In the second part of our interview, we've concentrated on Futuremark's next version of 3DMark. Once again, all of our questions were directed towards and kindly answered by Nicklas Renqvist, currently their Benchmark Development Architect.

We think it's time to spill the beans (or at least, show us the can label) for the next 3DMark? What snippets can you tell us - what shader model are you considering as the default option (SM2.0 again)? What kind of effects are you going to highlight this time - parallax bump mapping, tone mapping, soft shadow edges?

I don’t think it is a secret that we have been working very hard to bring out one more DirectX9 3D benchmark before we move over to the next big thing, Windows Vista. I don’t want to spill all the beans about the next 3DMark yet, since the benchmark is not done, and there are some things that may still change. The minimum required shader model will be 2.0, but we will also have a couple of graphics tests requiring SM3.0 with support for FP16 textures and blending of these.

We will introduce a plethora of new and improved effects in the next 3DMark. HDR is maybe one of the coolest new effects that we have done. We know that there are some games out already using HDR, but we wanted our HDR to “go to eleven” (one louder). We are using a very complex and advanced post-processing effect for our HDR rendering which makes it look absolutely amazing, and it really works like a charm. You should be able to see some of it in the screen shot we have provided for this interview. Of course we also use tone mapping, which is essential in order to make HDR look correct. But we didn’t stop there. We also wanted to create some other mind-blowing effects such as subsurface scattering effect in the shaders, HDR refraction & reflection water shaders with depth fog, heterogeneous fog, realistic sky model with cloud blending, Strauss lighting model etc. A lot of new things we haven’t had in previous 3DMarks. Of course we also made a lot of work with the shadows, so we will be introducing an even better approach to dynamic soft shadows for every object on screen than we have in 3DMark05. We are really pleased with what we have been able to produce in such a short time, and I’m really looking forward to hear the reactions from our users and the media professionals.

Are you pursuing more complex surface shaders than regular bump mapping or offset mapping? With SM 3.0 hardware, displacement maps no longer have any excuse left to be missing in action. If you’ve considered them, how are you finding the texture fetch latency in the vertex shader of current hardware and do you think displacement maps will remain the proverbial shining castle on the hill?

At the time of writing this, it looks like we won’t be using any offset mapping (parallax mapping) or displacement mapping in the next 3DMark. We thought about using them, but we don’t really see the need to use them. There is a huge variety of effects/ideas/techniques we have been playing around with, but unfortunately not all can make it into one benchmark. However, the benchmark is still in development so I can’t say for sure what we will end up supporting in the next 3DMark.

The biggest problem with new and cool effects is that they simply can’t be used all at the same time, unless you want to make the application into a tech-demo. We need to keep in mind that even though we want to push the hardware to its limits, we must not overdo it. We could add a bagful of effects and shaders to all the scenes, but that wouldn’t be realistic. No game developers would ever go too crazy with the effects. Of course it would be nice to be able to have them all in one scene, but that’s something I’d say tech-demos are for, and not professional benchmarks which are meant to measure gaming performance of the hardware. Having said this, you can rest assured that it is going to be the most advanced real-time 3D content out there with a well balanced set of new features being used.