The Future of Windows PC Gaming



DirectX, Longhorn and the Future of Windows Gaming

It's the tenth anniversary of DirectX. In honor of this occasion we spoke
with Chris Donahue, the group manager for Windows gaming and graphics. Chris
discusses the evolution of DirectX, the impact of the next Windows
(Longhorn) and 64-bit gaming, how XNA will help developers on Windows and
Xbox, where Windows gaming is headed and much more.

GameDAILY BIZ: For our readers who may not be familiar with you, can you
please explain what your job at Microsoft entails?

Chris Donahue: I head up the Developer Relations team for Windows Graphics
and Gaming Technologies. I lead a team of people working with all the game
development companies to help them make the best use of DirectX when
building their games. We also work with the major hardware companies, to
sync up new features they are working on, and making sure that game
developers will be able to make the most of these new features. We work
within Microsoft promoting games in the next version of Windows, codenamed
Longhorn. And I try to play games as much as possible. Lately I've been
playing a lot of Battlefield 2-it's an awesome game! PROFILE

Chris Donahue
Group Manager, Windows Graphics & Gaming Technologies
Microsoft Corp.

History: Donahue joined Microsoft in January 2003 as technical
evangelist for hardware and was promoted to lead technical evangelist of
developer relations, then group manager. Previously, he was the manager of
developer relations at NVIDIA Corporation.
Highlights: Donahue and his team are charged with providing game
developers, publishers and IHVs with the information, tools and assistance
they need to create gaming and entertainment content on the Windows
Currently: As group manager Donahue directs a team accountable for
promoting DirectX and Windows as a premier gaming platform.

BIZ: DirectX is now ten years old. How has it evolved over the years and why
did it become such an important part of Windows gaming?

CD: DirectX started off as an underground project, with a bunch of guys
hijacking resources, both money and people, and building a set of tools to
make it easier to make games for Windows because they knew that Windows was
going to be a great platform for games. DirectX has transformed the industry
with a common set of APIs (application programming interfaces) that support
a wide range of hardware vendors making products with differing features,
while making it easy for programmers to write their code for one common
platform. DirectX has been adopted by the overwhelming majority of game
developers making games for Windows, so this has been an incredibly
successful endeavor.

BIZ: Video, sound, and 3D technologies progress at a phenomenal rate. How
does DirectX keep up with the pace of innovation?

CD: Well, with a lot of work! Seriously, we have about 200 people helping to
define these new technologies, and we send out an updated SDK on a
bi-monthly basis, which anyone can download and use for free. This month, we
released improvements to the PIX Performance Investigator. This August,
we're planning on releasing a final version of the Microsoft Audio Creation
Tool (Xact).

BIZ: How will future versions of DirectX strengthen the gaming experience?
What sorts of features can we expect in this regard?

CD: DirectX is a core component of the next version of Windows-it is the
graphical foundation for Longhorn. There are other steps we're taking to
improve the gaming experience in Windows, but we'll have more to say about
this at Meltdown in July and in the months ahead.

BIZ: The MMO market continues to see excellent growth. Will DirectX, or
Windows in general, in any way enhance or improve on the online gaming

CD: The flexibility and power of Windows as a development platform (as well
as the mouse and keyboard being the best interface for these types of games)
has been a key reason for the strength of online gaming on Windows-that's
part of the reason that InStat says there are 20 times more gamers online
using Windows than all the consoles combined. There is also an incredibly
strong community around Windows gaming-the mod community as well as the
ability to create and join guilds and other game-centric groups makes
Windows the natural place for this style of gaming.

[ "In the next few years, you could easily see online revenue eclipse
retail sales, providing amazing business opportunities on the Windows
platform." ]

BIZ: The next version of Windows (Longhorn) is supposed to be more
console-like in that it's going to eliminate the need to download drivers
and installing games will be easier. What can you tell us about Longhorn as
it relates to gaming?

