving over a bumpy road, and play games with multiple other users over the Internet or across a local-area network.
DirectX 6.0 includes substantial improvements over DirectX 5.0, released last August. Most notable are the improvements to Direct3D, the API within DirectX that supports 3-D graphics accelerators. In addition, Microsoft will add a new API called DirectMusic to DirectX this fall, which will substantially improve the quality of music that accompanies video games. DirectMusic is available to DirectX developers now as part of the DirectX 6.0 software development kit.
Microsoft has improved Direct3D to make video-game software run faster than it has in the past. Images will appear to flow more continuously when consumers play games that take advantage of Direct3D. In addition, Microsoft has updated Direct3D to include support for new features expected in this year’s hardware. For example, Direct3D will provide support for 3-D accelerator cards that allow “single pass multitexturing.” In the past, software developers who wanted to apply multiple textures to a 3-D object were forced to re-render a scene with each texture and then combine the scenes. A developer creating a clear lake, for example, had to render the scene first with the texture for the water, then with the texture for the lake bed, and then combine the two images. By adding support for single pass multitexturing, Direct3D enables developers to increase their games’ performance by rendering multiple textures in one pass.
Direct3D also adds the capability for “bump mapping,” the ability to create objects that appear to have physical texture. Bump mapping enables developers to take advantage of 3-D accelerator cards that can quickly simulate textured surfaces, as well as the highlights and shadows created by light interacting with those surfaces. This feature will allow developers to produce video games with more detailed textures, such as woven carpets, rippled water and gravel pavement.
Beginning this fall, DirectX also will include DirectMusic, a new API that will add higher-quality and more varied music to games. Until now, most software game developers have produced games with substandard-quality music or with pre-recorded music that requires a lot of hard disk or CD-ROM space.
“The problem with that approach to music composition is that you can’t change the music when the game action changes. The music that plays back the first time users play the game is the same as the thousandth time they play the game,” Bachus said. “And it takes up a lot of space. If you consider that most of the compact disc is usually given over to the graphics and other game data, you only have a tiny amount of room left for the music.”
DirectMusic also makes it possible to play back high-quality Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) music-based on a powerful communications protocol that lets music composers create digital compositions. In addition to supporting basic MIDI compositions, DirectMusic provides support for downloadable sounds (DLS), a standard authored by the MIDI Manufacturers Association. DLS allows developers to create customized sounds, in addition to the traditional sounds (e.g., piano, drums, and guitar) that come pre-packaged with most recent sound cards. DirectMusic also includes its own software synthesizer, which provides users with a higher-quality option than some synthesizers included with older-generation sound cards. With these features, DirectMusic gives developers the ability to program high-quality music into their video games — music that will sound good to consumers regardless of the quality of their sound card.
Finally, DirectMusic enables composers to create interactive compositions. Using DirectMusic, software developers can program their game music to change based on the action that takes place during the video game.
“You can say that if the game becomes really intense-say, if there are more than three enemies within 100 feet-then we should go up half an octave, and we should change to minor tonic, and we should increase the tempo by 10 percent,” Bachus said. “It really draws you into the experience.”
With improvements to Direct3D and the addition of the DirectMusic component, DirectX 6.0 will enable software developers to create better quality games for Windows that result in a more compelling experience for consumers.
“The games consumers play will look better, run faster and take advantage of all the latest features included in their hardware,” Bachus said. “In short, these games will provide a more realistic and exciting experience for users.”