Game Loop

Ap­ple’s lat­est hard­ware and soft­ware ini­tia­tives should bol­ster one of its weak­est ar­eas, graph­ics sup­port, says Bri­anna wu

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple’s se­ri­ous boost to its graph­ics tech­nolo­gies has Bri­anna Wu ex­cited.

Pic­ture walk­ing into a busi­ness event and hav­ing ev­ery­one’s names and job titles dis­played on a vir­tual name tag. Or hav­ing a vir­tual Nerf war in your of­fice and never hav­ing to pick up darts. Or even cap­tur­ing Poké­mon in the real world – not star­ing at your phone, but see­ing Pikachu as if he were real.

All this sounds like sci­ence fic­tion, but it’s not. It’s called “aug­mented re­al­ity,” us­ing com­put­ers to add in­for­ma­tion and graph­ics to what you see. For years, we’ve had hints Ap­ple was work­ing on an AR prod­uct - and at this year’s WWDC it all but an­nounced it. 2017 is the year Ap­ple went all-in on nextgen­er­a­tion graph­ics.

For years in this column, I’ve ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at Ap­ple’s com­mit­ment to 3D tech­nol­ogy. It has al­ways been will­ing to set­tle for “good but not great.” When an iPhone game is made with Unity or Un­real, that’s largely be­cause Ap­ple’s de­vel­op­ment tools aren’t great for 3D games. Ev­ery time you can’t buy a game on Steam be­cause it’s not made for MacOS, it’s be­cause of Ap­ple’s luke­warm com­mit­ment to 3D.

But all that’s about to change. The most ex­cit­ing news to come out of WWDC was the iMac Pro: a beast of a ma­chine in Space Gray. The iMac Pro comes with a killer dis­play, a ridicu­lous num­ber of cores, and pow­er­ful graph­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Many tech jour­nal­ists raised their eye­brows at it, not un­der­stand­ing who it was made for – but it makes per­fect sense to any 3D pro­fes­sional.

The iMac Pro is a dream ma­chine for the CPU-in­ten­sive work of build­ing 3D game lev­els and art as­sets. Most games cal­cu­late light­ing ef­fects ahead of time, which can take days to fin­ish on a tra­di­tional Mac. The 18-core iMac Pro mon­ster could chew For years in this column, I’ve ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at Ap­ple’s com­mit­ment to 3D

through that work in a mat­ter of min­utes. Un­til now, it was dif­fi­cult to de­velop 3D games on a Mac. That won’t be the case for much longer.

The other huge news to come out of WWDC got lit­tle men­tion in the key­note that the con­sumer press cov­ered, but was cov­ered in depth dur­ing Ap­ple’s “State of the Union,” an engi­neer­ing-cen­tric talk for de­vel­op­ers – mean­ing most jour­nal­ists didn’t even see it. Ap­ple is us­ing its Thun­der­bolt 3 tech­nol­ogy to let you aug­ment your Mac’s graph­i­cal power with an ex­ter­nal GPU.

but what about VR, the hot tech­nol­ogy trend of the mo­ment? Well, de­vel­op­ers can buy the $599 vir­tual re­al­ity de­vel­op­ment kit to­day through Ap­ple’s de­vel­oper pro­gram. You can take a Mac lap­top, plug it into the VRKit, and start de­vel­op­ing vir­tual re­al­ity games im­me­di­ately us­ing the HTC Vive head­set.

If you’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced the Vive, it is stun­ning tech­nol­ogy. You place two sen­sors in a room, which wire­lessly track your head­set and con­trollers. My fa­vorite Vive game is Space Pi­rate Trainer, an ar­cade game where you dodge and shoot end­less waves of at­tack drones. It’s an ad­dic­tive blast, and makes you feel like you’re in an action movie.

Of course, VR games have proven them­selves to be mostly a fad - fail­ing to make sig­nif­i­cant money or catch on with the pub­lic. That’s why the clues that Ap­ple is work­ing on AR in­stead of VR are so promis­ing. Aug­mented re­al­ity doesn’t ob­scure the world around you - it adds to it.

En­ter ARKit, a pow­er­ful tech­nol­ogy which Ap­ple de­moed at WWDC. ARKit uses the dual cam­eras of high-end Ap­ple iOS de­vices to cal­cu­late depth and use it in a scene. Ap­ple de­moed a Lego Bat­man game where you aimed an iPhone at a ta­ble, see­ing a vir­tual Lego world. You could walk around a vir­tual Bat­mo­bile, ex­plode bricks, and trig­ger an­i­ma­tions of Lego Bat­man.

ARKit is a bril­liant strat­egy for Ap­ple be­cause it won’t re­quire users to buy AR glasses

ARKit is a bril­liant strat­egy for Ap­ple be­cause it won’t re­quire users to buy AR glasses - you can see the con­tent with your phone. This will en­able most con­sumers to be in­tro­duced to the idea with­out spend­ing a dime, while al­low­ing ded­i­cated con­sumers to pur­chase a more seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ap­ple’s other big bet on graph­ics is Me­tal 2, which promises to ad­dress some of the per­sis­tent graph­ics de­fi­cien­cies on macOS. One of the big­gest prob­lems with gam­ing on the Mac is the poor per­for­mance com­pared to Win­dows. Me­tal 2 takes sig­nif­i­cant steps to ad­dress this, try­ing to re­duce the need for older tech­nolo­gies such as OpenGL.

For years, Ap­ple’s graph­ics tech has been medi­ocre at best. But this year’s WWDC demon­strated the com­pany’s new­found com­mit­ment, with com­pletely over­hauled and rein­vented graph­ics sys­tems. From hard­ware through soft­ware to de­vel­op­ment tools, Ap­ple set­tled for noth­ing but rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing what was pos­si­ble.

If you’re in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing AR prod­ucts, my sug­ges­tion is to place all your bets on Ap­ple.

The iMac Pro will be a dream come true for game de­vel­op­ers work­ing with 3D.

Ap­ple’s Ex­ter­nal Graph­ics De­vel­op­ment Kit, an­nounced at WWDC, in­cludes a Thun­der­bolt 3 en­clo­sure and a graph­ics card.

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