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A Look at ATI's New Technologies

At this year's Game Developers Conference, ATI unveiled a couple of new technologies, The Charisma EngineTM and Pixel TapestryTM Architecture, that should be of interest to both gamers and game developers. I recently had a chance to speak to ATI's group product manager for desktop graphics, Kevin Oerton, about the technologies. Here's what I found out.

The Purpose

ATI is developing these technologies in response to the market's ever growing desire for games that look better, do more, and run faster. They want game developers to be able to have the freedom to make rich, detailed, life-like game worlds without having to worry about hardware limitations, putting the focus on content creation instead.

The Charisma EngineTM and Pixel TapestryTM Architecture hope to be able to make this goal a reality, each in its own way. So what are they exactly? Before getting into the specifics of each, a brief overview is in order.

Both technologies will be offered on ATI's next generation of video cards, based on the Radeon 256. Contrary to my initial assumption, they will not require separate APIs; all features of both technologies will be accessable through Direct3D and OpenGL, using extensions in some cases. In designing the technologies, ATI consulted with game developers to make sure the architecture is easy to use and provides the features developers want. Information about programming for the architecture will be freely and completely accessable, and it should be available this summer.

The Charisma EngineTM

This half of the technology is the geometry engine, adding several key new features to the standard geometry pipeline, including hardware transformation, clipping, and lighting (TCL). However, it is not just a generic engine; it is specialized for character animation. Accordingly, it also provides hardware support for vertex skinning and 3D keyframe interpolation.

  • TCL: NVIDIA caused a stir last year when they brought hardware TnL to the consumer level. In adding clipping to that, ATI promises to be able to push even more polygons, increasing detail and quality even further, and freeing up processor cycles for other tasks, such as AI and physics. Let's take a closer look at each of these features.
  • Vertex Skinning: This will allow for more natural character moving and bending by allowing up to 4 matrices for blending.
  • 3D Keyframe Interpolation: With this, you can morph your models from one position to another, allowing you to set how many interpolated frames are inserted, thus allowing a fully scalable animation system. This will lend itself especially well to facial expressions and lip motion.

Environment mapped bump mapping

Pixel TapestryTM Architecture

Shadow mapping

Pixel Tapestry is the rendering engine, and to me is the more impressive half of the pair. Its features are:

  • Supports up to 3 texturing units per pipeline. This translates into no performance slowdown for advanced effects such as light maps, shadow maps, reflections, bump maps, specular maps, detail textures, and gloss maps.
  • Versatile texture transformation capability accelerates cubic environment mapping, projective texturing and more.
  • Supports the emboss, dot product 3, and environment mapped bump mapping methods.
  • Provides environment mapping with varying complexity & quality, including spherical, dual-paraboloid, and cubic.
  • A prioriy buffer which can be used for shadow mapping, providing a faster, easier to implement alternative to stencil buffers.
  • 3D textures for effects like dynamic light maps, volumetric fog, smoke, and fluids.


These new technologies and the Radeon 256 looks impressive, and I'm personally looking forward to getting my hands on one of these cards. An important factor, of course, is how well it is received by consumers, and how well it fares against NVIDIA's GeForce2 and 3dfx's Voodoo5. We'll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.

To find out more about the Charisma Engine, Pixel Tapestry, and Radeon graphics, check out ATI's site.