I decided that I would write a more detailed article about the rendering module of the Trixels engine. Many things changed implementation-wise since last year, and I feel that now is a good time to go public as it’s probably not going to change much anymore.
I really don’t mind “coming clean” about how things are done, since Fez certainly didn’t invent non-interpolated orthographic voxels or whatever you might call trixels in a more formal language. Trixels are just a technology support for Fez’s art style, not necessarily the best, but one that works and that I’d like to share.
You should probably check the first post I made about trixels to get the basic idea first.
Here’s the trile I’ll dissect for this post, in a perspective view :
Each trile at its creation is a full 16³ cube, without any holes. The editing process consists of carving trixels out of the full shape to get a more detailed object.
The very first version of Fez recorded all the trixels that are present inside a trile, which means an untouched trile would contain a list of all the possible positions inside the trile to say that these positions are filled.
It became obvious early on that most triles have a lot more matter than holes, so the second version recorded the missing trixels instead. But even that became hardly manageable, especially in the text-format/human readable intermediate trileset description files; they were still too immense to edit by hand if needed, and took a while to parse and load because of their size. The memory usage was questionably high too for the little data that was represented.
I tried using octrees, but that kinda failed too. Thankfully Saint on the tigsource forums gave me a better idea; to use missing trixel boxes, so the smallest amount of the largest possible missing trixels cuboids. The good thing about these is that a box is represented by a 3D vector for its size and a 3D point for its position, that’s it!
Here’s a visualization of what these boxes looks like. Adjacent boxes have the same color.
The editor tries to keep these boxes as big as possible and their number as small as possible in realtime while you edit, but my algorithms aren’t perfect yet. A “best effort” scenario is fine though, a couple of superfluous boxes have little effect on memory usage/file size.
The rendering strategy of Fez is to draw the bounding surfaces of each trile as a triangle list and ignore everything that’s inside a trile. To do that, we must first isolate the contiguous surfaces of the trile, and then split it in triangles.
To extract surfaces, I assume that all of the actions from the initial filled trile are incremental. By that I mean that all you can do in Fezzer when sculpting a trile is remove a trixel or add a trixel, and each of these operation creates, destroys or invalidates surfaces; but each is treated separately and acts on the current state.
…I was going to explain the algorithm in detail, but I feel like it’d be just confusing and unnecessary. So, exercise to the reader. :)
Whenever a surface is modified/created, another pass tries to find the smallest amount of the biggest possible rectangles inside that surface. It’s the same thing as with the missing trixel boxes, but in 2D this time (also alot easier to do right!). My algorithm traverses the surface from its center in an outward spiral and marks all the cells that form a rectangle; the remaining cells are traversed later, recursively until the whole surface is covered with rectangles.
Each rectangle is then a quad that is formed of two triangles, which we can render directly. A vertex pool makes sure that there are no duplicate vertices, and maps the indices appropriately.
Below is a visualization of the rectangular surface parts of the same trile, in filled geometry mode and in wireframe.
So that’s a single trile. A level is formed of a ton of triles, we don’t want to draw everything at all times. How do we manage that?
And rendering a lot of small objects in sequence is not very GPU-friendly, so how do we group batches efficiently?
The answer to the first question is efficient culling. Since the world is in essence formed of grid-aligned tiles, it’s easy to find which are visible in the screen or not, and render selectively. But Fez also works in the third dimension, and the depth range can be really big, so we need to find which triles we can skip rendering if they’re behind another trile. Simple enough, traverse to the first visible trile for each screen-space tile, and render this one only. But some triles can be flagged as see-through and let the traversing continue until we hit a non-seethrough trile or the level’s boundaries.
For tilted isometric views, a similar culling algorithm is used, where we try to find the triles with no neighbours on the faces that the camera can see. In perspective view, it’s a lot harder to cull without occlusion queries, which I didn’t want to get into… But 99% of the game is played from an isometric perspective so it’s no big deal.
Here’s a scene from the GDC ’09 trailer in a 2D view that you’d play in, and how it’s culled. The world extends in the third dimension, but we only need to see its shell!
The second thing is batching.
In the very first XNA version of Fez, I tried to call DrawUserIndexedPrimitives repeatedly for each trile in the world and hope for the best. It was unplayable, because as it turns out there is considerable overhead to draw calls and doing fewer, bigger draw calls is the key to 3D performance.
Each level has a trile set that contains a restricted number of different trile templates, and the level indexes integer 3D grid positions with elements of that trile set. Trile instances have a very limited set of properties to themselves (like rotation and offset) but every instance of a template trile shares geometry, texture and collision information. So I felt that geometry instancing was the way to go for batch rendering.
Different hardware supports different flavours of instancing but shader instancing is the common baseline for all Shader Model 2 and above GPUs, so I went with that. My current implementation of SM2 instancing supports 237 instances per batch, and the instance information is stored as vertex shader constants. The number will probably go down if I need to add more information to individual instances, it’s really minimalistic right now. But I found instancing to provide excellent performance on older hardware, current-gen GPUs and consoles, and not too hard to get to work well.
That’s it! Hope you enjoyed the tour. :)