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Apple, MS spar for 3D games market

Apple and Microsoft made preliminary moves today in what is shaping up as an all-out contest for the 3D games market.

Apple and Microsoft made preliminary moves today in what is shaping up as an all-out contest for the 3D games market.

Apple unveiled its 3D RAVE (Rendering Acceleration Virtual Engine) API for third-party graphics-board and software developers. RAVE provides developers with a Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) that standardizes basic 3D rendering functions and lets developers write programs directly to 3D hardware, thereby significantly speeding up both hardware and software performance.

RAVE is the heart of the existing Apple QuickDraw 3D graphics toolkit and by opening up the API and giving away free licenses to developers, Apple hopes to get RAVE accepted as an industry standard, most importantly in the critical games market. Sixteen hardware vendors endorsed Apple's effort today, including Daystar Digital, Diamond Multimedia, Matrox, and Radius.

Apple also wants to have the most cross-platform 3D-rendering API. The company said it will ship RAVE in March for the Mac OS and Windows 95 and then follow up with a Windows NT version in the second quarter.

Microsoft announced its Direct3D API last October based on the Reality Lab 3D technology acquired when it bought RenderMorphics Ltd. But the company didn't sit still today while Apple tried to steal its thunder.

Microsoft issued a list of the more than 80 vendors--including software, hardware, and systems vendors--who have already endorsed Direct3D. The company also announced its intent to extend Direct3D to run on Windows NT Workstation and the Power Macintosh. But Microsoft isn't expecting to ship those versions until the end of the year, a schedule that gives Apple at least a six-month head start with vendors who want to develop games for several platforms simultaneously.

A beta of the Windows 95 version was released today, however, and the final release is slated for the second quarter, Microsoft said. Microsoft will build run-time components of Direct3D into both of its operating systems so that any Direct3D-compatible application will run.

Regardless of who wins the marketing game, the availability of the new 3D APIs should mean the proliferation of low-cost 3D hardware accelerators and "seriously evil" 3D games just in time for the 1996 holiday season, said one Apple games product manager.