We are pleased to present this interview with Creative Labs' Steve Mosher. Steve gives us the scoop on his background before joining Creative Labs and shares his thoughts on competing products, transform and lighting, and even throws in a Christmas wish list for 1999.
Creative Labs was the first company to offer a 3D graphics accelerator based on NVIDIA's GeForce 256 with the 3D Blaster Annihilator.
nV News: Who are you and what do you do at Creative?
Steve: I am the Vice President of the Graphics Business at Creative. I work in the organization known as the Product Group, and it's our function to define, develop and deliver the final product to our regional sales and marketing
business units. The regional units in turn market and sell the product in their given region.
Different regions can have different product requirements, different bundles, and different boxes. In the product group we have to be
respectful of each regions demands. The economy may be global, but sales and marketing is definitely local.
nV News: How did you choose the path to this part of the industry or did it just "happen"?
Steve: My path here has a variety of interesting twists and turns. It started at UCLA grad school where I was studying English of all things. As part of my study of linguistics and statistical approaches to textual analysis, I
taught myself to program. I got hooked on programming.
An old college buddy from Northwestern got me a summer internship at Northrop Aircraft, doing operational analysis. That's a fancy term for war gaming. I loved war games, so I quit my Ph.D. in English to become a full time "operational analyst." From there I advanced
to the Flight Simulation group. Basically, we had a $90 million video game called a real time flight simulator. For weeks at a time we did nothing but operate this huge simulated air battle with next generation aircraft. Then
we poured over the data, trying to figure out what kind of aircraft we should design.
One day my boss brought me into a secure vault, pointed at 4 workstations and said, "Those are SGIs, figure out how to program them." That was my introduction to 3D graphics. So, I taught myself how to program 3D. After a few years of working in a flight sim, I decided to join a small company and build simulators based on SGI workstations. From there I was enticed away to Silicon Valley.
Kubota Graphics was trying to compete against SGI in the visual simulation market, so I took a job with Kubota trying to compete against SGI. Kubota went down in flames, giving birth to the 3D revolution on the PC. The 3D engineers went to ATI, 3dfx, Rendition, 3d labs, Cirrus Logic, etc. After that I worked for RenderWare, and when Microsoft bought our competitor, Rendermorphics, creating D3D, I left
to join Creative to help out with Creative's effort in the 3D revolution. That was almost five years ago.
nV News: What is in your computer at home?
Steve: Audio: I have SB Live in both systems. Graphics: I have an Ultra in one and TNT in the other. I have an Annihilator set aside for a Xmas gift to myself.
nV News: How do you feel about 3dfx comparing their yet to be released products to the Creative (and other) GeForce cards already on the market?
Steve: At some point in every product's life you have to compare it to things that already exist and things that are just around the corner. A lot of people think its unfair or down right silly to compare a shipping product with a paper spec; but I would not characterize it that way.
I look at it like a war game. My opponent just told me, where he is going to land the troops and how many he is sending. He has placed them "en prise." In fact, I told our team they would announce the products, price points, at Comdex. For them, it was a calculated risk that I knew they could not resist. The downside risk for them is that they may not be able to deliver on time.
Voodoo 2 showed at Comdex and shipped late February. Voodoo 3 showed at Comdex and shipped in March. The VSA 100 didn't show at Comdex, so maybe they will pull a rabbit out of the hat. The real crunch will come in trying to launch all those SKUs at the same time. Which one will come out first...
The bottom line is this. If they deliver what they promised (6000,5500,5000, 4500 and the unannounced 4000), at the price they promised (not likely given memory pricing), when they promised it, no one will be impressed. The risk of over promising and under delivering is huge. If they miss on anything the brand equity will take a huge hit. So they took a bet with huge downside potential and no upside potential. That is a characteristic strategic pattern I have observed.
nV News: Will the release of the Glide API to developers impact the Creative Labs Glide support? If so, when can we expect changes?
Steve: It's unclear what this entails. To tell you the truth, we have viewed the Glide API as a legacy API. That's why we did the wrapper to support legacy games. Going forward we see developers focusing on OpenGL and Direct 3D, now more than ever.
nV News: S3 seems to have dropped the ball on hardware transform and lighting (T&L) for the time being. Do you feel that T&L from NVIDIA lost a competitor or an ally?
Steve: I don't think the Savage part competes with the GeForce part. I can't speak to the functionality of the T&L in their part, since I personally haven't evaluated it. I believe that T&L must be in every graphics chip going forward. The sooner you get it in the sooner you get all the issues worked out. Anybody who has ever programmed complex 3D graphics welcomes hardware T&L.
