Another Up-Coming Big Leap

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This is somewhat of a follow up to my last post on the Oculus Rift HMD/VR Headset. While that is a piece of hardware set to change the way we see/play games, what I'm going to talk about now is more about software.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn't like the look of games on PS1 and other consoles in that era. The best looking games were only games that just didn't look particularly bad. This was due to 3D being done using polygons which lacked the advancements done since then to make them less jagged, richer in color, and just plain have more of them to make things look less blocky. While back then I just didn't find many games particularly appealing, looking back at those games now, some look down right hideous.

But polygons were all we really had. If you don't know, polygons are, simply put, triangles or deformed rectangles. 3-4 points get specified, then a picture gets placed in between those points to create whatever is desired to be seen. Either a piece of terrain, maybe a piece of clothes or skin, etc. As game tech has evolved more and more polygons can be placed on a screen at a time, and this makes things look smoother and all around better like we see from games today.

Despite that, even in games today, if you look closely at a game you can see the polygons. While games may get better and better looking, polygons are always going to be limiting games from achieving that perfect realistic look the future of the game industry should be striving for. But it is the best of the worst possible ways to do 3D, so were stuck with it.

Things like voxels have existed for awhile. If you've played MineCraft, you've seen voxels. While it's a very good game, visually it looks like crap compared to other modern games. It doesn't look like that purely for its personal artistic uniqueness or anything. It looks like a N64 game because of the limits of voxels. It just takes more data being processed at a time to display voxels. The real world is made of atoms, so ideally to replicate that in a game you would want to do something comparable. Voxels would fit that. But as they are now, they will always be behind polygons in when it comes to pleasant graphics. I say "as they are now", because someone could rethink the technology and cause a great leap forward. And that just may have been done.

Enter a new small company called Euclideon. This group has caused a bit of controversy after releasing a couple YouTube videos about a year apart and remaining silent in between. They made enormous claims that if true would turn the graphics industry on its head, and with such claims the silence rightfully seems very shady to a lot of people. To this day they could be orchestrating a hoax. We honestly don't know until they reveal more or release playable demos. To me though, they seem legit, and I can't wait to see more.

Getting to the point, what they have claimed is to be able to render games in unlimited detail using atom based graphics. To break it down more, while they claim it isn't voxels, the tech their claiming to use is at the least very similar or just an evolution of voxels that was needed. Its called Point Cloud data. They render worlds by the atom, each far smaller then seen in MineCraft, with more density and at very usable speeds. If they can truly do this, worlds will look amazing. Graphics artists will no longer have their hands tied behind their back. Simply, 3D games will look like we always wanted them to. If the same tech can be applied to character models, our games would look like those amazing cut scenes videos and trailers for games that for me, always lead to a huge let down once I get into the game and see it looks little to nothing like that quality.

Without further ado, watch this video for yourself.

For the disbelievers the video below is more interesting, but much longer. It's a interview with the project head, and in it you get to see their demo played in real time as best as it can be proved at this point. At the very least, when you watch this video you should begin to think "This is a AWFUL lot of work for a hoax if it is one!", which to me means its chance of being one is very low. The only other reason to go to this extent is for scamming money out of investors, of which they claim they don't need any. If their privately taking behind the scenes funding, we will never know. Still, I'm choosing to believe in it for now.

If true, what this will mean is that $500 graphics card you have right now is almost worthless as it would be little to no different then a $50 one. This Point Cloud rendering is all done on the CPU, not the GPU, or so they claim. Now in the future, GFX cards could very well be redesigned to take some of the load and increase performance, but we wouldn't see that right away. If developing a game for this is just as easy as it is with polygons, then this should get adopted quickly and NVIDIA and ATI should be struggling to adapt for a little while.

That's the only bad with this, but even then things could go differently. There could be a marriage between the 2 techs, and for example, polygons could still be used for character models. For all I know, doing such a thing could cause character models polygon counts to be safely increased much higher. Things like lighting, shadows, etc, could all still be handled by current GFX hardware.

Also of note. This is a graphics engine, similar to the Unreal engine series most of us know about. This means that the possibility of seeing this on consoles is fairly good. If we do, there should really be little difference in the 3 major consoles if their games are being created using such an engine. People will further realize that things like innovation and features matter more. And thankfully, this favors my favorite brand as Nintendo is the only one that really tries to innovate.

Below is a video from another site showcasing some of whats been done since then. At first when looking at the preview still, it seems like a pic of the real world. It is however a real time rendered 3D environment. It's fairly obvious once the video starts playing, even it you didn't see into the emptiness of infinity at some points. But its still massively better then the environments being rendered right now with polygons! But with such a small environment size, it's still not likely the definitive proof that hopeful skeptics would like to see.

Read the full story here 

What we need to see next, besides them obviously just finishing their tech and putting it into the hands of game devs, is a downloadable demo or acknowledgement from undeniably credible names in the gaming industry. The latter being maybe similar to John Carmack lending his name and face along side of the Oculus Rift. I'd like to see this just to get past all the negativity surrounding this project. Its such a huge step for gaming that it just needs to have all the most legitimate claims to it being fake squashed, so things could move forward with it getting the proper attention it deserves. With a demo, well, that would be even more significant as long as they didn't impose tons of limits on it. But it would also be dangerous for them as company. Once any code is out, they risk people reverse engineering their code. This could create competition to soon, and effect things negatively in other ways. 

Next we also need to see this rendering animation. Real time animation requires a significant amount of CPU power, and that requirement grows with the more data you have to keep rendering as the animations continues. Animation has been a huge concern to a lot of skeptics because of knowing that. Thus far the only animation shown by Euclideon is with a old very crude version of the engine, and that just says little for the engine at this state. Animation is most important for models, which as I said could possibly still be rendered with polygons, but scenery has is own animation as well, or at least it should.

Another concern about this is its memory footprint. Rendering worlds by the atom should require a LOT of data to do it properly. In the demo, this issue could seem to have been short cut by the reuse of a smaller list of objects. But when it comes to a full game level or seamless world, such reuse of a limited number of objects and terrain isn't going to cut it.

This company could have something very special, but so far has given its fans little, and critics plenty. It's now been over a year since their last official update. Not only is it about time for a new update, but starting from that update, the secrecy and shadiness needs to end. Some may see it as they don't owe us anything. I beg to differ some, and here's why. Were all sitting on the edge of a major breakthrough in gaming graphics, and as I mentioned this is all done in software. Think about all the people that may drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on new GFX hardware, just to find out that this is going to hit and make that hardware no more useful then say an old and otherwise outdated card. Personally, I'm not investing in a new card until I know more about this engine, and its been this way since I first heard about it. So this leaves me completely hanging until I hear a real time frame.

Whatever happens, if this proves real and to lives up to Euclideon's claims, were all in for a real treat. Both this and the Oculous Rift could be in full swing in the next couple years, and while one of them is a massive change to the way we see/play games, both together is simply mind boggling.

My hopes are high. I cant wait to see how things develop, or to get my hands on both projects.


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