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Richards Software Ramblings

Pathfinding 1: Map Representation and Preprocessing

Posted by , 30 December 2013 - - - - - - · 1,086 views
C#, SlimDX, DirectX11 and 2 more...
This was originally intended to be a single post on pathfinding, but it got too long, and so I am splitting it up into three or four smaller pieces. Today,we’re going to look at the data structures that we will use to represent the nodes of our pathfinding graph, and generating that graph from our terrain class.

When we were working on our quadtree to detect mouse clicks on the terrain, we introduced the concept of logical terrain tiles; these were the smallest sections of the terrain mesh that we wanted to hit when we did mouse picking, representing a 2x2 portion of our fully-tessellated mesh. These logical terrain tiles are a good starting point for generating what I am going to call our map: the 2D grid that we will use for pathfinding, placing units and other objects, defining areas of the terrain, AI calculations, and so forth. At the moment, there isn’t really anything to these tiles, as they are simply a bounding box attached to the leaf nodes of our quad tree. That’s not terribly useful by itself, so we are going to create a data structure to represent these tiles, along with an array to contain them in our Terrain class. Once we have a structure to contain our tile information, we need to extract that information from our Terrain class and heightmap, and generate the graph representing the tiles and the connections between them, so that we can use it in our pathfinding algorithm.

The pathfinding code implemented here was originally derived from Chapter 4 of Carl Granberg’s Programming an RTS Game with Direct3D. I’ve made some heavy modifications, working from that starting point, using material from Amit Patel’s blog and BlueRaja’s C# PriorityQueue implementation. The full code for this example can be found on my GitHub repository, https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git, under the 33-Pathfinding project.
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OutOfMemoryException - Eliminating Temporary Allocations with Static Buffers in Effect Wrapper Code

Posted by , 13 December 2013 - - - - - - · 763 views
C#, SlimDX, DirectX 11, Memory
I came across an interesting bug in the wrapper classes for my HLSL shader effects today. In preparation for creating a class to represent a game unit, for the purposes of demonstrating the terrain pathfinding code that I finished up last night, I had been refactoring my BasicModeland SkinnedModel classes to inherit from a common abstract base class, and after getting everything to the state that it could compile again, I had fired up the SkinnedModels example project to make sure everything was still rendering and updating correctly. I got called away to do something else, and ended up checking back in on it a half hour or so later, to find that the example had died with an OutOfMemoryException. Looking at Task Manager, this relatively small demo program was consuming over 1.5 GB of memory!

I restarted the demo, and watched the memory allocation as it ran, and noticed that the memory used seemed to be climbing quite alarmingly, 0.5-1 MB every time Task Manager updated. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before… So I started the project in Visual Studio, using the Performance Wizard to sample the .Net memory allocation, and let the demo run for a couple of minutes. Memory usage had spiked up to about 150MB, in this simple demo that loaded maybe 35 MB of textures, models, code and external libraries…
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Refactoring Rendering Code out of the Terrain Class

Posted by , 12 December 2013 - - - - - - · 698 views
Terrain, SlimDX, C#, DirectX 11 and 2 more...
Howdy, time for an update. I’ve mostly gotten my terrain pathfinding code first cut completed; I’m creating the navigation graph, and I’ve got an implementation of A* finished that allows me to create a list of terrain nodes that represents the path between tile A and tile B. I’m going to hold off a bit on presenting all of that, since I haven’t yet managed to get a nice looking demo to show off the pathfinding yet. I need to do some more work to create a simple unit class that can follow the path generated by A*, and between work and life stuff, I haven’t gotten the chance to round that out satisfactorily yet.

I’ve also been doing some pretty heavy refactoring on various engine components, both for design and performance reasons. After the last series of posts on augmenting the Terrain class, and in anticipation of adding even more functionality as I added pathfinding support, I decided to take some time and split out the code that handles Direct3D resources and rendering from the more agnostic logical terrain representation. I’m not looking to do this at the moment, but this might also make implementing an OpenGL rendering system less painful, potentially.

Going through this, I don’t think I am done splitting things up. I’m kind of a fan of small, tightly focused classes, but I’m not necessarily an OOP junkie. Right now, I’m pretty happy with how I have split things out. I’ve got the Terrain class, which contains mostly the rendering independent logical terrain representation, such as the quad tree and picking code, the terrain heightmap and heightmap generation code, and the global terrain state properties (world-space size, initialization information struct, etc). The rendering and DirectX resource management code has been split out into the new TerrainRenderer class, which does all of the drawing and creates all of the DirectX vertex buffers and texture resources.

I’ll spare you all the intermediate gyrations that this refactoring push put me through, and just post the resulting two classes. Resharper was invaluable in this process; if you have access to a full version of Visual Studio, I don’t think there is a better way to spend $100. I shiver to think of how difficult this would have been without access to its refactoring and renaming tools.

