3dfx Voodoo graphic cards emulation coming to DOSBox
Followers of the VOGONS board and DOSBox official forum are already aware of this: one of the forthcoming versions of the best PC-with-DOS emulator out there should include a very important architectural novelty, ie the software implementation of the historical Voodoo Graphics chipset created by 3dfx Interactive in the Nineties. “Kekko”, the programmer working on the project with the aid of the DOSBox crew and the coding-capable VOGONS users, says that his aim is the complete and faithful emulation of SST-1, the first Voodoo chipset marketed in 1996 inside the first 3D graphics accelerated cards on the PC.
Voodoo Graphics by 3dfx has actually the merit of having paved the way for the independent management of polygonal graphics, freeing the CPU from the demanding workload of three dimensional scenes rendering and giving them smoothness and visual quality never seen before. Supplied in wholesale volumes to third party manufacturers of graphic cards, for a short period of time SST-1 has been the point of reference for the then-born universe of accelerated 3D graphics. After the original Voodoo Graphics chipset came four other unique iterations of the Voodoo series (Voodoo 2, 3, 4 and 5), until wrong economic choices and the always increasing competition from ATI, NVIDIA and others brought 3dfx to bankruptcy in 2000.
The Voodoo Graphics chips appeared on the PC market in a very important period: Windows 95 was a novelty still far away from being installed on all the x86 computers of the planet, and the MS-DOS command prompt was the king in the households as much as in the enterprises. Before the definitive success of Windows and the DirectX libraries, games developers made a certain amount of DOS titles capable of exploiting the 3dfx accelerating technology through the proprietary API Glide.
Right now DOSBox can’t manage Glide games by itself, and there is no such thing like a true PC emulator able to simulate the behaviour of the SST-1 chipset. The new engine by Kekko and the other contributors will dismiss the need to use a particular DOSBox build (originally created by developer “gulikoza”) to access the Glide libraries on the host computer and the external wrappers (emulation layers designed to convert API Glide calls in native DirectX or OpenGL calls meaningful to modern 3D technologies) like OpenGLide or the Glidos commercial product based on it.
Kekko announced the beginning of the SST-1 emulation project on August, and the development work has advanced quickly thanks to the contribution – critical as usual – by Aaron Giles, main contributor and director of the MAME project. Giles started to work on the emulation of 3dfx technology (popular on the PC but also on the arcade machines) years ago, and thanks to the work “behind the scenes” by the mamedev “Stiletto” the MAME code related to the Voodoo chipset has been released with an open source license (BSD) that is compatible with the GPL one adopted by DOSBox.
Three different moments in the development of the SST-1 emulation under DOSBox
Working “on the shoulders of the giants”, in a few weeks Kekko has succeeded in achieving an almost-complete emulation of the SST-1 chipset with 3D graphics rendering right inside DOSBox, with no additional patches or external wrappers. But the work isn’t complete for sure, the developer says on VOGONS: the main areas to advance the emulation on include a better compatibility with the few Glide games for DOS and improved performances by using a multi-threading architecture on multi-core CPUs, or else by using the GPU to ease the workload of the main processor. Right now, the developers say, the activation of the SST-1 core – which like the original hardware needs a 2D card working simultaneously – turns DOSBox into a useless snail.