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Exclusive interview with Oliver Baltuch, Futuremark President

You don’t have to be the world’s biggest sports buff to know that refereeing is a thankless task. When competitors go head-to-head for the biggest prizes, creating the leading benchmark by which all of their multi-multi-million dollar research and development will be judged is a serious business. Presiding over Futuremark through a period of unparalleled evolution, is Oliver Baltuch. KitGuru drew up a long list of questions for an exclusive interview – and Mr President was kind enough to answer them. So, here we go then.

Straight after learning to program in Fortran on a PDP11, Oliver’s first PC was an Amiga 1000. Growing up, he wanted to be a Canadian Diplomat or, possibly, a Wild Animal Veterinarian. From what we can tell, he’s combined these childhood dreams as he diplomatically tries to calm the wild passions that never cease to arise when someone mentions ‘benchmarks’.

Futuremark President: Oliver Baltuch

Given that every player in this game has a revenue stream in the billions, and is armed to the teeth with engineers, lawyers and marketing specialists. The first question must be, “How does Futuremark balance the competing demands from each vendor”?

Oliver replies, “The processes and rules that have been put in place over the past 14 years of the Benchmark Development Program along with the strong Finnish character demanding fairness has gone a long way to maintain the benchmarks balance between competing interests”.

“Also, the members are fully entitled to visit our headquarters in Espoo, Finland to see the benchmark source code along with our Change Request Process”, he said. “That allows for all changes that are requested to be seen by all the members prior to a change being made”.

This is something that was explained in some depth over the summer months in Hong Kong.

In the coffee bar on Unreal University day, Mike Gamble and Dana Cowley. (Photo Kitguru)

During the running of their Unreal University in London, KitGuru managed to get an exclusive interview with Epic’s Mike Gamble. Mike compared today’s mobile/tablet/smartphone market with the graphic card market 10 years ago – a bit of a cowboy situation where everyone has their own standards. He also said that he thinks this will resolve itself within 2 years, as hardware advances and the rise of Android combine to create a common baseline for developers. We put this to Oliver, asking how can Futuremark translate its skill, experience and brand to these new areas?

Oliver agrees, “Mr. Gamble is correct that it is at present a bit of a jump ball. We announced this week that we will be working on the creation of a 3DMark for Android Benchmark that will hopefully ease this situation”. Interesting stuff for the Kitguru faithful, who love a bit of mobility.

He continued, “Let me also add that I always advocate for using many benchmarks from both Games as well as Synthetic metrics to get a full picture of a device’s performance. The more data, the better/fairer the comparison that can be achieved”. We could not agree more.

While Android presents a new challenge in the mobile space, there is enough variety/confusion on the shelves of the major retailers right now to be getting along with. Stepping into John Lewis, PC World or any of the other high-street retailers, customers could be buying DX9 notebooks, basic DX10 desktop PCs or enthusiast class DX11 systems (with rumours of an updated DX11 to follow – for added complexity).

We asked Oliver how can Futuremark provide a common benchmarking platform across such a diverse range of platforms? This is familiar territory, “As seen with 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark11 and PCMark7, we offer several levels of the benchmark from Entry Scores through Performance to Xtreme for those who build monster overclocked, liquid cooled rigs” he said.

“Each level has a different set of resolutions, shaders, tessellation, math etc, so as to accurately measure the performance in each range. With the new benchmarks we are working on today, that range is becoming even more diverse from Tablets up to the high end. We are working with our excellent BDP (Benchmark Development Program) partners to solve this every day”, said Oliver.

This sounds like an enormous amount of work. Just how many people work at Futuremark and how many of them are programmers/developers? It seems that the company leans heavily toward the engineering side of things.

“At present we are about 35 total people of whom at least 30 are developers, artists, designers or programmers”, he said. “We run very lean with a small staff for operations, marketing and business development”.

While the complexity and diversity of the market has grown exponentially, the team seems to have remained tight. Advances in development tools have probably helped. So was Oliver able to comment on  what Futuremark’s schedule look like going forward?

Oliver told KitGuru, “We are on about the same schedule, but we try to optimize/match around large leaps in either Operating Systems, API technologies or Hardware”.

When it comes to favourites, Futuremark looks to go out of its way to remain balanced – even when the questions moved outside straight graphics, for example to adding realism. We asked about the Bullet Physics Library, Havok and PhysX and “They are all lovely API’s for doing Physics in Games” was the reply.

Part of the reason why Futuremark has done such a good job of balancing so many conflicting needs, must be to do with the make-up of the staff at the company. Off the top of his head, Oliver told us that among his staff, there were experts who liked to sky dive, fly planes, travel to the far reaches of the world, play classical and rock music, scale rocks/cliffs, write, engage in art, work metal, build houses, enjoy photography and research weapons – as well as the odd animal lover.  Now that’s what we call an eclectic bunch.

When not driving the future of Futuremark’s benchmarking efforts forward, Oliver loves heading down Pacific Coast Highway (1) in Santa Cruz with his 10′ 6″ Custom Hobie on the top of a Land Rover – headed for Jacks with a cup of 100% Kona. Nice. Blasting on the stereo would be the multi-tonal musings of Ledward Kaapana

Opera legend Jessye Norman

We did ask Oliver for his favourite leading lady and were surprised to hear that she comes not from the regular world of film, but rather opera star Jessye Norman.

At heart, Oliver still has a passion for animals as his involvement with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund shows.

Having seen Oliver smiling in a restaurant, KitGuru wondered if he can handle himself in the kitchen area, we weren’t disappointed. He claims his culinary kung-fu to be strongest with “Wild Alaskan Halibut made on a Weber grill served with a Corton Charlemagne (White Burgundy) accompanied by whatever is at the farmers market” or, when he has a spare 18 hours, “Mole Negro de Pasillas with Beef Short Ribs”.

Damn. Our mouths are watering now!

Just like Clint Eastwood said, a man’s gotta know his limitations and Oliver was quick to point out that no matter how much he might love Indian food, he cannot get the blend of spices for Lamb Korma right when he’s at home. Good news for his local takeaway then.

Finally, we asked Oliver if anything in the world should be called a ‘Baltuch’. Expecting a sandwich, car or instrument, we were surprised when he provided the details for an article in IEEE Electron Device Letter back in 1989 for an efficient coupling of optical fibre to silicon photodiode. He also dropped in a patent describing optoelectonic interconnections for III-V devices on silicon. Blimey. He DOES know what he’s talking about!

KitGuru says: Many thanks to Oliver and Futuremark for this unique insight into the organisation that benchmarks the world and the man behind the Presidency.

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