Let’s go back in time for a little perspective. In 2011, we launched 2nd Gen Core (codename Sandybridge) and made some nice progress with Intel HD Graphics 3000 – which brought graphics and CPU onto the same piece of silicon. In 2012 with 3rd Gen Core (codename Ivybridge) and Intel HD Graphics 4000, gamers could play serious mainstream PC titles on an Ultrabook. As we move toward a new “tock” in the tick-tock model, 4th Gen Core is set to provide gamers and game developers with yet another leap forward.
In recent months, Intel collaborated with Codemasters, a premier game developer, to showcase a few of the new “secret” features of Intel 4th Gen Core processor family on GRID2, their upcoming racing game. Last week at GDC we let the cat out of the bag. At the Intel booth we showed a pre-release build of GRID2 running on 4th Gen Core with Intel HD Graphics pre-release silicon in a thin laptop form factor. We showed GDC attendees an immersive demonstration of a Pagani Huayra (Intel blue, of course) racing through a closed track.
Figure 1. GRID2 running on Intel 4th Gen Core at the Intel Booth at GDC. Even though we were showing awesome smoke effects in GRID2, the demo had no smoke and mirrors. It was indeed running from that thin laptop on the demo counter.
Figure 2. Screenshot from the GRID2 demo at GDC
This demo showcased Codemasters’ utilization of the new PixelSync technology found exclusively on 4th Gen Core. PixelSync provides access to underlying hardware that enables programmers to properly composite partially transparent pixels without the need for unbound memory usage and with less expensive sorting operation. This provides an efficient and workable solution to a key problem in computer graphics. Now, game developers have the capability to realistically render smoke, hair, windows, foliage, fences, and other complex geometry and natural phenomena.
PixelSync gives graphics programmers new flexibility and control over the way that the 3D rendering pipeline executes pixel shaders. Intel researchers used this feature to design algorithms that solve three long-standing problems in real-time graphics: order-independent transparency; anti-aliasing of complex scene elements such as hair, leaves, and fences; and shadows from transparent effects such as smoke. Unlike previous approaches, Intel’s algorithms with PixelSync use a fixed, constant amount of memory, perform well, and are robust enough for game artists to intuitively use them in a wide range of game scenes. Intel published early versions of these algorithms in the graphics literature two to three years ago, but they were not practical to deploy in-game until the advent of PixelSync hardware. The published algorithms are called Adaptive Order-Independent Transparency (AOIT) and Adaptive Volumetric Shadow Maps (AVSM).
As the Pagani raced around the track, the demo allowed us to toggle AOIT and AVSM on and off. For brevity I’ll describe AVSM, and save AOIT for later discussion. As you turn on/off AVSM, there is a dramatic difference in the tire smoke. Without AVSM, a developer has a couple options –faking the lighting effects using artist generated textures or a computationally heavy set of calculations to model the physical effects. Most developers opt to include some fake lighting, which doesn’t always match real lighting and due to a lack of self-shadowing rarely appears to have much depth. With PixelSync AVSM you get the realism of correct self-shadowed dynamic lighting that easy to integrate with other parts of an engine’s lighting model without a big hit to performance. The bottom line is gamers are now going to get a dramatically improved visual experience while still running at high frame rates.
Figure 3. Top - Adaptive Volumetric Shadow Maps (AVSM) turned off / Bottom - AVSM turned on - note the more realistic shadowing in the tire smoke
Some have commented that this is the first time they’ve seen Intel ahead of the curve, delivering cutting-edge solutions to critical problems in real-time computer graphics. It may be unexpected, but I think we need to get used to it. This is just the beginning of what game developers will do with 4th Gen Core Graphics. As more developers dig in and experiment, I’m sure we’ll see completely different uses of the InstantAccess and PixelSync features.
Don’t take our word for it. Take a look at how this has played out in the press.
Beyond the pure technology feat, I feel that Intel is now taking computer graphics seriously, and I mean “really”. Sure, the company has been the #1 GPU vendor (in unit shipped) for years, but before yesterday, I hardly thought of Intel as a computer graphics innovator. This perception has changed somewhat, and I think that others would share my point of view. –UberGizmo--http://www.ubergizmo.com/2013/03/intel-pixelsync-order-independent-transparency/
As we march towards true heterogeneous computing, we need ways of allowing both processors to work on the same data in memory. With InstantAccess, Intel's graphics driver can deliver a pointer to a location in GPU memory that the CPU can then access directly. The CPU can work on that GPU address without a copy and then release it back to the GPU. –Anandtech--http://www.anandtech.com/show/6863/intels-pixelsync-instantaccess-two-new-directx-extensions-for-haswell
UPDATED: Check out what Codemasters has to say about working with Intel on GRID2http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbvRWe6jDok