Open GL ES at GDC 2014 — a Sweet Spot in Mobile Graphics Evolution

The 2014 Game Developer Conference is upon us, and this year’s GDC will cover a wide variety of gaming platforms, genres and technologies – possibly more than ever before. Intel develops silicon and software across the whole spectrum of computing, and people play games on much of that spectrum. We often say that if it has a transistor in it, someone will develop games for it.

One of the areas seeing particularly rapid innovation in recent years has been mobile phones and tablets. Since the iPhone’s App Store* was opened to developers in 2008, mobile has been a hotbed of development. Google’s introduction, and the subsequent growth, of Android* Market (now Google Play*) has only hastened the pace. As with other platforms, games are a great showcase of a mobile platform’s capabilities, which in turn has brought on a wave of innovation in hardware, with multi-core processors, more powerful graphics, and higher resolution displays.

Competition in mobile application marketplaces is fierce. Hundreds of thousands of applications compete for attention, with games being the largest category by far. And while some speak of digital storefronts as having “infinite shelf space”, the reality is that gamers’ attention is focused toward the hit lists and featured titles.

There are numerous ways that games try to stand out from the crowd. Some license recognizable IP, some go for humorous themes, some for shock value. And just as we’ve seen with other game platforms, there will always be a number of innovative developers that will aim to differentiate via having amazing graphics. With billions in revenue at stake, the investment some developers are making in this domain is impressive.

Games like Electronic Arts SSX Snowboarding*, and game engines like Unity*, Unreal*, and Project Anarchy*, are all making use of the latest mobile technologies to stand out in a crowded market. Graphics aren’t everything in a game, but they can help a game stand out in an app store or a review, and many gamers do care about graphics quality. This in turn drives innovation in hardware, as do other aspects of phones and tablets driving the use of graphics (rich user interfaces, hardware-accelerated HTML5 in browsers, high-density displays, etc).

Looking forward, the factors that are going to matter for the next generations of mobile graphics hardware are not just raw performance, but efficiency – being able to deliver the power and advanced features needed to allow game developers to innovate, but being able to do so in a power- and cost- efficient way. This is where we get really excited about the expertise Intel brings to the table.

Intel has been delivering low-power graphics in PCs for many years into PCs running Windows*, Linux* and MacOS*, and in recent years we’ve been doing so with gaming-capable graphics with advanced features. The 4th generation Intel® Core™ processors are a great example, achieving great performance in thin, low-power, cool designs with the introduction of Intel® Iris Graphics™. Increasingly, we’re bringing the same kinds of new capabilities and technology from those environments into our low-power products aimed at tablets and phones, such as our Intel® Atom™ platforms, and exposing that advanced feature set to Android developers via OpenGL-ES* (for example in the Intel Atom Z3700).

The images below show several sample applications using Compute Shaders and other OpenGL ES 3.1 features to do Contact Hardening Shadows, Cloth Physics, and HDR rendering with Bloom effects. These in turn can be used by developers to vary detail on things like terrain or character models to moderate the workload as needed. Shaders like these are now possible across a wide base of platforms for developers to target. Check out Intel’s video showing a live demonstration here.

 gdc1 gdc2 gdc3

As the market for tablets and phones demands more capable graphics, we are excited about what it’s going to mean, not just for Intel but for developers. At the 2014 Game Developer Conference, the Khronos Group unveiled a new version of OpenGL ES, which is going to mark a major milestone for mobile graphics. Intel is an active member of the Khronos Group, involved in the development of OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenCL, and other APIs. The folks involved in the definition of OpenGL ES have been actively involved for a long time in shaping the API for this next release.

It marks a significant milestone for 3 reasons:

  • This is a significant update in that it brings the feature set much closer to that available on ‘desktop’ APIs like OpenGL and DirectX.  Until recently, developers have been limited to an increasingly dated feature set.
  • It introduces Compute Shaders. As we saw during the introduction of programmable shaders to other parts of the pipeline, they unlocked a huge amount of innovation and creativity in games.
  • It brings the mobile graphics feature set up to speed with, and in some cases surpassing, “recent-gen” consoles and PCs. While the performance may still vary, this makes a huge difference in cost savings for developers to be able to leverage existing assets, share common code and engine technology, and unify toolsets. All of which will mean better games and lower costs for developers.

Intel has been actively involved with Khronos behind the scenes in the development of the next version of OpenGL ES, and back at the fab on new generations of mobile graphics to unleash that API’s power in PCs and devices. At our GDC booth we’ll be giving a peek at a few game titles taking advantage of the latest API and running on Intel graphics. Come by and get a taste of the future!

* Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Comments are closed.