A new graphics engine usable for video games and other industries is throwing out polygons for atoms. The technology from Euclideon could mark the “largest breakthrough since 3-D graphics began,” states a demonstration video from the company.
Most computer graphics are currently based on pixels, flat shapes placed at different angles to create depth. There are several tricks to make these look more realistic, such as bump mapping that gives a 3-D illusion through clever painting, but the images will always be flat at their core. Game companies have been slowly increasing pixel counts to enhance graphics, but this is limited to what everyday computers can process.
Euclideon uses voxels instead of pixels, and builds objects from innumerable tiny orbs, similar to how matter in the real world is built from molecules and atoms. Normally this would not be possible for broad use since no household computer can process the massive amount of data needed But Euclideon claims to have found a way to create “unlimited detail” and make it run on any modest home computer.
A video (check it out at the bottom of this post) from Euclideon showing off the new technology looks stunning, with each object having a more organic and lifelike look than anything out there today.
“There are lots of large companies that are pouring billions of dollars into trying to increase the polygon count. At present, they seem to be able to increase it by about 25 percent a year. If any of these large companies was to suddenly come out with ten times more polygons than their competitors, that would be enormous news,” states a video demo. “But we didn’t incase the geometry count by ten times, or a hundred times, or a thousand times. We increased it so far we could have abandoned polygons altogether and moved them into atoms and run them in unlimited quantities.”
The company unveiled the technology in 2010, created a lot of buzz online, then nothing was heard from them for more than a year. Most online talk turned to doubt as to whether the technology was real to begin with.
In August, however, Euclideon came out again with a new video showing off an even more refined version of the engine. In the video, they say they’re “not finished yet,” but have made some advancements. The stuck point, they claim, is they’re having trouble finding 3-D models complex enough to take full advantage of the technology. “Where do we get polygon trees that have as much detail as the real world ?, were [sic] do we acquire realistic polygon objects ? People have not been this free before so there was not any reason to create such objects with massive levels of detail,” reads a statement on their website.
The Australia-based company received a $2 million grant from the Australian government to adapt the technology for use on game consoles, mobile phones, and other platforms.
Despite the impressive demos, however, there is strong doubt passing around online as to whether the technology can do what the developers claim. The strongest voice behind the doubt is Markus “Notch” Persson, creator of the enormously popular game “Minecraft.”
Notch states bluntly on his personal blog, “It’s a scam,” and goes on to defend his statement.
He points out the technology is based on voxels, which are basically three dimensional pixels. They have been used to render video game graphics before, including in the 1998 game, “Delta Force,” and in the 1997 game “Blade Runner.” According to Notch, voxels can “make up loads of repeated structured, all roughly the same size,” but things start to slow down when they start making too many objects that are different from one-another. “This explains how they can have that much data, but it also shows one of the biggest weaknesses of their engine,” he states.
He adds another weakness in the systems is that “voxels are horrible for doing animation” since computers can’t alter their shapes fast enough for smooth animation.
In a separate post, Notch adds that in the Euclideon tech video “All repeated structures in the world are all facing the same direction. To me, that means they aren’t able to easily rotate them arbitrarily.”
He also calculated data provided by Euclideon, estimating a world like the one shown in the tech demo would take at least 170,000 three-terabyte hard drives to hold, which he says hints that “there was no way there was that much UNIQUE data in the world, and that everything had to be made up of repeated chunks.”
Euclideon CEO Bruce Dell explained some of the points raised by Notch in an interview with gaming website GameSpy. He stated that the repletion of objects shown in the demo was “not a limitation of the technology, it simply came down to not having enough time to make more objects. We only have one artist and the poor guy has been slaving away to the point that even Cinderella would have pity on him.” Dell admitted that animation was still going slow, since voxel animations do not look as smooth as polygons as of yet, but added that this is one of the main areas his team is working on. He said the same applies to lighting effects, which they are still refining.
He also responded directly to Notch’s comments, saying the existing voxel engines Notch mentioned “are very slow even with the best hardware thrown at them and that is why they aren’t used. We are nothing like those systems, we run unlimited geometry in real-time using only software.” Adding that they use “a different way of storing memory” so that it doesn’t “gobble up” as much memory as Notch says the system would use.
All images courtesy of Euclideon