Microsoft today announced that DirectX 8.0 is now available for download. For those of you living under a rock, DirectX is the API used by many games and multimedia applications running under Windows, and the latest version adds a whole shedload of new features as well as many improvements and performance tweaks to make the API even more credible for game development, gaining support from the likes of Epic's Tim Sweeney of Unreal fame as well as graphics card manufacturers 3dfx, ATI, NVIDIA.
The most exciting part of the API is Direct3D, the graphics component, which now features customisable vertex and pixel shaders. Cutting through the jargon, that means even more incredible special effects, and improved support for hardware transform & lighting acceleration. The next generation of 3D graphics cards will be taking full advantage of these features, and we can expect to see them used to stunning (or merely gratuitous) effect in the games of the next few years. Perhaps less spectacular but equally important are changes to the rest of the API, including the addition of voice communications to the DirectPlay network gaming component, and consolidation of DirectSound and DirectMusic, as well as improvements to DirectInput to make detection and support of games controllers easier.