Love the Voxel, Hate the Snakeoil

Posted by admin on August 2nd, 2011 filed in Computers, Games

Do you remember the whole story about the “Unlimited Detail Renderer” that started in 2010? A bunch of anonymous Australians (I think) aggressively advertised the latest revolution in 3D engine design. Of course we were courious what that would be, and looked at their videos. (I’m not linking them on purpose.) In contrast to the unlimited copy&paste armies of 3D rendered statues, ruins, and trees, the amount of information on their web page was, well, limited.

Lots of unanswered questions here: How can they do this with software rendering only? How does it distinguish itself from, or compare to, voxels? Why are they silent about the drastic limitations displayed in the demos (no animations, repetitive content, lame lighting/shaders)?

The reason why 3D designers choose polygons over voxels for game scenes is not ignorance, it’s because games must actually fit on a normal user’s harddrive. Strangely, they say nothing about generating, compressing, or even storing these amounts of data they speak of (literally, pieces of gravel)? Currently voxels are mostly used for scientific visualizations of molecules, or to view 3D-scanned objects. We already knew that, they don’t say how they are more efficient than the existing solutions (other than claiming to be “infinitely” better).

One would think they could pick a game dev company to work with. Instead they post marketing videos, advertising their idea — well, to who? Venture capitalists? Why is their technology such a hard sell to the real target group?

Well, they fell silent and disappeared and we forgot about them. The topic came up again today, because they posted a new video, and indie game hero Notch promptly commented in his blog: It’s a scam. Notch is practically asking the same question as we did (he also includes a link to the Unlimited Unlimitedness, if you are curious).

For comparision:

Lords of Uberdark is a voxel-based game (in progress) where you construct and destruct the world around you. It’s like Minecraft, but round, and minus the zombies. :-o It uses a cute cell shader that gives it a neat cartoon-like style (admittedly, such a filter is mostly to cover up voxel glitches, but it works well). Some people on the jme forum said it was only an approximation and not real voxels, I can’t tell, in any case, it’s innovative and sandbox/crafting is a popular genre.

This is Branislav’s Atomontage, a real voxel destruction engine. You can modify the world live (e.g. add stuff to the scene, leave tyre tracks, punch holes in buildings — and then throw tanks though the holes…), including a physics simulation. Listen to the videos: When this guy says “physics”, you know that he means physics as in “physics and chemistry”, and not just collision physics. The Atomontage demos also show simple animations (he mixed in a working polygon-based truck and tank). He says he generates the (rather small) terrains procedurally, and it takes him hours. In his demos, Branislav is capable of explaining what the engine can and cannot do, in detail, without repeating the same two “unlimited!!” sentences. Call me gullible, but if I was to invest money, I’d choose Atomontage in a heartbeat over “Unlimited Unlimitedness”.

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