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Aqua Costa

Sorting draw calls when stages are executed multiple times

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Many game engines use a draw call sorting approach to create render queues (like this, Bitsquid also uses a similar system).

 

This works well when each stage (gbuffer pass, lighting) is only executed one time since you just have to set some bits in the sort key that identify the pass.

 

The problem appears when you have passes that might be executed multiple times like shadow mapping (and real time reflection maps) because it needs to be executed for each light on screen that casts shadows. There is a limited number of bits that identity each stage so you (probably) cannot simply assign each light a unique stage number.

 

I currently don't include stage bits in the sort key instead I have multiple "buckets" each bucket associated with a stage and render items are put in the buckets. Then the stages are executed in the defined order by rendering the render items inside each bucket, this way I can render the shadow map bucket multiple times.

 

In the end of the article I linked in the beginning of the topic the author wrote that this multiple buckets approach where draw calls are sorted inside the buckets was used in the PS2-era and nowadays draw calls from multiple stages are sorted together.

 

What am I missing?

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I figured I'd jump in on this thread as I have a similar question.

 

I'm working on a data-driven renderer (similar to Horde) where you can define a rendering pipeline via a script.

 

Given:

 

a) a set of visible objects determined from the culling phase

 

and 

 

b) a pipeline can have multiple stages each possibly requiring the objects sorted differently (back-to-front, front-to-back, material/state changes, etc)

 

What is the best way to perform sorting?

 

To me it'd seem that each stage with a sort option specified would have to loop through each object/drawcall/renderitem and generate a new sort key before sorting. That or each object would need to be filled with all necessary information so that custom sort functions could be written and choose what info to sort on instead of just doing the simple default integer sort using a key value.

 

Maybe I'm going about this completely wrong. Some insight would be great!

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How do you generate the indices that point to each render item? I'm assuming you would need to have some way to uniquely identify render items?

 

If we look at a Light Pre-Pass rendering pipeline, the first stage would require the queue to be sorted by depth and the material stage sorted by material/shader/state BUT both stages utilize the same cull results (unless my understanding is incorrect). How is this handled? We have two different sort orders that use the same set of culled objects.

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