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Member Since 08 Jul 2012
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Beginners: Fixed-Function vs. Shaders

08 July 2012 - 09:49 PM


I'm currently going to college for computer science. Although I do plan on utilizing an existing engine at some point to create a small game, my aim right now is towards learning the fundamentals: namely, 3D programming. I've already done some research regarding the choice between DirectX and OpenGL, and the general sentiment that came out of that was that whether you choose OpenGL or DirectX as your training-wheels platform, a lot of the knowledge is transferrable to the other platform. Therefore, since OpenGL is supported by more systems (probably a silly reason to choose what to learn), I decided that I'm going to learn OpenGL first.
After I made this decision to learn OpenGL, I did some more research and found out about a dichotomy that I was somehow unaware of all this time: fixed-function OpenGL vs. modern programmable shader-based OpenGL. At first, I thought it was an obvious choice that I should choose to learn shader-based OpenGL since that's what's most commonly used in the industry today. However, I then stumbled upon the very popular Learning Modern 3D Graphics Programming by Jason L. McKesson, located here: http://www.arcsynthesis.org/gltut/
I read through the introductory bits, and in the "About This Book" section, the author states:

"First, much of what is learned with this approach must be inevitably abandoned when the user encounters a graphics problem that must be solved with programmability. Programmability wipes out almost all of the fixed function pipeline, so the knowledge does not easily transfer."

yet at the same time also makes the case that fixed-functionality provides an easier, more immediate learning curve for beginners by stating:

"It is generally considered easiest to teach neophyte graphics programmers using the fixed function pipeline."

Naturally, you can see why I might be conflicted about which paradigm to learn: Do I spend a lot of time learning (and then later unlearning) the ways of fixed-functionality, or do I choose to start out with shaders? My primary concern is that modern programmable shaders somehow require the programmer to already understand the fixed-function pipeline, but I doubt that's the case.
TL;DR = As an aspiring game graphics programmer, is it in my best interest to learn 3D programming through fixed-functionality or modern shader-based programming?