Voxels – The Future of Game Development

Voxels Game/Engine 

Ever wondered how games are made? Or even given a thought of how 3D structures are implemented on a 2D screen? Put a full stop to your wondering and read this article. So, starting off to understand my curiosity,

Recently, I came across a video of a YouTuber named John Lynn which demonstrated his Voxels Game/Engine. Yeah, you all will be like – what are Voxels? To be honest, I have heard this word previously but never felt like googling the meaning. But looking at this word in his video increased my interest.

Give a glance at this video and you will be like, there is something very odd about the way it looks though it is bright, dynamic and colorful. This is due to the approach he is using which is completely different from 99.9% of games in this world. So first let’s talk about that 99.9% of the games before getting into Voxels.

Polygon Modelling

Few may already know that most of the games in today’s world use polygon which are just a few dots connected in straight lines. This is the procedure you do to develop an element during the modelling phase in your 3D software’s. So, one can use multi-point polygons like quadrilateral but at the end, it’s eventually converted into triangles because that is what current GPUs are optimized to handle.

Triangles are the simplest form of the polygon that can be obtained by dividing any polygon. Everything you observe in a game is a collection of lots of tiny triangles. What is the reason that we use these triangles? Because its dummy simple result in more efficiency. One may notice that this is the overarching theme of this article – efficiency. This is the reason why in game development, some things are done in this way rather than another due to one single factor efficiency.

Triangles – Easy to Render

Triangles are by far is the easiest shapes to compute. As three dots connected are always in a single plane and henceforth forming a flat surface irrespective of how you move the individual points whereas four or more dots could form all kinds of three-dimensional crazy shapes.

Voxels – The Future of Game Development
Triangles an easy 3-Point Figure

The collection of 2D triangles that form a 3D model need to be projected onto a 2D surface which is your screen. The math necessary to project a triangle is very straightforward and requires the least amount of processing power. Even grouping together tons of tiny triangles to form the illusion of a curved surface is easier for the computer to compute rather than computing an actual curve. So, when you think about it all of this is just a lie.

Everything in gaming is made to give you some kind of illusion whether it’s to think that you’re looking at actual curves or interacting with a 3D world or that you have something to show for the years of your life spent on games it’s all a big fat lie. There you are like a little obedient sheep eating all of it up. Ok, we all know it’s an illusion and we all enjoy it. If anything, it’s so impressive what creative tricks some brilliant people thought up over the last few decades to give us these experiences.

But Voxels are at least somewhat less of a lie than polygons in theory. They’re closer to real-world simulation your camera clips through a polygon object and your illusion is shattered. You see that there’s nothing underneath – people are empty, buildings are empty. It’s all just a façade.

What are Voxels?

So, what are Voxels and how are they different? I looked it up on YouTube and it turns out there isn’t a single video on it that’s not a scientific dissertation that my brain can understand which is surprising considering how astonishingly simple it is. Voxel stands for Volumetric Pixel and it’s essentially a 3D pixel.

So, imagine a little square on your monitor representing a single pixel – a Voxel is just that but in 3D. A little cube this is not exactly correct but it’s the easiest way to visualize it when you carve out a piece of land built with Voxels, you see the land that was underneath objects have actual volume because they’re made of tiny points in 3D space.

Voxels – The Future of Game Development

This is why I said it’s closer to reality where things are also made up of tiny elements like atoms and molecules and billions and billions of dust particles. This makes Voxel graphics great for stuff like terrain which is what it was mostly used for in the 90s. The crowning achievement probably being the 1999 game called Outcast.

Voxels Evolution

But unfortunately, Voxels have barely evolved since. Why? It’s because graphics cards happened and they created a sort of magic circle type deal. GPUs are designed to render triangles because triangles are dummy simple. Because GPUs are designed to render triangles that’s what people choose to work with. Voxels that required CPU power to be rendered, couldn’t catch up with polygon graphics quality and simply got left behind. The main advantages of using them in games are procedural generation and destructibility.

However, they kind of suck in graphic resolution and performance. If you’re going to sacrifice these to make a Voxel-based game it should probably have terrain-moulding, adding and removing chunks as a central part of the gameplay. Minecraft is often described as one such game but even though it stores the map as a Voxel grid the game is rendered using polygons. The only notable Voxel-based game in recent memory is Tear Down. You can probably guess what type of game it is based on the title but even though to be clear it’s – destroys everything.

I’m more interested in destroying everything but if we talk about John Lynn Games – it’s pretty and colourful. Yes, this is not only a tech demo but an actual game that he’s working on alongside the engine that he’s developing. It hasn’t been officially revealed yet but he does refer to it as something that will eventually get to play. Based on his video descriptions which you should go and read seems like he’s making breakthroughs in the level of detail, physics, rendering speed and other departments which is potentially good news for artists interested in Voxels.

Will Voxels Eventually Rule?

Voxels are not used today because there aren’t any adequate full-fledged tools that are functional and efficient. Now, will they ever reach the efficiency of polygons? No – probably not, people developing these are mostly passionate individuals or very small teams and polygons are just so far ahead with all the industry giants invested heavily in those. It just wouldn’t make sense to put tons of money and training into something with objective drawbacks compared to what’s currently being used.

If you remember the unreal engine 5 reveal from the PS5 event last year, they talked about how many billions and billions of triangles were being rendered. It doesn’t mean that one method is better than the other but let’s be real it kind of does. That being said a game like John Lin may blow up. I mean people are saying it’s the new Minecraft for a reason it’s a dynamic sandbox physics-based Voxel game it has the potential to be unique in lots of ways and different enough but with the same amount of creative freedom that Minecraft offers. And it’s always those games that blow up the most the ones that let you just roam around and create stuff the author never imagined.

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