Euclideon, an Australian company who we initially heard from all the way back in the heady days of 2010, has reappeared after a long exile to plug its ‘Unlimited Detail’ graphics technology to games designers.
In this fascinating video, narrated by Euclideon CEO Bruce Robert Dell in an idiosyncratic infomercial style, Unlimited Detail is pitched as a technology that will allow objects to be built up from far smaller and more numerous building blocks than the polygons that rule the market today. Dell promises several times that UD will deliver “10,000 times” the rendering performance of contemporary engines.
Be sure to bump up the resolution to 1080p for the full effect.
As impressive as the demonstration seems, voice-over notwithstanding, some experts in the graphics field have been less than impressed. Legendary id Software developer John Carmack has doubts that the technology is feasible on current generation hardware. Posting on Twitter, he wrote, “no chance of a game on current gen systems, but maybe several years from now. Production issues will be challenging.”
While polygon renderers represent objects with hundreds or thousands of flat triangles, voxel renderers use three-dimensional volumetric pixels to represent the use of space by that object. Voxels offer a significant boost to the complexity and level of detail, with the possibility of more realistic geometry as a result. This could in turn reduce the need for computationally expensive anti-aliasing solutions and post-processing effects to cover up the shortcomings in polygonal graphics.
On the downside however, animation and realistic physics have always proved difficult to implement in voxel systems. You may have noticed that the beautiful scenery in the video at the top of this story was remarkably static, with no hint of moving with the wind or in response to avatar movement. There was also a distinct lack of moving characters, or interaction beyond zooming the camera in and out.
Essentially, the problem is that voxel animations must be pre-computed, as the performance cost of calculating the collisions and interactions on the fly is prohibitive. It is quite possible as some have suggested, that Euclideon could combine their voxel system with polygon-based rendering for character models and other objects that require animation.
Voxels of the past
This approach was used in the 1999 tactical shooter Delta Force 2, where the combination of voxel rendering and tiling allowed the designers to create levels far larger and more detailed than seen in most other contemporary games.
Voxels have fallen out of favour recently, although Euclideon’s announcement may do much to revive their fortunes. For an in-depth discussion of the technical issues at work, consult the discussion on Reddit.