Plugin reloading for 3dsmax exporters

I revisited recently a dormant project of mine, for which I unfortunately need to write a 3dsmax exporter plugin.

Now, I’m always pissed off from the start when I have to write code on windows and visual studio, but having to deal with 3dsmax on top of that, really just adds insult to injury. It’s not just that maxsdk is a convoluted mess. Or that it needs a very specific version of visual studio to write plugins for it (which is really Microsoft’s fault, to be fair). No, my biggest issue so far is that 3dsmax takes about 3 years to start up, and there is no way to unload, or reload a plugin without restarting it.

Whenever I fix a tiny thing in the exporter plugin I’m writting, and I want to try it out and see if it does the buissiness, I have to shut down 3dsmax, start it up again (which takes forever), load my test scene, then try to export again and see what happens. This is obviously unacceptable, so I really had to do something about it.

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Dungeon crawler game prototype

dungeon crawler prototype videoI started writting a first person dungeon crawler game recently. Nothing ground-breaking, but I intend to fill up the void of the simplistic gameplay with over the top eye-candy. My main inspiration comes from eye-of-the-beholder-esque dungeon crawlers with awesome graphics (for their respective times) such as stonekeep and the legend of grimrock, without necessarily intending to stay true to the retro 90 degree grid-based movement.

Before starting, I wanted to try out a couple of things to see how they feel in practice, so I decided to make a prototype. The main thing I wanted to try out was a suggestion of a friend of mine, for keeping the level creation as simple as possible, to use a regular grid tile-based system with a couple of enhancments. Namely:

  • Allowing multiple detail tiles on a single grid cell. Which makes it easy to lay down the whole level’s corridors and then add details such as torches on the walls, furnitures or whatever here and there.
  • Allowing arbitrary geometry for each tile, not necessarily contained in the volume of the grid cell it occupies. This would allow, for instance, elaborate prefab rooms to be attached at various places of the dungeon.

It turns out I don’t like the extended grid-based idea that much, and for the actual game I will revert to a more powerful level organization, I came up with some time ago. More on that when I actually implement it.

The rendering is done with “deferred shading“, a neat technique I implemented once before in the Theseis engine, which makes it possible to have hundreds of actual dynamic light sources active at the same time. This is the cornerstone of my “lots of eye-candy” idea, because it enables each and every torch, spell effect, flame, or magical glow to illuminate the dungeons and its denizens dynamically.

Finally I implemented a nice positional audio and music playback system, on top of OpenAL. It keeps static audio sources in a kd-tree for efficient selection of the nearest ones within a certain radius around the player and enables/disables the appropriate ones automatically.

In case you are curious to see it, I just uploaded a video on youtube. The actual tileset is obviously placeholder, since I made it myself in blender, to be replaced by proper artwork later on. The music and sound effects are made by George Savinidis, who will be in change of all the audio production for this game.

WebGL hacks

webgl julia quaternion raytracerThat’s it, I finally found something fun in web development! I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would feel the motivation to learn javascript, but here we are. WebGL is fun, because you can do all the things you could with regular OpenGL, but now you can send URLs to all your friends to show off. I can’t say I liked javascript really, but I guess it’s passable as long as you can avoid the horrible conventions people have established for pretending to write object-oriented code with it.

So what I did, after experimenting to see how WebGL and javascript programming works, is a port of a GPU-raytracer for 4D quaternion Julia fractals, and a simple 360-panorama viewer. You can find those on my webgl hacks page I put up yesterday.

About WebGL itself now, I’m really disappointed they chose to base it on OpenGL ES 2.0, which is the bastard child of a slashed down OpenGL subset initially spec’ed for fixed point embedded devices, and Khronos’ OpenGL >= 3 d3d10-buttlicking madness. I understand why they chose that, because they intend to have WebGL easily implementable on mobile phones and tablets, but I’m still disappointed.

