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Thinking Thursday: Unlimited Detail – Limited For Now, But With a Hopeful Future

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By: Stephen crane (Photo: Courtesy Euclideon)

Earlier this week a video popped up on YouTube that has caused quite a stir. Unlimited Detail Real-Time Rendering Technology Preview 2011 has been a strong point of contention among gamers. There are some who are immediately fascinated by the demonstration and are begging to know more. Then there are those who are calling this video and what we've seen a "scam" and arguing that such technology cannot possibly be used for video games yet. Here's the video. I suggest you watch, if you haven't, or else the rest of this article will not make sense.


 

I had the great opportunity to send a few questions over to Bruce Robert Dell, the CEO of Euclideon. Let's start off by explaining what Euclideon is. In Bruce's words it's "a little company in Australia that makes computer graphics." Last year the company consisted of two people and was what Bruce called a "garage job." This year Euclideon has nine employees, has investors and obtained one of the largest grants from the government. He also has stated that their "board of directors are some of the top people in Australian software." Their chairman of the board is "the former CEO of one of Australia's largest technology companies."

Assuming this is true, Euclideon could end up being one of the more promising start up companies in the graphics field. Just over a year ago they came out publicly to show what they had created, then promptly disappeared until just recently. The video and pictures they have released seem to have created plenty of questions and skepticism, however.

A day after the video came out Markus Persson, aka Notch, who created Minecraft released the blog post entitled It's a Scam!. He had a few key points to make and share. Notch makes a few points assuming that the video was based off "sparse voxel octrees" that take up volume. He mentioned that voxels are terrible for doing animation because this system takes up way too much information (he approximated it to be in the petabytes) if each voxel was unique.

Persson goes on to explain that the way memory was saved in the rendering was through repeated voxels. In essence it's the same file referenced repeatedly and quickly to fill the space. It is true that in the video you see many of the same structures repeated. The leaves are not unique, neither are the trees or elephant statues. He also pointed out a few other engines that have also used voxels with a degree of success.

The day after Notch's post, he made a second blog entry in an attempt to defend his points while conceding others. But Notch, it's NOT a scam! concedes that this animation may, in fact, be something different called point clouds which would not factor in volume, but it's still most probably voxels. He also conceded that animation using voxels is actually possible based on the following video.


 

It should be noted that this video is running at 36FPS.

Notch boils the reason he called it a scam down to a few basic points. He dislikes the fact that in the video Bruce presents his technology as something new and unique without mentioning the drawbacks or addressing flaws. He does not like the language and invented terminology used. He just really doesn't think the video is honest in its presentation of the technology.

When I asked Bruce a few questions about his company, the video, and the technology, he shed some light on just exactly what Euclideon has been up to. When asked about whether or not it's been tested with animation, he had this to say:

"I think the demo video we released is a little bit like the second movie in a trilogy, it’s like The Empire Strikes Back. It is our intention that we will disappear again, work very hard and then come back. At our third appearance we hope to release our real time downloadable demos for our supporters."

I think that implies the next demonstration will have ewoks. All kidding aside, I also asked him about the criticism he's received on his company's video.

"I think we are criticized the most in the area of animation. Yes we can do animation, but it’s not finished yet. Last time, we learned that if we were to put anything on the internet that wasn’t finished, there would be hordes of forum people who are more grumpy than that donkey from Whinnie the Pooh who would point the finger and say “look at that, that doesn’t look as good as polygons” no matter how hard we tried to say, “but were only half done”. I’m sure our supporters understand the wisdom of us being silent on the topic of animation until it’s completed."

He also claims that the most recent video is a one year report for the developers they are in contact with and it's to let their supporters know that the company hasn't disappeared. This amount of press and attention was actually pretty unexpected. "We thought we would reappear to give an update then duck our heads again and get back to work."

Understandably, he was reluctant to get into specific details on an unfinished project. I asked about how his demonstration 1km^2 environment would compare on the Source engine in terms of memory and processing power. His response more or less stated that if the Source engine was to match the level of detail on a polygon-for-polygon basis the power needed would "be extreme", but he didn't go into more detail than that.

What it comes down to is that no matter what people are saying about the video, it's still an unfinished project. Sure, the video demo was interesting and made pretty bold claims, but the finished technology is still quite a few years away. The boldness in claims without addressing the present limitations is really just to show how far development has come for those who already have interest in the technology or who have invested in the company. We should probably cut this company a little bit of slack on the robustness of the claims and instead wait until the next video comes out.

If such a graphical engine is ever released it could definitely revolutionize how all games look well into the future. Until then, we can at least dream of how awesome it would be.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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