CD: There are many things about console gaming that we can apply to make the
Windows game experience better. Install is one area where we're working with
game developers and publishers to simplify the overly-complex install
process-do you really need to answer all those questions and click on all
those buttons to play the game? We have also re-architected the graphics
driver model-the Longhorn Display Driver Model will make the process much
more stable and trouble free for gamers. Gaming is a key pillar of the
consumer Longhorn experience, and we're excited about what the future holds.

BIZ: How do you think the fact that Longhorn is 64-bit might impact the
future of PC gaming?

CD: We're beginning to see support for 64-bit in games, with more detail or
longer draw distances, but this is just the start. By the Longhorn
timeframe, many mainstream computers will be 64-bit, and you'll really see
games take advantage of the new technology. As with all new technology, we
fully expect game developers will be on forefront of adopting 64-bit.

BIZ: We've heard about a communications tool included in Longhorn called
Athens that will streamline voice, text, and video chatting. Does MS have
any plans to work with game developers to perhaps incorporate Athens and its
features into gaming?

CD: We have nothing to announce at this time, but we're constantly working
with game developers to help them incorporate the latest Windows features in
their games where appropriate.

BIZ: Seeing as how DirectX and XNA are important to both Windows and the
Xbox and upcoming Xbox 360, what kinds of interesting crossovers can we
expect between the Xbox and the PC?

CD: With XNA, which incorporates both DirectX and the Xbox/Xbox 360
Development Kits, we're making the tools to make it easier to make games for
Microsoft's gaming platforms. We're looking to the game development
community to surprise gamers with new ideas of what they can do with these
tools-and of course, we're helping developers build games that can take
advantage of the huge power of the next generation of hardware, both Xbox
360 and Longhorn.

BIZ: XNA, like DirectX, seems to be a step towards a standardized means of
developing games for Windows. What can you tell us about this?

CD: Both sets of tools are aimed at making developer's lives easier, so they
can focus on making the games detailed and exciting. By combining
techniques, hopefully we'll get better games in the long run as well as
allowing not only programmers but artists and other members of the game dev
teams to leverage their skills across multiple platforms.

BIZ: Nowadays all the focus seems to be on console gaming, especially with
the next-gen systems fast approaching. What strategies does MS have in mind
to further encourage PC game development?

CD: Windows gaming is kind of the Energizer bunny of gaming platforms-it
just keeps going and going. And it keeps on innovating. Windows is where new
and innovative technology happens first, and it's where new and exciting
game genres show up first. Windows is still the place where "garage
developers" can develop a game (just look at Crytek and "Far Cry.")
Microsoft is encouraging development for Windows with things like XNA, which
is making life easier for developers. With Longhorn, we're looking at how we
can eliminate pain points for consumers, while opening up other genres
through things like Microsoft's universal gaming controller standard, which
will give gamers more choices about how to play games on Windows.

BIZ: The ATI vs. Nvidia battle seems to be heating up again since the PS3
will incorporate NVIDIA's RSX chip and Xbox 360 will use ATI's Xenos chip.
Having worked at NVIDIA you probably have a unique perspective on this.
What's your take on the respective technologies from these graphic chipset

CD: The competition between ATI and NVIDIA highlights one of the key
benefits of Windows. The hardware does not stay the same for the next 5-6
years-you can always take advantage of the latest and greatest technology no
matter who the manufacturer is. And don't forget to add the fact that the
technologies going into the new console systems migrate from the Windows
platform-for example NVIDIA's recently announced 7800 line of cards will be
similar to the RSX chip, and we'll see what ATI comes up with next.

BIZ: Finally, is there anything you'd like to add that we perhaps didn't

CD: We're really excited about the present and future for Windows
gaming-Battlefield 2 just released, and it's amazing. There are many other
great games coming this holiday season. At the same time, we're seeing
tremendous growth for online revenue-from the two million people paying for
World of Warcraft, and other MMOs, to services like Valve's Steam, to
downloadable casual games, to the many new direct download services. In the
next few years, you could easily see online revenue eclipse retail sales,
providing amazing business opportunities on the Windows platform. But didn't
you want to hear about the toga party and the alien spaceship?

BIZ: Thanks very much for your time, Chris.

CD: My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Windows gaming!


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