For those of you not well versed in the differences between the various OpenGL versions that suddenly crept up when Khronos group took control of OpenGL and apparently surrendered it over to inmates of the nearest insane asylum, I’ll give you a short overview of what sucks in OpenGL >= 3.x, OpenGL ES 2.0, and WebGL:

  • No fixed function pipeline. Yeah I know shaders are awesome, I love them too. But it’s convenient to be able to put a goddamn texture on a quad without having to write a bloody shader for it. OpenGL is not just used for video games you know.
  • No immediate mode (glBegin). Again, yes immediate mode is slow if you use it to draw multimillion vertex meshes, but having to make a vertex buffer for a quad representing a button in a GUI or a simple overlay, is insanity.
  • No matrix stack. Obviously when I’m writing a full 3D engine, with hierarchical keyframe animation, I have to ignore the matrix stack and write my own quaternion/matrix code. But for everything else, the OpenGL matrix functions are unbelievably useful.
  • No GL_QUADS.

So anyway, while I was playing around with it these past few days, I had to bring back a little bit of sanity to WebGL. For that reason I wrote SaneGL, a small piece of code that implements immediate mode drawing, and the OpenGL matrix stack on top of WebGL. I bundled that along with a small matrix math library and some helper functions for WebGL programs in a project called webgl-tools, which you can find in my mercurial repository: https://nuclear.mutantstargoat.com/hg/webgl-tools.

Oh by the way, if you’re one of those misguided sods that keep using windows, and you try to run any webgl apps right now you will probably be disappointed. In an unprecedented inspiration of pure stupidity, both firefox4 and chrome chose to implement WebGL over Direct3D by default on windows, using a project called ANGLE. The reason for that, they say, is that most graphics card vendors provide buggy OpenGL implementations on windows, so apparently it makes sense to write an even more buggy OpenGL->D3D translator and use that.

Initially I thought that ANGLE fails to translate huge shaders such as the one on my fractal raytracer, but in fact it seems to fail on pretty much everything, complex or trivial. The only way for windows users to use WebGL at the moment until mozilla and google comes to their senses and make ANGLE a fallback for known buggy OpenGL implementations instead of the default choice, is to go and force the browsers to use OpenGL instead. On firefox you can do that by setting the about:config variable “webgl.prefer-native-gl” to true, while chrome requires the command-line argument: –use-gl=desktop.

On GNU/Linux, as long as you have an nvidia card everything should be peachy from the get-go. Other cards are apparently blacklisted by firefox, so you’ll have to set webgl.force-enable to true, and pray to Odin.

Escaping glutMainLoop

Let’s say you’re writing a distinctly glut-like window-system abstraction library for OpenGL context creation, event handling, etc. For those not familliar with the way one uses OpenGL to draw graphics, what happens is you talk to the native window system (X11, Win32 API, etc) to create a window and process events, then you create an OpenGL context and you bind it to that window using again platform-specific calls (GLX, WGL, etc).

So let’s say you’re writing that code, but you decided your library will allow the user to keep control of the main loop, so you provide a funcion called something like process_events to run a single iteration of your event processing, so that the user may call it in a loop. How do you implement that on top of glut, which has a single glutMainLoop function that doesn’t ever return?

By the way, for those qurious on why would you do that in the first place, the reason to write a glut backend for this library, would be as a catch-all fallback to be able to run on platforms for which no native backend is yet written.

On GNU/Linux systems generally we don’t have the original GLUT, but rather FreeGLUT, which is nice enough to provide a glutMainLoopEvent function which runs a single iteration of the event loop, so we just call that from process_events and we’re done. But I have actually written an X11/GLX backend for my library, so I don’t need GLUT there, I need it on other systems. So how to break the chains of glutMainLoop and return after each iteration of the event handling loop?

The solution is obvious, use setjmp/longjmp. In process_events we call setjmp which obviously returns 0 the first time around, in which case glutMainLoop is called. Now glut enters its infinite loop and waits for events from the window system. As soon as all pending events are processed, or if there are no events to be processed, it calls our idle callback, then when that returns it loops back to the top again, and again, and again.

