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What OpenGL Implementation Do Real Games Use?

14 posts in this topic

Since there are many official (and unofficial) desktop OpenGL implementations, which do actual 3D games use? GLUT? FreeGLUT? Mesa3D?


Which performs the best?


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So is Mesa 3D the best choice? Also, Brother Bob mentioned opengl32.lib. What is the header file for it?


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Note that opengl32.lib only supports up to opengl 1.1. If you want to use any newer functionality, you need to get that functionality from the graphics card drivers. Your best option is to use a library like glew(http://glew.sourceforge.net/) to load that functionality for you.


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Define what an “actual” 3D game is?
Low-level indie games could use anything.  Many people use wrappers such as SDL or SMFL, but this is mainly just for helping them through the learning process or to get quick but not-so-serious results.
Medium-level indie games get closer to the direct API of choice, but it is not consistent enough to say what they “commonly” use, and at this point the target platform becomes much more of a decision-maker.  Of course the mobile industry is booming so it is worth mentioning that for mobile platforms they will all be using raw OpenGL ES 2.0.
But at this level those who are developing for Windows start to lean more towards DirectX and start to grow their own cross-platform engine (assuming you are not interesting in those who are using Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, etc., since you seem to want to get hands-on with your work).
At this level it is not always feasible in terms of skill or finances to make a DirectX port of an existing OpenGL engine, but even those who stick to OpenGL start to tend more towards raw OpenGL (no wrappers, just raw OpenGL).
At the AAA end of the scale things become more consistent but there is still no single answer.
By this point OpenGL is rarely used at all except for OpenGL ES 2.0 for mobiles.  Consoles and hand-helds (such as Nintendo 3DS) often provide an OpenGL (or OpenGL ES 2.0) layer but developers avoid this for performance reasons—it is always faster to use the native API.
That carries over to PC, in which the native API is DirectX.  As a result, most “actual” games (you didn’t define it so I can only assume what you meant) for the desktop market use DirectX when possible and OpenGL when no other options are available, and they strictly use raw OpenGL.
Generally the big game developers prefer to avoid OpenGL altogether if possible because it is like developing for Android—there are too many inconsistent implementations across vendors and the drivers are usually shoddy.  What works on one machine is guaranteed not to work on some other machine out there.
Another reason is that with the expectations on today’s graphics, they will require OpenGL 4.3, which requires users of Windows to upgrade manually if they have not already on Windows.
Valve is trying to put an end to this situation, and we may well start to see much better drivers (which means performance) and more consistent results in the future.
OpenGL is worth learning for 2 reasons:
  • There may be a surge in OpenGL games if Valve is successful in its Linux pursuit.
  • The mobile industry is booming and is a great place to start making your own indie games.
But if we assume that by “actual” you meant “AAA”, while there are always exceptions, the main answer is that they are using DirectX 11 first, then DirectX 9, then raw OpenGL if targeting Linux or Macintosh.  Generally speaking.
And which implementation?  I think you meant to answer which version.  You don’t get to pick your implementation—that is up to the vendors to implement.
The version you want is up to you.  Lower versions work across more machines, but your graphics will be pretty poor.  If you want compute shaders you will need core version 4.3 or GL_ARB_compute_shader extension.  If you use extensions, prepare for headaches as you implement all the fall-backs for unsupported features.  One more reason why the big guys stay away from OpenGL when possible.
L. Spiro Edited by L. Spiro

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As far as I know it is like this:


In *nix world you get: Mesa (up to 3.1 spec), proprietary GPU driver's implementation (up to 4.3 for nVidia, 4.2 for AMD) and OSS driver's implementation (i have no idea, enough to play Quake3 based games).

In Windows you get: Microsoft implementation (1.1 spec) and GPU driver's implementation (up to 4.3 for nVidia, 4.2 for AMD).

In OSX you get: Apple's implementation (up to 3.2 for everyone).


EDIT: Corrected Mesa's and Apple's spec implementations.

Edited by TheChubu

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In OSX you get: Apple's implementation (up to 3.1 for everyone).

OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) supports OpenGL 3.2 core with some OpenGL 3.3 features as extensions.

L. Spiro

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For the OPs benefit - GLUT, GLFW, etc are nothing more than helper libraries.  Their job is to deal with the painful (and non-cross-platform) task of creating a window, initializing a GL context, getting function pointers, etc.  This next bit is important.  Aside from that, they really have nothing much to do with GL itself; they just wrap the native API calls that would otherwise be used to get things up and running.


One major reason why they exist is for e.g. tutorials, sample code, and the like.  The native API code to do all this stuff can be huge, and when you're making a tutorial you really don't want the tutorial-specific code to be swamped by all of this extra stuff.  You want to focus on the lines of code that are relevant to the tutorial.


They can also serve another purpose in terms of providing a (at least) reasonably cross-platform way of getting a GL context up.  Some even provide other services (input, sound, etc) which may range in implementation from simplistic to comprehensive, but for the purposes of OpenGL itself, once that context is up, they step back and everything is just native GL code from there.


If you want to see how a real-life commercial game handles window and GL context creation, you could do a lot worse than look at the source code for one.


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In Mac, I have no idea how it works, but afaik Apple controls the implementation being shipped.

I've read Apple provides some lower level API that driver developers code for. So Apple gets a hold of everything down to which gl calls can be made and then gives control to the driver implementation. That's all I know though...


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Define what an “actual” 3D game is?

Sorry for being ambiguous, but what I meant by an "actual" OpenGL graphics application is something that utilizes the 3D capabilities of OpenGL, and isn't just drawing quads to the screen.


So if I had a list of all the things I need, and only the things I need, would this be correct:

1. opengl32.lib OR opengl32.a

2. gl.h

3. glew

4. glext

5. glu

6. wglext


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edit: I misread one of your points which made my response quite strange and incorrect. I'm rewriting it from the beginning in case someone read my old one.

Point 1 and 2 are necessary and are shipped with your compiler, or at least installed if you install any OpenGL distribution. Point 3 and 4 are necessary, and point 5 is useless, if you intend to go with the modern approach of OpenGL. Point 6 is necessary for the same reason, and not needed if you're not going with the modern approach, but it's for Windows only. You may need glxext to access the GLX extensions for other platfoms as well. Edited by Brother Bob

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