This sounds a lot like the 32bit color debate to me. When guys don't have 32bit color, they say its not necessary. Then they catch up and try to thump their chest about it. People remember.
nV News: We recently read the Beyond 3D "T-Buffer Part 3" article. They make a very astute observation about how a circle exists that without T&L hardware, there will be no T&L software and without T&L software, there will be no
need for T&L hardware. Could the shift to hardware T&L have been premature? (i.e. does the Annihilator offer enough for the average user to upgrade?)
Steve: Well, I can't say I agree with the "chicken and egg" analysis here. The main reason is you have a spectrum of content. Some content has no need for T&L enhancement, basically legacy apps, DX6 content. Then there is a class of content that takes immediate advantage of T&L, like the OpenGL based engines. Fresh content, will benefit even more. T&L will be in hardware, from the top of product lines to the bottom.
Another way to look at the T&L debate is this. When the first 3D hardware shipped there was not a lot of content,
but the hardware ignited the imagination of developers so everyone tried to add 3D to applications. We even got 3D added to genre's like role playing games, where it had never been before.
Then people shipped multitexturing chips before there was any content and developers imaginations were ignited again. We shipped 12MB of memory and everyone said, games will never use it. Again, developer imagination was stirred and we discovered that even 12MB was not enough. The same story with 32bit rendering. On the other side we see technology like texture compression and AGP. These features are important for 3D, but they didn't wow the developers, so you haven't seen a ground swell of content that requires either feature.
I think T&L ignites the developers imgaination. Anyone who has ever created a 3D model with a polygon budget (you have
300 polygons to draw this character) immediately gets the benefit of T&L. It ignites your imagination and changes the way you think about game design. If you have ever built a Quake or Unreal level, you get the benefit immmediately and the potential of hardware changes your perception of what is possible.
So listen to developers. What turns them on? T&L. What are they asking for? T&L. You have to make a choice if you want to be a technology leader. Will we merely accelerate the legacy apps, or will we provide a future proof platform that ignites the developers imagination? I'm glad NVIDIA has choosen the route of technology leadership. Finally, there is the economic factor that drives the inclusion of T&L into silicon. In order
to maintain chip prices you must constantly drive new technology into the silicon.
To answer to the second part of your question, I am not sure the Annihilator is aimed at the average user. It's targeted at the serious gamer, the guy who has to have the best, the fastest. Average users should probably look at the TNT2 or Ultra.
nV News: Have you had any contact with NVIDIA concerning release dates and performance numbers of the NV15? What should we expect?
Steve: Yes. Expect NVIDIA to execute on their plan.
nV News: Overclocking? Firm believer or risking the hardware dollar?
Steve: Factually, it is risking your hardware dollars. Personally, I overclocked my system to see how fast it could go, then I went back to normal.
nV News: Creative Annihilator PRO... Shelf date?
Steve: Santa is loading his bag as we speak.
nV News: Included with the Annihilator PRO is a fairly impressive software bundle, including Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens (in certain bundles). Will these apps be made available to the non-DDR Annihilator owners for download?
Steve: Let me look into that.
nV News: How much weight do you place on full-scene anti-aliasing? Can higher fillrate eliminate edge "jaggies" through higher resolutions in conjunction with increased triangles sufficiently? If so, what resolution will be the new sweet spot, now that the goal of 1024x768x32bpp @60fps has been achieved?
Steve: Boy that is a lot of different questions. How much weight on AA? AA is nice if it comes for free, if it costs too much fill, you can get the same effect by boosting resolution. Also, you have ask what kind of AA filter you are using - 2x2 or 4x4.
The benifits of AA are also content dependent. All content has edges, but contrast at the edge also contributes to the effect. So the only way to tell is to run some content and compare. You really have to do this side by side in real time. Screen captures miss the temporal effects and over emphasize the spatial effects.
The new sweet spot? As far as your eye and brain are concerned, we are a long way from saturating the human visual system.
nV News: What's on your Christmas wish list for 1999. NVIDIA's Nick Triantos wanted Hollywood to put out another movie with lots of aliens, explosions, kung fu, and nudity :)
Steve: Other than a Creative Labs Annihilator, here are a few things that would cheer up my holiday:
- A Hummer
- A lifetime membership to the Internet Chess Club (www.chessclub.com) and 100 more points on my ELO
- A new set of golf clubs
- Cheaper memory
- A creative WebCam Go! (shameless plug, but it is really cool)
- A new X-Files episode as good as the originals
- A signal from the mars polar lander
- Open source on the Windows OS
- Northwestern in the Rose Bowl again!