Real-time Rendering a short history of technological progress.

Real-time Rendering a short history of technological progress.

By Kirill Ivoutin

The story of real-time rendering starts with the invention of a first game “pong” back in late 1970’s but I will jump to the early 1990 that’s where things get interesting. The early 1990’s saw a boom in the computer industry. Once thought to be exclusively for the rich or research labs, personal computers were made affordable to the general public and the PC revolution was on it’s way. Invading home after home the PC changed the way we look at information processing and task management. Home computer in the early days had software such as Word Processor, Accounting and other utility titles that were quite popular. People soon realized that PC has the potential to be also a home entertainment system and that’s how gaming industry was created.

Games were ofcource quite primitive back then by today’s standards. But soon the proccesors reached 100Mhz speed and that was enough for the first 3D game. On May 5th, 1992 id software released Wolfenstein 3-D. The game utilized a very strong graphics engine developed in-house, the game allowed user to experience a world through the eyes of one main character. Through the use of perspective the game created new experience and feel for many gamers. The graphics engine was however limited by only allowing 90 degree corners, fixed ceiling height, 2-d sprites used to represent objects. But comparing to the games of its day like PacMan2, Wolfenstein was absolutely awesome!

Wolfenstein’s was an important leap forward in terms of graphics and interms of game developing. The code that is responsible for real-time rendering are called graphics engines. Basically they are a collection of complex algorithms that are linked together to allow for direct (or real time) manipulation of the virtual world. Some modern engines are a whole system of engines like, Physics, Lighting and Sound. By creating an engine that can be modified it dint take long to produce games.

On December 10th 1993 id Software released a follow up from Wolfenstein, DOOM.Doom was a significant improvement over Wolf 3-D, the textures were a lot better and the graphics engine was revised allowing; angles to be other than 90 degrees, multi-level structure (stairs, lifts, etc). But even DOOM was not a true 3D game as it used 2D sprites to represent objects. As good as it was, DOOM still imposed serious limitations on the virtual world. It did not allow; one room above another, walls had to be vertical and floors horizontal. The view was concreted directly forward, the user could not look au and down. This was done not because the makers lacked the ‘know-how’ but because the processors could not yet render vast amounts of polygons but the winds of change were soon to come. At the same time when DOOM was capturing the imaginations of gamers all over the globe first graphics cards were in the making.

The first graphics cards were quite simple, their task was to take over from the computer’s processor at the point of rendering the 2D image on the screen. The first revolutionary card was perhaps “3D Labs- VooDoo”. It was released the same time as the first ‘real’ 3D game Quake (id Software). Quake graphics engine utilized polygon buffering and allowed a simple lighting model as well. User now could use the mouse to look around and aim at enemies. The levels could now be built upwards, all the objects in the 3d world were modeled. In 1997 Quake 2 comeout which was the first game to use a graphics accelerator (card) and featured a quite primitive lighting model which gave the world shadows and texture.

In order to understand the games we need to first look at the brief history of the hardware. A modern graphics card is a board with memory and a processor much like a p.c. itself. The processor is designed specifically to handle the intense computational requirements of displaying graphics. Most of these graphics processors have special command sets for graphics manipulation built right into the chip. Today’s graphics cards are computing systems in their own right. But these cards started out as very simple devices. By understanding the evolution of graphics cards, you can begin to see why they are so powerful today.

First cards were frame buffers that only stored each frame for the display. The CPU had to do all the calculations and actions by itself. Because a game is a sea of complex computations that the CPU has to process modern graphics cards have evolved to take some or this entire load off the microprocessor. A modern card contains its own high-power central processing unit (CPU) that is optimized for graphics operations. Depending on the graphics card, this CPU will be either a graphics coprocessor or a graphics accelerator.
In the coprocessor system, the graphics card driver software sends graphics-related tasks directly to the graphics coprocessor. The operating system sends everything else to the CPU. With a graphics accelerator, the driver software sends everything to the computer’s CPU. The CPU then directs the graphics accelerator to perform specific graphics-intensive tasks.
Computer hardware development might not have been so rapid if consumers were not interested in computer games. It’s because of the demand for high polygons numbers in games the manufacturers developed new cards and new systems to cope. Nowdays the release of a new game follows with the release of a new graphics card that can run it at optimum settings. The field of real-time rendering is a combination of two industries working with each other to provide a superior product.
Looking to the future of game development and the picture looks pretty promising with the gap between the synthetic and the real world getting smaller with each new game. One game particular is Half-Life 2. Apart having a graphics engine which is fully dynamic and has an infinite matrix of interaction outcomes, the game has very impressive A.I. Artificial Intelligence improves game play and contributes significantly to the game narrative. Narrative has become as important to gamers as the graphics. Half-Life 2 promises gaming experience that has you fighting as part of a team or solo play.


Real-time Rendering a short history of technological progress.


Perth, Australia

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Artist's Description

Some crappy essay i did for Uni.

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