Of course we set up an idle callback that doesn’t actually return. It calls the user’s idle callback if there’s one registered, and then calls longjmp which unwinds the stack until we end up back into process_events at which point setjmp returns non-zero and we return execution to the user.

One minor issue that needs to be addressed is that since we set an idle function, if the user didn’t set one with our library, we’re wasting cpu cycles busy-looping because GLUT will never block waiting for events when there’s an idle callback. This again is easily remedied. If the user didn’t register an idle function with us, we don’t actually set our idle function to GLUT a-priori, instead we wait for one of the other event callbacks to trigger, and at the end of those callbacks we set the idle callback, and remove it again when it gets called, before longjmping back to the user.

Here are a few snippets of the actual code demonstrating the above:
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Linuxtrack 6dof headtracking for wine games

linuxtrack-wine logoSince I was a little kid, I always loved airplanes. When I became a little older, mainly during the 90s I used to play a lot of flight simulators on my computer, I even had a set of decent flight controls (stick/throttle), but for some reason I dropped that hobby for many years. Until I very recently picked it up again.

One really important thing that changed during my abstinence from flight simulators, a huge change that transformed the whole experience, was the almost universal adoption of 6dof headtracking for looking around as you fly!

Now people are able, with simple intuitive movements of their head to be able to look outside as they fly above that beautiful lake, “check six” to effectively maneuver to avoid an enemy plane in a dogfight, or follow the runway with their own eyes as the airplane turns slowly into final approach to line up perfectly for landing! Even better, since 6dof headtracking includes translation as well as rotation, the user can look around an obstacle blocking the view, to see for instance a pesky instrumment in the panel that’s partly hidden behind the stick, or a plane in formation which happens to fly just where the canopy frame happens to have a metal support bar. Just moving the head a bit to the left or the right does the trick… Unbelivable!

Instrumental for the universal adoption of 6dof headtracking among flight simulator users and developers, is a company called NaturalPoint who sells a complete head-tracking system called TrackIR, that includes an infrared high framerate camera, markers that the user attaches to their heads, and supplies an API to game developers to access their headtracking data easily. Now that set doesn’t come cheap, so there’s the necessary free alternative out there, that works with a simple (or even better modified) webcam, called freetrack. The main problem with both of those as you might have guessed, is that they only work on windows.

After the first dissapointment, I obviously had to have that functionality, so I decided to start hacking my old 3dof headtracking experiment to make it 6dof and connect it somehow with games running through wine. However, while I was researching how to do that, I stumbled upon the linux-track project, which does exactly what I needed, but it only worked with a native GNU/Linux flight simulator called x-plane.

So, with only a small piece of the puzzle missing, I went on and wrote a program that emulates the TrackIR API which is supported by many windows games, but feeds them data from linuxtrack instead. Currently I’m happily playing IL-2 Sturmovik and Falcon4 AF through wine, with full head-tracking support, enjoying the virtual view from my cockpit.

This new project of mine is called linuxtrack-wine and is available under GNU GPLv3.

I also had to do a hardware hack, to convert my old flight controllers from gameport to USB, but that’s much less interesting, and I’m too lazy to write about it right now :)

Serial Spaceball and Spacenavd

I finally got my hands on a serial spaceball device. Apparently non-USB devices are literally given away on ebay for ridiculously small amounts of money, so I managed to get this wonderful Spaceball 4000 FLX for 12 pounds a couple of days ago!

spaceballs

I wanted a serial spaceball for two reasons: first of all I meant to add support for serial devices to spacenavd for a long time now. In fact John Stone was kind enough to send me his code to interface with serial spaceballs a long time ago, but not having such a device myself, for testing, I wasn’t very keen to hack at it blindly. Also, I wanted to be able to use a 6dof input device with my SGI Octane2, which doesn’t have any USB ports.

