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The SkyX, OpenGL & ATI
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

My how time flies when your having fun. The SkyX (student edition) is going to be ready to show off at NEAF but it’s not shippable yet. Steve and I are going to share a one hour workshop at NEAF on Saturday to introduce The SkyX and Seeker, and then on Sunday I’m going to give a one hour more in depth look at Seeker and Seeker scripting.

Both of these new technologies use OpenGL extensively for their graphics. The SkyX is built with some pretty conservative assumptions to keep it running well on legacy hardware, even PC’s and laptops that may not have 3D chipsets or quality OpenGL support. The SkyX has an excellent fall back rendering mode that is faster, smoother, and looks almost as good as the fully accelerated OpenGL mode.

I have a pretty long history with OpenGL programming that began over 10 years ago when I wrote one of the first books on OpenGL programming (and I just finished the fourth edition!). Back towards the end of the .com hey-day, I joined and worked briefly on the OpenGL support in Starry Night 4.0 (yeah, no kidding!). I was expensive and working from an office in Florida. Less than a year later during a layoff binge (when .com = money sucking black hole), I was low hanging fruit. This was the only time in my life I had ever been laid off, and I had survived some doozeys in the past. It was after this that I found my way to the Bisque brothers where I could ply my OpenGL trade, as well as my love for astronomy.

Steve Bisque deserves all the credit for the non-OpenGL fallback in The SkyX. It’s simply beautiful and a huge leap ahead of what he did in The Sky 6. Don’t even get me started on Chart mode! The first time I used it out under a dark sky with red screen on, it was almost a religious experience. My contributions have all been low-level, all the “artistic” touches are Steve’s.

****************************** Warning, what follows may be construed as a rant…

I have a lot of friends in the graphics hardware business (I once worked for a graphics hardware vendor too, and was once involved in the OpenGL standards committee). Many of them at ATI, where my two co-authors on the fourth edition of my book work as well. Someone recently asked on the message board about what kind of computer to buy, etc. for Seeker. The short answer is: get an NVIDIA graphics card. They aren’t paying me to say that. In the OpenGL biz, nobody has OpenGL support like NVIDIA. There is a whole slew of old SGI OpenGL fanatics at NVIDIA keeping the torch burning and making sure their drivers are rock solid, regardless of whether your playing games, doing 3D business graphics, or making slick animated star charts.

I hope my friends at ATI will forgive me for this, but ATI’s OpenGL support has never been stellar. As a developer I have filed quite a few bug reports to ATI, and I think only once did I report a bug to the NVIDIA developers, and that was years ago. ATI knows this to be true, and last I heard they were looking for a new OpenGL driver manager. OpenGL is a huge industry standard and they are taking a beating for this in the developer community. Their OpenGL driver for Vista is nothing short of abysmal. If you want to run Seeker on ATI hardware under Vista DO NOT GET AN ATI graphics card (yet). There were some big problems with their shader support that required quite a work-around (which we have if anyone needs the patch, so far no one has) with their latest drivers. They released their Catalyst 4.3 drivers for Mobility Radeon’s, and I filed a bug report because it would not install. They then rolled back to the 4.2 drivers (which would install), and a week later pulled them entirely saying that you need to get the drivers from the laptop vendors. Two of my ATI graphics cards would not run ANY OpenGL program under Vista with the 4.3 desktop driver releases. My co-author fixed the shader bug I mentioned, but it didn’t make it into the 4.3 driver release. I see just yesterday the 7.4 drivers were released, I’ll have to check that out over the weekend on my desktop home system that I have sacrificed to the Vista demon ;-)

Why am I chastising ATI? Because industry standards make life easy on developers. It makes it easier for us to create great applications that create demand for their hardware. When they give lack-luster or half-hearted support to standards, they make life difficult for us, for our customers… and for themselves. If you’re an ATI fan, we can make Seeker run for you. It actually runs fine on XP and Windows 2000, and we can run on Vista with some special work-around code that hopefully won’t be necessary for much longer. We also owe an honest answer to customers who are not traditional gamers. When they ask which graphics card to buy, we have to tell them to buy one from the vendor who gave us the least trouble during development of the product they are interested in, and the one who we think will give them the least trouble in the future.

Of course, none of this matters on Apple hardware. Apple writes 90% of the OpenGL driver regardless of whose hardware is being used, and I can only say nice things about Apple ;-)


Posted 04-20-2007 10:29 AM by Richard Wright


renegade83 wrote re: The SkyX, OpenGL & ATI
on 11-29-2008 9:36 PM

Well that's fine for the people who can choose the hardware that comes with their PCs, but I purchased Seeker and I can't get it to work in any of my computers because they don't have OpenGL 2.x. I recently bought a Toshiba laptop and found out I can't run Seeker on it either. As far as I know it has Intel chips and something called Intel accelerated graphics (?). In every PC I own that I've tried to install this program, it says that I have OpenGL 1.x and I need to upgrade to 2.x. I've tried to update my computer's video drivers to the latest and still comes up with the message. So far it's my first Bisque software that I purchase and I'm not happy with it. Just $100.00 down the tubes.


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