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Getting proper front-to-back drawing order is a little more complicated with polygons on nodes. As we walk the BSP tree front-to-back, in each leaf we mark the polygons that are at least partially in that leaf, and then after we’ve recursed and processed everything in front of a node, we then process all the marked polygons on that node, after which we recurse to process the polygons behind the node. So putting the polygons on the nodes saves memory and improves performance significantly, but loses the simple approach of simply recursing the tree and processing the polygons in each leaf as we come to it, in favor of recursing and marking in front of a node, processing marked polygons on the node, then recursing behind the node.

After the BSP is built, the outer surfaces of the level, which no one can ever see (because levels are sealed spaces), are removed, so the interior of the level, containing all the empty space through which a player can move, is completely surrounded by a solid region. This eliminates a great many irrelevant polygons, and reduces the complexity of the next step, calculating the potentially visible set.

The Potentially Visible Set (PVS)

After the BSP tree is built, the potentially visible set (PVS) for each leaf is calculated. The PVS for a leaf consists of all the leaves that can be seen from anywhere in that leaf, and is used to reduce to a near-minimum the polygons that have to be considered for drawing from a given viewpoint, as well as the entities that have to be updated over the network (for multiplayer games) and drawn. Calculating the PVS is expensive; Quake levels take 10 to 30 minutes to process on a four-processor Alpha, and even with speedup tweaks to the BSPer (the most effective of which was replacing many calls to malloc() with stack-based structures—beware of malloc() in performance-sensitive code), Quake 2 levels are taking up to an hour to process. (Note, however, that that includes BSPing, PVS calculations, and radiosity lighting, which I’ll discuss later.)

Some good news, though, is that in the nearly two years since we got the Alpha, Pentium Pros have become as fast as that generation of Alphas, so it is now possible to calculate the PVS on an affordable machine. On the other hand, even 10 minutes of BSPing does hurt designer productivity. John has always been a big advocate of moving code out of the runtime program into utilities, and of preprocessing for performance and runtime simplicity, but even he thinks that in Quake, we may have pushed that to the point where it interfered too much with workflow. The real problem, of course, is that even a huge amount of money can’t buy orders of magnitude more performance than commodity computers; we are getting an eight-R10000 SGI compute server, but that’s only about twice as fast as an off-the-shelf four-processor Pentium Pro.

The size of the PVS for each leaf is manageable because it is stored as a bit vector, with a 1-bit for the position in the overall leaf array of each leaf that’s visible from the current leaf. Most leaves are invisible from any one leaf, so the PVS for each leaf consists mostly of zeros, and compacts nicely with run-length encoding.

There are two further interesting points about the PVS. First, the Quake PVS does not exclude quite as many leaves from potential visibility as it could, because the surfaces that precisely describe leaf-to-leaf visibility are quadratic surfaces; in the interests of speed and simplicity, planar surfaces with some slope are used instead. Second, the PVS describes visibility from anywhere in a leaf, rather than from a specific viewpoint; this can cause two or three times as many polygons as are actually visible to be considered. John has been researching the possibility of an EVS—an exactly visible set—and has concluded that a 6-D BSP with hyperbolic separating planes could do the job; the problem now is that he doesn’t know how to get the math to work, at least at any reasonable speed.

An interesting extension of the PVS is what John calls the potentially hearable set (PHS)—all the leaves visible from a given leaf, plus all the leaves visible from those leaves—in other words, both the directly visible leaves and the one-bounce visible leaves. Of course, this is not exactly the hearable space, because sounds could echo or carry further than that, but it does serve quite nicely as a potentially relevant space—the set of leaves that have any interest to the player. In Quake, all sounds that happen anywhere in the world are sent to the client, and are heard, even through walls, if they’re close enough; an explosion around the corner could be well within hearing and very important to hear, so the PVS can’t be used to reject that sound, but unfortunately an explosion on the other side of a solid wall will sound exactly the same. Not only is it confusing hearing sounds through walls, but in a modem game, the bandwidth required to send all the sounds in a level can slow things down considerably. In a recent version of QuakeWorld, a specifically multiplayer variant of Quake I’ll discuss later, John uses the PHS to determine which sounds to bother sending, and the resulting bandwidth improvement has made it possible to bump the maximum number of players from 16 to 32. Better yet, a sound on the other side of a solid wall won’t be heard unless there’s an opening that permits the sound to come through. (In the future, John will use the PVS to determine fully audible sounds, and the PHS to determine muted sounds.) Also, the PHS can be used for events like explosions that might not have their center in the PVS, but have portions that reach into the PVS. In general, the PHS is useful as an approximation of the space in which the client might need to be notified of events.

The final preprocessing step is light map generation. Each light is traced out into the world to see what polygons it strikes, and the cumulative effect of all lights on each surface is stored as a light map, a sampling of light values on a 16-texel grid. In Quake 2, radiosity lighting—a considerably more expensive process, but one that produces highly realistic lighting—is performed, but I’ll save that for later.

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Graphics Programming Black Book © 2001 Michael Abrash