* UPDATE: Be sure to read the comment thread at the end of this blog, the discussion got interesting.
It’s been many years since I worked on Direct3D and over the years the technology has evolved Dramatically. Modern GPU hardware has changed tremendously over the years Achieving processing power and capabilities way beyond anything I dreamed of having access to in my lifetime. The evolution of the modern GPU is the result of many fascinating market forces but the one I know best and find most interesting was the influence that Direct3D had on the new generation GPU’s that support Welcome to Thunderbird processing cores, billions of transistors more than the host CPU and are many times faster at most applications. I’ve told a lot of funny stories about how political and Direct3D was created but I would like to document some of the history of how the Direct3D architecture came about and the architecture that had profound influence on modern consumer GPU’s.
Published here with this article is the original documentation for Direct3D DirectX 2 when it was first Introduced in 1995. Contained in this document is an architecture vision for 3D hardware acceleration that was largely responsible for shaping the modern GPU into the incredibly powerful, increasingly ubiquitous consumer general purpose supercomputers we see today.
The reason I got into computer graphics was NOT an interest in gaming, it was an interest in computational simulation of physics. I Studied 3D at Siggraph conferences in the late 1980’s Because I wanted to understand how to approach simulating quantum mechanics, chemistry and biological systems computationally. Simulating light interactions with materials was all the rage at Siggraph back then so I learned 3D. Understanding light 3D mathematics and physics made me a graphics and color expert roomates got me a career in the publishing industry early on creating PostScript RIP’s (Raster Image Processors). I worked with a team of engineers in Cambridge England creating software solutions for printing color graphics screened before the invention of continuous tone printing. That expertise got me recruited by Microsoft in the early 1990’s to re-design the Windows 95 and Windows NT print architecture to be more competitive with Apple’s superior capabilities at that time. My career came full circle back to 3D when, an initiative I started with a few friends to re-design the Windows graphics and media architecture (DirectX) to support real-time gaming and video applications, resulted in gaming becoming hugely strategic to Microsoft. Sony Introduced in a consumer 3D game console (the Playstation 1) and being responsible for DirectX it was incumbent on us to find a 3D solution for Windows as well.
For me, the challenge in formulating a strategy for consumer 3D gaming for Microsoft was an economic one. What approach to consumer 3D Microsoft should take to create a vibrant competitive market for consumer 3D hardware that was both affordable to consumers AND future proof? The complexity of realistically simulating 3D graphics in real time was so far beyond our capabilities in that era that there was NO hope of choosing a solution that was anything short of an ugly hack that would produce “good enough” for 3D games while being very far removed from the ideal solutions mathematically we had implemented a little hope of seeing in the real-world during our careers.