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Terrain Tile Picking in 3D

Posted by , 05 December 2013 - - - - - - · 1,045 views
C#, SlimDX, DirectX 11, Terrain and 1 more...
Typically, in a strategy game, in addition to the triangle mesh that we use to draw the terrain, there is an underlying logical representation, usually dividing the terrain into rectangular or hexagonal tiles. This grid is generally what is used to order units around, construct buildings, select targets and so forth. To do all this, we need to be able to select locations on the terrain using the mouse, so we will need to implement terrain/mouse-ray picking for our terrain, similar to what we have done previously, with model triangle picking.

We cannot simply use the same techniques that we used earlier for our terrain, however. For one, in our previous example, we were using a brute-force linear searching technique to find the picked triangle out of all the triangles in the mesh. That worked in that case, however, the mesh that we were trying to pick only contained 1850 triangles. I have been using a terrain in these examples that, when fully tessellated, is 2049x2049 vertices, which means that our terrain consists of more than 8 million triangles. It’s pretty unlikely that we could manage to use the same brute-force technique with that many triangles, so we need to use some kind of space partitioning data structure to reduce the portion of the terrain that we need to consider for intersection.

Additionally, we cannot really perform a per-triangle intersection test in any case, since our terrain uses a dynamic LOD system. The triangles of the terrain mesh are only generated on the GPU, in the hull shader, so we don’t have access to the terrain mesh triangles on the CPU, where we will be doing our picking. Because of these two constraints, I have decide on using a quadtree of axis-aligned bounding boxes to implement picking on the terrain. Using a quad tree speeds up our intersection testing considerably, since most of the time we will be able to exclude three-fourths of our terrain from further consideration at each level of the tree. This also maps quite nicely to the concept of a grid layout for representing our terrain, and allows us to select individual terrain tiles fairly efficiently, since the bounding boxes at the terminal leaves of the tree will thus encompass a single logical terrain tile. In the screenshot below, you can see how this works; the boxes drawn in color over the terrain are at double the size of the logical terrain tiles, since I ran out of video memory drawing the terminal bounding boxes, but you can see that the red ball is located on the upper-quadrant of the white bounding box containing it.

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A Terrain Minimap with SlimDX and DirectX 11

Posted by , 20 November 2013 - - - - - - · 944 views
SlimDX, DirectX, C#, Terrain and 1 more...


Minimaps are a common feature of many different types of games, especially those in which the game world is larger than the area the player can see on screen at once. Generally, a minimap allows the player to keep track of where they are in the larger game world, and in many games, particularly strategy and simulation games where the view camera is not tied to any specific player character, allow the player to move their viewing location more quickly than by using the direct camera controls. Often, a minimap will also provide a high-level view of unit movement, building locations, fog-of-war and other game specific information.

Today, we will look at implementing a minimap that will show us a birds-eye view of the our Terrain class. We’ll also superimpose the frustum for our main rendering camera over the terrain, so that we can easily see how much of the terrain is in view. We’ll also support moving our viewpoint by clicking on the minimap. All of this functionality will be wrapped up into a class, so that we can render multiple minimaps, and place them wherever we like within our application window.

As always, the full code for this example can be downloaded from GitHub, at https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git. The relevant project is the Minimap project. The implementation of this minimap code was largely inspired by Chapter 11 of Carl Granberg’s Programming an RTS Game with Direct3D, particularly the camera frustum drawing code. If you can find a copy (it appears to be out of print, and copies are going for outrageous prices on Amazon…), I would highly recommend grabbing it.
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Adding Shadow-mapping and SSAO to the Terrain

Posted by , 17 November 2013 - - - - - - · 1,018 views
SSAO, SlimDX, C#, DirectX 11 and 2 more...
Now that I’m finished up with everything that I wanted to cover from Frank Luna’s Introduction to 3D Game Programming with Direct3D 11.0, I want to spend some time improving the Terrain class that weintroducedearlier. My ultimate goal is to create a two tiered strategy game, with a turn-based strategic level and either a turn-based or real-time tactical level. My favorite games have always been these kinds of strategic/tactical hybrids, such as (in roughly chronological order) Centurion: Defender of Rome, Lords of the Realm, Close Combat and the Total War series. In all of these games, the tactical combat is one of the main highlights of gameplay, and so the terrain that that combat occurs upon is very important, both aesthetically and for gameplay.
Or first step will be to incorporate some of the graphical improvements that we have recently implemented into our terrain rendering. We will be adding shadow-mapping and SSAO support to the terrain in this installment. In the screenshots below, we have our light source (the sun) low on the horizon behind the mountain range. The first shot shows our current Terrain rendering result, with no shadows or ambient occlusion. In the second, shadows have been added, which in addition to just showing shadows, has dulled down a lot of the odd-looking highlights in the first shot. The final shot shows both shadow-mapping and ambient occlusion applied to the terrain. The ambient occlusion adds a little more detail to the scene; regardless of it’s accuracy, I kind of like the effect, just to noise up the textures applied to the terrain, although I may tweak it a bit to lighten the darker spots up a bit.

