Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Rendering System

Previously we covered how geometry is created.  This time we will look at how it is managed and rendered.

Models

It was mentioned in my last post that geometry is built into fixed size buffers.  This limits the amount of geometry that can be created by one a procedure.  For a small object, or one of low detail (farther away), this may not be a problem, but if we are to build huge, detailed worlds then it most certainly is.  To overcome this, a number of systems and techniques are used.

Refinement

Models are managed within a spacial octree, each node being responsible for any models that fit reasonably within its own bounds.  Smaller models are managed by the small nodes deeper in the octree.
During the synthesis process, the sub-procedures used (and any bounding information that can be obtained from them) are analysed, and in certain cases stored.  The aim here is to capture a set of sub procedures that fully represent the model built, but as smaller component parts.  These parts can then be used to build more detailed versions of parts of the whole model, and which can be managed by the smaller octree nodes that are more suitably sized.  This effectively provides a way of re-synthesising successively smaller parts of any model as we need the extra detail deeper in the octree.  This 'refinement' process is driven by proximity to the viewpoint, using the deeper more detailed model parts in areas that are nearer the camera.
Successive octree levels, and the geometry managed by each

Authoring

Procedures do need to be built with this process in mind somewhat.  There are certainly ways to help or hinder the process and prevent the system from operating at its best, but the tools provide feedback and diagnostics to help you optimise them.  This is another area that I will dig into in more detail in another post.

Rendering

The rendering engine for Apparance has always been fairly basic as most of the work has been in proving out the procedure synthesis and detail refinement techniques.  All that the renderer needed to be able to do was render some coloured triangles with a couple of fixed light sources.  This was implemented in DirectX 9 and based on a fairly simple cube rendering sample.  Even with no materials, no texturing, and simple primitives I have been able to make quite a wide range of examples.
Small sample of results achieved with basic renderer
The renderer itself has been written to be fairly robust and flexible, with support for multiple viewports, cameras, and scenes, it runs on its own thread, and supports window resizing and device loss properly.

Shaders

Current focus
Driven mainly by the need to start blending between meshes of different detail levels, I decided that I needed to add shader support and this is my current focus.
With the flexibility and power shader based rendering brings I will be able to implement an elegant blending system, as well as better lighting, and start experimenting with more realistic surface properties.
I decided that I should certainly allow run-time authoring of shaders as this is an important premise of the Apparance tool philosophy.  To do this I also decided that the shader code should be procedurally constructed by the same systems the models are built.  Not only does this mean I can easily re-use shader functions and constructs, but pieces of code, and even allowing parameterisation of the shader code itself.  This should have all sorts of interesting effect creation potential.

Trouble

During the testing of DirectX 9 shaders I hit some nasty snags to do with background compilation of shaders during rendering, shader lifetime management, and finally with a crash on ending and releasing of shader resources that I couldn't resolve.  Even using my simple training app I couldn't solve the issue and under Windows 10 it turns out that debugging and diagnostics in DirectX 9 isn't supported, so no help there.  My solution was to bite the bullet and upgrade the engine to DirectX 11, which represents a significant improvement in features and support, as well as being fully integrated into the OS and with significant debugging support.  Unfortunately this did mean learning about all the differences and writing another learning app, but it seems like it will be a good move in the long run as I was probably going to need it at some point anyway and DirectX 11 has some nice improvements in the way you handle shaders that it will be good to get used to.
New rendering and shader test app for DirectX 11

Graphics Fu

Eventually I am going to need some fairly fancy rendering features to show off the models properly, such as multi-texturing, advanced light sources, high quality shadows, ambient occlusion, and maybe even global illumination.  I am treating these as 'solved' problems and prioritising many other, more unique, features over them.  I am also likely to need help with the harder graphics tech and should start to involve others in the project more closely, but that will depend on how much interest I can raise in the project and whether I can find funds to build a team around it in the future. We shall see...

Next

I was going to describe my development setup a little here, but I think I'll leave it until a later post.  Next time I'll talk about the editor and how it is used to develop procedures.

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