So finally, as soon as I got my hands on the serial spaceball, I went on and added serial support to spacenavd. I haven’t released a new version of spacenavd yet, because I want to iron out some details first, but you can always get the new serial-capable spacenavd through subversion if you need it.

FreeGLUT spaceball patch

The original GLUT library used to support some less well-known input devices under IRIX, such as the Spaceball, a true 3D input device which can be used to control all 6 degrees of freedom (3 axis of rotation and 3 axis of translation) simultaneously. Unfortunately, nowadays, the more “exotic” input callbacks of GLUT such as the spaceball are left unimplemented.

So, yesterday I sat down and implemented the missing spaceball bits of FreeGLUT, which is the most widely used free GLUT implementation.

To avoid adding any extra dependencies to freeglut, I just ripped the relevant code from libspnav, which is part of my free spacenav driver project, and added it directly into freeglut.

Here’s the patch against the current freeglut svn head, as well as instructions on how to check out freeglut and apply it.

I’ve also submitted it to the freeglut-devel mailing list, so hopefully they’ll merge it and we’ll have spaceball input callbacks available with the prepackaged glut that comes with any GNU/Linux distribution in the future.

S-ray goes public

S-ray is a photorealistic off-line renderer I’ve been writting on and off for the past few months. It’s basically a monte carlo ray tracer using the photon mapping algorithm to simulate global illumination effects, such as indirect diffuse lighting and caustics.

So, it’s time to open up the code and continue development in the open. The code is available only through subversion at the moment, no official “0.1″ release shall be made until at least the most important outstanding bugs are fixed. However, feel free to checkout the code and play around all you want.

The project is hosted at googlecode, and you can find it at: http://code.google.com/p/sray
As always, ideas, comments, or bug fixes are more than welcome.

s-ray: caustics through photon mapping

The main feature set that I had planned for my new s-ray renderer is almost complete. The renderer is now capable of producing caustics, that is light being focused on surfaces by curved mirrors or lenses (or otherwise transmission through refractive objects).

Standard recursive ray tracing is incapable of producing caustics; instead a two-pass algorithm called photon mapping is used. Photon mapping works by tracing random photons as they leave the light sources and bounce around the scene, finally ending up on various surfaces. The second pass works just like regular ray tracing, with the difference that on every ray hit, the density of stored photons around that point is used to estimate the amount of light that has arrived there after being reflected or refracted.

Here are a couple of images produced by s-ray, showing both reflective and refractive caustics:

reflective caustics

reflective caustics

refractive caustics

refractive caustics

Spacenavd 0.4


I just released version 0.4 of my spacenavd user space driver for 6dof input devices, which fixes some long-standing reliability and ease of use issues.

First and foremost, I cleaned up the code, which started initially as a hack, and ended as an unmaintainable mess. I’ve split and isolated the linux specific parts so that I may add support for other operating systems in the future (specifically I’d like to find the chance to add freebsd support soon).

I’ve also dropped the dodgy 30sec polling cycle to aquire the device if it’s disconnected, which had the effect of being able to use the device at some seemingly random time after plugging it in, and started using the KOBJECT_UEVENT netlink socket to get asyncronous notification of hotplug events from the kernel. Now the device lights up and is ready to use immediatly upon plugging it in the USB port.

More importantly, I lifted the responsibility of notifying the daemon that X has started and it may connect and start listening for X11 clients from the user. By using the excellent inotify API to detect when the X server’s socket is created in /tmp/.X11-unix, the daemon is now able to wake up and connect to the X server automatically as soon as it’s started up.

And finally, now spacenavd actively grabs the device when it starts, which solves the problem of the X server trying to use it as a mouse, without having to resort to messing around with the user’s HAL config files, to make hald ignore it.

To celebrate this milestone release, the free spacenav project now has a newly redesigned web site, which may help attract more attention compared to the previous plain-text web page. Thanks go to cybernoid for the new web site.

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