We have oh so many reasons to worship at the gilded feet of ATi and Nvidia at the moment – their continual graphics development has lead to some extremely immerse and consuming games of late, with the promise of still more to come as the Silicon wars heat up. Although many have heralded the start of ‘real life’ or (‘VR’ in the 1990s) quality computer graphics as just being ‘around the corner’ in practice we are nowhere near. (Ask anyone who does Ray Tracing about their render times).
Despite significant leaps of late, GPU hardware presently lacks the horsepower to pull this feat off and as a result, game engines utilise trickeries which enhance the final rendered images on our screens. HDR/ Bloom to simulate ranges of lighting, AA / bump/parallax mapping to give flat textures the impression of having three dimensions, film grain and post processing (to name just a few) are all examples of ways in which we are catapulted into the darkest realms of the minds of game developers.
And you know what – it works. It works because the vast majority of games are not based on real life and there is a good reason for this – they would probably be slow paced and/or boring. It is much easier to transport a player into a gritty or glossy world and tell a story where the developer has complete control over the experience – and it is fun. Although please don’t get me started on recoil-less rifles, enemies who can take so much fire to put down you would expect them to look like apple cores, ‘unlimited’ ammo vehicles and some of the other ‘realistic’ travesties that have occurred in recent games.
I would write more on this topic, but I should veer back onto the point. Short films inspired by games are not new, however upto now they were normally poorly voiced over clip shows rendered in the originating game engine. However this is different- I discovered recently; well actually it was back in February so sue me 8) , Escape from City 17.
I can already see the 60 Watt bulbs illuminating above your heads, but for those of you on energy saving varieties, City 17 is the fictional setting of Half Life 2. The fan movie really serves as an advert from ‘The Purchase Brothers’ and it is fantastically put together considering their tiny budget. It blends the oppressive Orwellian City 17 with real life environments seamlessly resulting in a fantastic short video which I highly recommend.
At the rate Valve are working, Half Life 3 Episode 2 may look just like this… probably not worth ordering a bunch of 4870s or 295 GTXs in anticipation though.
A company called Procera today announced the availability of a 12u rack system that can perform deep packet inspection on 80Gbps of data in real time with 96% accuracy. In a world where Internet bandwidth increases daily, ISPs are embracing technologies such as DPI as they potentially offer an answer to this and other challenges the ISPs face such as Copyright and Intellectual property protection.
But what is deep packet inspection? It a process that allows for the identification and characterisation of packets (internet traffic) by content and purpose. It can distinguish between innocuous HTTP, FTP, VoIP and slightly less liked high bandwidth traffic like Bittorrent (and other P2P protocols) as well as streaming. Armed with this information, ISPs or Internet backbones could then opt to throttle bandwidth to services or users in real time based on time of the day, the services they are using or simply how much they are paying.
Whilst throttling high bandwidth services such as file sharing and movie streaming might seem like a good idea, this brings us to the idea of net neutrality. Net neutrality is a principle in which ISPs and Top Tier providers can opt to slow or block specific services or websites based on their bandwidth usage or any criterion of their choosing. Take for example Skype, if an ISP decided Skype was taking up too much bandwidth, or worse, was competing with their telephony services with its VoIP serice, it could opt to slow the traffic an end user (you or I) has with Skype’s service. This could restrict the application or usability of Skype to a point where it might no longer be functionally or financially viable. The ISP or provider could then ask Skype to pay a premium for it’s bandwidth to be restored. It works the other way as well, lets say there was another VoIP company who decided it wanted to have the fastest bandwidth / lowest latency (compared to other VoIP providers) to an ISP’s users, it could pay the ISP to prioritise it’s packets over others. As you can see the scales of services / content on the Internet, once promoted as a source for free and equal speech and services, becomes tipped in the favour of corporations stifling both creativity and innovation.
Throttling is not the answer to the long term (or even short term) bandwidth explosion the Internet has seen in recent years (thank you youtube ) and at $800,000 per machine, I can’t help wondering if the money would be better spent upgrading existing capacities.
UPDATE: I just read another related article which touched on something I had not considered. Privacy. Whilst most information about a packet can be gleaned from the routing header, there is nothing to stop this technology literally parsing Gbps of traffic for any (and all) information at all which could be store for later examination. The only limitation would be hard drive space, 80Gbps is 10Gb of data every second which would fill up a Petabyte (Pb) of storage every 28 hours. The only limit would be the computational power and storage available to the ISP/backbone operator.