The Games SDK - A Shot in the Foot?

by Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing

Microsoft's early release of the Windows '95 Games SDK is to be applauded. Only a month or two after Win95 comes the promised high-performance games and multimedia development API that were promised. So far, so good…

But I wonder whether or not, in releasing the Games SDK, Microsoft haven't provided all of us with the best reason yet to take a serious look at the 32-bit version of Delphi (which should be shipping not too long after you read this, by all accounts). Certainly, that's the direction I'd be taking if I were a games or multimedia developer and didn't want to take on C++.

Of course, there’s another, little-known, Microsoft development tool for Windows ’95 by name of Visual Basic, but good ol’ VB is 100% ignored by the Games SDK - I couldn’t even find a reference in the Help File. This seems strange, but I guess we should all take the hint and assume that VB is unsuitable for games and multimedia development. Presumably, this is MS “admitting” that VB doesn’t perform well enough in the 32-bit environment to be a serious contender for games or multimedia. Which is both, in my opinion, a pity and just plain wrong.

Still, let’s ignore this strange situation and take a look…

My initial thought was that Microsoft had finally given up - the new DirectX API is 100% about hitting the hardware as directly as is possible, which possibly explains the fact that this is a Win95, not a Win32, SDK - Windows NT support is promised ‘in a future release’… presumably after MS figure out how to handle the security and portability implications of such direct hardware access as the DirectX provides.

My next thought was far more charitable, for one simple reason : the performance they manage to get out of Windows is pretty amazing. Those of you who have seen Fury3 will have some inkling, but this is far and away the fastest I’ve ever seen a non-DOS game run.

DirectX actually consists of four distinct components :

Having given the samples a brief look, it’s pretty clear that this was as fast a release as Microsoft could manage - some of the dialog boxes still bear ‘Beta’ labels - but it all seems straightforward. Assuming C is your preferred programming poison.

The way DirectX gets its performance is pretty simple, at least in theory - it provides loadable ‘mini-drivers’ for most popular sound and video devices (hence the fact it comes on CD only) which in turn provide direct hardware access. And, so long as Microsoft and/or manufacturers can keep up with these mini-drivers, I guess that’s the best way to go. Each mini-driver consists of a .drv and .vxd pair.

Of course, Microsoft’s need for a CD to hold all these (redistributable) components means that developers will probably be stuck with the same medium, so the GDK is not for that small single-floppy game you had in mind!

Still, if it gets the performance, I guess we’ll all be happy. Especially Borland.

Written by: Mark Trescowthick
Oct 95