We are going to need to add another set of effect techniques to our shader effect, to support shadow mapping, as well as a technique to draw to the shadow map, and another technique to draw the normal/depth map for SSAO. For the latter two techniques, we will need to implement a new hull shader, since I would like to have the shadow maps and normal-depth maps match the fully-tessellated geometry; using the normal hull shader that dynamically tessellates may result in shadows that change shape as you move around the map. For the normal/depth technique, we will also need to implement a new pixel shader. Our domain shader is also going to need to be updated, so that it create the texture coordinates for sampling both the shadow map and the ssao map, and our pixel shader will need to be updated to do the shadow and ambient occlusion calculations.

This sounds like a lot of work, but really, it is mostly a matter of adapting what we have already done. As always, you can download my full code for this example from GitHub at https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git. This example doesn’t really have a stand-alone project, as it came about as I was on my way to implementing a minimap, and thus these techniques are showcased as part of the Minimap project.


Basic Terrain Rendering
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Shadowmapping Added
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Shadowmapping and SSAO
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Rendering Water with Displacement Mapping

Posted by , 12 November 2013 - - - - - - · 761 views
SlimDX, C#, DirectX11 and 2 more...


Quite a while back, I presented an example that rendered water waves by computing a wave equation and updating a polygonal mesh each frame. This method produced fairly nice graphical results, but it was very CPU-intensive, and relied on updating a vertex buffer every frame, so it had relatively poor performance.

We can use displacement mapping to approximate the wave calculation and modify the geometry all on the GPU, which can be considerably faster. At a very high level, what we will do is render a polygon grid mesh, using two height/normal maps that we will scroll in different directions and at different rates. Then, for each vertex that we create using the tessellation stages, we will sample the two heightmaps, and add the sampled offsets to the vertex’s y-coordinate. Because we are scrolling the heightmaps at different rates, small peaks and valleys will appear and disappear over time, resulting in an effect that looks like waves. Using different control parameters, we can control this wave effect, and generate either a still, calm surface, like a mountain pond at first light, or big, choppy waves, like the ocean in the midst of a tempest.

This example is based off of the final exercise of Chapter 18 of Frank Luna’s Introduction to 3D Game Programming with Direct3D 11.0. The original code that inspired this example is not located with the other example for Chapter 18, but rather in the SelectedCodeSolutions directory. You can download my source code in full from https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git, under the 29-WavesDemo project. One thing to note is that you will need to have a DirectX 11 compatible video card to execute this example, as we will be using tessellation stage shaders that are only available in DirectX 11.
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SSAO with SlimDX and DirectX11

Posted by , 07 November 2013 - - - - - - · 1,072 views
DirectX 11, SlimDX, C#, SSAO and 1 more...

In real-time lighting applications, like games, we usually only calculate direct lighting, i.e. light that originates from a light source and hits an object directly. The Phong lighting model that we have been using thus far is an example of this; we only calculate the direct diffuse and specular lighting. We either ignore indirect light (light that has bounced off of other objects in the scene), or approximate it using a fixed ambient term. This is very fast to calculate, but not terribly physically accurate. Physically accurate lighting models can model these indirect light bounces, but are typically too computationally expensive to use in a real-time application, which needs to render at least 30 frames per second. However, using the ambient lighting term to approximate indirect light has some issues, as you can see in the screenshot below. This depicts our standard skull and columns scene, rendered using only ambient lighting. Because we are using a fixed ambient color, each object is rendered as a solid color, with no definition. Essentially, we are making the assumption that indirect light bounces uniformly onto all surfaces of our objects, which is often not physically accurate.

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Naturally, some portions of our scene will receive more indirect light than other portions, if we were actually modeling the way that light bounces within our scene. Some portions of the scene will receive the maximum amount of indirect light, while other portions, such as the nooks and crannies of our skull, should appear darker, since fewer indirect light rays should be able to hit those surfaces because the surrounding geometry would, realistically, block those rays from reaching the surface.


In a classical global illumination scheme, we would simulate indirect light by casting rays from the object surface point in a hemispherical pattern, checking for geometry that would prevent light from reaching the point. Assuming that our models are static, this could be a viable method, provided we performed these calculations off-line; ray tracing is very expensive, since we would need to cast a large number of rays to produce an acceptable result, and performing that many intersection tests can be very expensive. With animated models, this method very quickly becomes untenable; whenever the models in the scene move, we would need to recalculate the occlusion values, which is simply too slow to do in real-time.


Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion is a fast technique for approximating ambient occlusion, developed by Crytek for the game Crysis. We will initially draw the scene to a render target, which will contain the normal and depth information for each pixel in the scene. Then, we can sample this normal/depth surface to calculate occlusion values for each pixel, which we will save to another render target. Finally, in our usual shader effect, we can sample this occlusion map to modify the ambient term in our lighting calculation. While this method is not perfectly realistic, it is very fast, and generally produces good results. As you can see in the screen shot below, using SSAO darkens up the cavities of the skull and around the bases of the columns and spheres, providing some sense of depth.

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The code for this example is based on Chapter 22 of Frank Luna’s Introduction to 3D Game Programming with Direct3D 11.0. The example presented here has been stripped down considerably to demonstrate only the SSAO effects; lighting and texturing have been disabled, and the shadow mapping effects in Luna’s example have been removed. The full code for this example can be found at my GitHub repository, https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git, under the SSAODemo2 project. A more faithful adaptation of Luna’s example can also be found in the 28-SsaoDemo project.


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Windows 8.1 and SlimDX

Posted by , 03 November 2013 - - - - - - · 1,294 views
Windows 8.1, SlimDX

This weekend, I updated my home workstation from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. Just before doing this, I had done a bunch of work on my SSAO implementation, which I was intending to write up here once I got back from a visit home to do some deer hunting and help my parents get their firewood in. When I got back, I fired up my machine, and loaded up VS to run the SSAO sample to grab some screenshots. Immediately, my demo application crashed, while trying to create the DirectX 11 device. I had done some work over the weekend to downgrade the vertex and pixel shaders in the example to SM4, so that they could run on my laptop, which has an older integrated Intel video card that only supports DX10.1. I figured that I had borked something up in the process, so I tried running some of my other, simpler demos. Same error message popped up; DXGI_ERROR_UNSUPPORTED. Now, I am running a GTX 560 TI, so I know Direct3D 11 should be supported.


However, I have been using Nvidia’s driver update tool to keep myself at the latest and greatest driver version, so I figured that perhaps the latest driver I downloaded had some bugs. Go to Nvidia’s site, check for any updates. Looks like I have the latest driver. Hmm…


So I turned again to google, trying to find some reason why I would suddenly be unable to create a DirectX device. The fourth result I found was this:http://stackoverflow.com/questions/18082080/d3d11-create-device-debug-on-windows-8-1. Apparently I need to download the Windows 8.1 SDK, now. I’m guessing that, since I had VS installed prior to updating, I didn’t get the latest SDK installed, and the Windows 8 SDK, which I did have installed, wouldn’t cut it anymore, at least when trying to create a debug device. So I went ahead and installed the 8.1 SDK from here. Restart VS, rebuild the project in question, and now it runs perfectly. Argh. At least it’s working again; I just wish I didn’t have to waste an hour futzing around with it…


Originally posted at http://www.richardssoftware.net/2013/11/windows-81-and-slimdx.html



Shadow Mapping with SlimDX and DirectX 11

Posted by , 28 October 2013 - - - - - - · 996 views
SlimDX, C#, DirectX 11 and 2 more...

Shadow mapping is a technique to cast shadows from arbitrary objects onto arbitrary 3D surfaces. You may recall that we implemented planar shadows earlier using the stencil buffer. Although this technique worked well for rendering shadows onto planar (flat) surfaces, this technique does not work well when we want to cast shadows onto curved or irregular surfaces, which renders it of relatively little use. Shadow mapping gets around these limitations by rendering the scene from the perspective of a light and saving the depth information into a texture called a shadow map. Then, when we are rendering our scene to the backbuffer, in the pixel shader, we determine the depth value of the pixel being rendered, relative to the light position, and compare it to a sampled value from the shadow map. If the computed value is greater than the sampled value, then the pixel being rendered is not visible from the light, and so the pixel is in shadow, and we do not compute the diffuse and specular lighting for the pixel; otherwise, we render the pixel as normal. Using a simple point sampling technique for shadow mapping results in very hard, aliased shadows: a pixel is either in shadow or lit; therefore, we will use a sampling technique known as percentage closer filtering (PCF), which uses a box filter to determine how shadowed the pixel is. This allows us to render partially shadowed pixels, which results in softer shadow edges.


This example is based on the example from Chapter 21 of Frank Luna’s Introduction to 3D Game Programming with Direct3D 11.0. The full source for this example can be downloaded from my GitHub repository at https://github.com/ericrrichards/dx11.git, under the ShadowDemos project.

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