Last week some of us from the Mono team at Novell went to
San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference. As some of
my dear readers know, I was not much of a gamer a year ago,
and I do not claim to understand this industry.
Mono is currently being used by a major publisher  to script a
new version of a popular franchise (the new edition) and Mono
is also the engine that
drives Unity3D for
scripting and SecondLife is beta testing Mono now on their
Other than being fascinated by Unity3D and SecondLife, we
had not really paid much attention to games. But in the last
nine months we started to get a constant stream of requests to
license the Mono runtime to power more and more games.
Hill joined Novell in January as Mono's product manager we
started to revisit some of these request. People wanted to
get a proprietary license for Mono to use on the PlayStation,
the XBox and the Wii and some folks also wanted Mono under
non-LGPL terms (as it turns out, important to prevent
Three weeks before the GDC conference, our in-house expert
on the game industry Michael Hutchinson told us that this
conference existed. In a couple of days we booked some space
on the show and we got things in place, we were going to
promote Mono as an
Mono in Games
As it turns out, .NET-based tools and .NET-based scripting
of tools are pervasive in the game industry.
As for the games themselves, engines are typically written
in a combination of C++, C and assembly language and the
high-level code is written with scripting languages.
Lua is the most popular
language to embed in a game (a procedural C-like language) and
Python, variations on Lisp and a never ending stream of
evolved batch languages.
People want to reuse Mono on games for a few different
tasks. These are some of the reasons that we know about:
- Speed: as games become more complex, and
people spend more money on software that takes
advantage of GPUs, optimizing compilers and even
special hardware for physics the weakest performance
spot on a game has typically been the language that
has been used to implement the high-level portions of
In a world that is increasingly green, it is a
waste of perfectly healthy computer cycles to
interpret your code when you can use an optimizing JIT
compiler to run your code.
- Mainstream Language Support: In some cases,
game companies have created their own languages,
evolved or modified existing languages (modified
versions of Lua are common). Some people would like
to get access to more mainstream languages to develop
their game logic.
In the short term, jumping from procedural
languages to object oriented languages is a first
Hopefully they will drink the functional kool-aid
and use some of the C# functional features, or even F#
to write their games.
- Code Sharing: C# or .NET code that is today
written to run on servers, or as part of the tools
being used to create games can now be easily be reused
on the game itself.
- Mainstream Tool Support: Many games engines
are already being developed with Visual Studio. Game
developers can use the same tools to develop and debug
the high-level game play scripts that they use to
develop and debug the game engine.
Luckily, developers that have been writing Lua code for
years will be happy to know that they can compile their Lua
code to run on Mono (and get the performance boost they need)
Update: The always great Lua developers have pointed
out that the new thing is not Lua2IL
Mono and XNA
Mono does not really attempt to compete
Microsoft's XNA is an end-to-end solution for game
developers that want to create games for Windows, the XBox and
the Zune, the XNA approach is to write manage code on *top* of
This works for certain kinds of games, but in the game
developer space, some developers need to support more than one
console and the high-end games (am sure there is a technical
terms for these) end up licensing game engines, audio engines,
graphics and physics from all kinds of middleware vendors.
In those cases (even when targeting the XBox) C# and .NET
would not be available to the game developer.
So we basically think of the Mono runtime merely as a fast
scripting engine with all of the ECMA/ISO CLI benefits and not
really as providers of gaming APIs.
There has been some discussion in the #mono channel
recently about whether we would create or endorse a gaming API
developed by a third party. Like blessing Tao or OpenTK as
the standard way of building games for Mono.
Although there is some value in having a blessed set of
libraries for Mono, and I have no problem if people want to
call their libraries Mono.Gaming, at this point the team at
Novell is not able to dedicate any cycles to this effort (we
can provide spiritual support, along the lines of yelling "Go
team! Go" from the sidelines).
Intrinsics and Parallel Code
Am personally fascinated by running computational code on
the GPU or taking advantage of special CPU instructions at the
runtime level. Last
wrote a bit about how we could implement this in Mono
an implementation) and later we even made it part of our
conference some people asked as to whether it would be
possible to take advantage of the PlayStation3 six SPE
processors. During the conference I had no idea that there
was already a project using Mono on the PS3 with Linux that
already does this, but the idea sounded fascinating.
It is particularly fascinating because the SPEs on the PS3
do not have the same limitations than GPU computations have,
these are full blown CPUs (with some memory limitations) but
still general purpose computation devices.
Paolo pointed me
to CellDotNet: A
project to make it possible to run .NET code on the Cell
architecture.. CellDotNet is basically a JIT compiler
(written in entirely in C#) that can compile CIL bytecodes
into native code for the PS3 SPE processors (this is a project
from Klaus Hansen and Rasmus Halland).
They have ported the SciMark benchmark to use some vector
operations in the SPE. Currently I am unable to report the
numbers as I do not have a PS3 running Linux, but I am
expensing a PS3 as we speak to be able to report these back to
you dear readers.
What makes CellDotNet all the more interesting is combining
C# new functional features with the
Extensions to .NET.
Two good articles to get a grasp on what this offers
Managed Code For Multi-Core Machines
LINQ: Running Queries On Multi-Core Processors.
PLINQ is built on top of the Language Integrated Query
(LINQ), and although it has been promoted mostly as a
technology to do database queries, the Parallel LINQ
extensions basically supports map/reduce inside C#.
These libraries are only available as a technology preview
currently for .NET and they do not exist yet for Mono.
Hopefully we will get these implemented at some point.
 Our contract with said major publisher does not allow
me to disclose who they are or the the game they develop on my
blog. But it allows Novell to publish the information on the
Novell site. After a year of asking Novell people to put this
information on the web site, the information has not yet been
posted. So the mystery as to what this is will sadly