Wrapping up PolyVox development to focus on Cubiquity 2

I made the first public release of PolyVox nearly 10 years ago on the Ogre 3D forums. At the time it was just a simple demo to show how voxels and Marching Cubes could be used to create more dynamic environments, but over the years it evolved into a stand-alone library which has been used by several games and our own Cubiquity voxel engine. It’s been a big part of my life for the last 10 years, but as mentioned in previous blog posts I now have less time and am over-committed with the various projects I’m involved in.

Therefore I have decided to officially cease development on PolyVox, though in practice it has not seen much work for the last couple of years. This follows the wrapping up of the current version of Cubiquity last year, and my plan is still to put the majority of my development time into ‘Cubiquity 2’. This will be completely new voxel engine with more limited scope and a focus on research rather than production use (i.e. for the more adventurous!).

More generally, I have some intention of winding down the rest of ‘Volumes of Fun’ over the coming months and breaking Cubiquity 2 into a standalone organisation and/or project on GitHub. But the details of this aren’t really clear yet, and we also need to work out what to do with Voxeliens. For now the existing support channels (e.g. the forums) will remain open and I expect I’ll just provide email support if/when they disappear.

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Cubiquity is now fully open source under the MIT license

In our last blog post we laid out a new direction for our Cubiquity voxel engine, including open sourcing the code and shifting the focus towards research for a future Cubiquity version 2. The first part of this is now complete, and the whole technology stack is now available under the MIT license:

The main advantage (as well as freedom!) of this new MIT release is that users can attempt to compile the core Cubiquity library for new platforms whereas we previously only supported Windows, OS X, and Linux. You’ll be own your own here (there are no real build instructions), but we have had reports of it working at least on the iPhone.

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Reflections on Cubiquity and finding the path forward

When we began working on Cubiquity the main idea was to expose our PolyVox library through a higher-level interface and tools. PolyVox is powerful and flexible, but requires a strong knowledge of C++, templates and computer graphics to use effectively. By wrapping this in Cubiquity and integrating it with Unity/Unreal we were hoping to bring (some of) it’s capabilities to a larger audience.

The project has been a reasonable success, with a lot of interest from the Unity and Unreal communities and even a game launched on Steam using the technology. However, it is also clear that the original vision is simply too large to finish as a personal side project, especially with diminishing amounts of free time and a desire to adjust my work/life balance. This led to use recently releasing the system for free, but further steps need to be taken to actually reduce the scope.

In this blog post I want to outline the areas in which I/we will be cutting back on development, and explain how it will affect existing users. I also want to define a direction for a future ‘Cubiquity 2.0’ such that it is both smaller and also more technically interesting to work on. This means shifting the focus to research rather than delivering a drop-in system, open-sourcing the complete technology stack, and reducing (but not eliminating) the level of integration provided for Unity and Unreal.

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Our first game jam: Ludum Dare 33

Last weekend David and I took part in our first ‘game jam’ event. As part of Ludum Dare 33 we had 72 hours in which to make a game from scratch (or as close to that as possible) following a prescribed theme. You can find our live-updates that David was posting throughout the weekend on our Ludum Dare page (start from the bottom) but I’ll give a summary here.

If you would like to play the game it’s available from our Ludum Dare page or directly from our website. You can also download the project source.

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Development preview of Cubiquity for UE4

Just a quick notice for those who have been waiting on news of the Unreal Engine 4 integration of Cubiquity. Today I have released a pre-alpha development preview of the plugin.

Development is happening on GitHub under our new GitHub organisation. If you want to keep up-to-date with the latest developments, that’s the place to be. For information about how to test out the plugin, see the post on the Unreal Engine forums.

Do note that this is still a very early release which while functional is quite rough around the edges. Expect bugs and missing features but do let me know on the Unreal Engine forum post if you give it a try or of there are features want.

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Cubiquity for Unity3D is now free!

Well we’ve got some exciting news today – we’re pleased to announce that Cubiquity for Unity3D is now available for free! It has always been free for non-commercial and evaluation use, but we are removing this restriction so that you can use the system for commercial purposes too. This is effective immediately, and you can download Cubiquity for Unity3D via the asset store or from BitBucket.

Cubiquity let's you create natural voxel terrains and edit them in real time, or build your worlds from millions of tiny colored cubes.

Cubiquity let’s you create natural voxel terrains and edit them in real time, or build your worlds from millions of tiny colored cubes.

So what has led to this decision? Well, there are a number of factors at play here:

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Implementing Morton ordering for chunked voxel data

We’ve recently been doing some work in PolyVox to switch the ordering of voxel data from linear order to Morton order. This work is now complete, and in this relatively technical post I’m going to highlight a couple of the interesting tricks which we came across while doing it. Hopefully these will be beneficial to other people working on the low-level details of voxel engines.

Like many voxel engines, PolyVox allows volume data to be broken down into a number of ‘chunks’. The primary advantage of this approach is that not all the data has to be loaded into memory at the same time, and we can instead load and unload chunks on demand. Note that this is an implementation detail of the our ‘PagedVolume’ class, and algorithms which operate on the data (mesh extractors, raycasting, etc) are not aware that the data is stored in this way.

The size of each chunk can be specified by the user (with the ideal size depending on a number of factors) but typically contain 32³, 64³, or 128³ voxels. The ‘ordering’ of these voxels refers to the way they are laid out in memory, and two possibilities are shown below for the 2D case. The linear ordering is the easiest to understand and can be traversed with a simple nested for loop, but the Morton ordering brings numerous benefits in terms of locality of reference, ease of downsampling, and increased compressibility.

Linear ordering (left) vs. Morton ordering (right)

Linear ordering (left) vs. Morton ordering (right)

However, the purpose of this blog post is not to explain the benefits of Morton ordering, nor to describe how (x,y,z) positions are mapped to locations on the Morton curve. For this we refer you to the Wikipedia article and the excellent blog posts by Jeroen Baert and Fabian Giesen. Instead, we wish to highlight a couple of optimizations which were useful in our implementation.

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Update on Cubiquity for Unreal Engine 4

It’s been a little while since my last update on the progress of integrating Cubiquity with Unreal Engine 4 but plenty has been going on behind the scenes. Since the last video I’ve improved performance, added support for Coloured Cubes terrain, added LOD support, tested large map support and made sure that all of the functionality of Cubiquity is being exposed. A lot of time has just gone into making the code-base more future proof and reducing duplication between the different terrain modes.

Check out the video below to see the new features in motion as well as me just blowing stuff up at the 9:42 mark.

This more or less marks the features I wanted present for the first pre-release, so between now and then I will mostly be working on tidying things up and hopefully adding some initial documentation. I don’t have any ETA on the first release since this is fitting around my full-time job but any information will be posted here and on twitter.

The best place to follow development is the WIP thread on the Unreal Engine Forums.

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A new version of Cubiquity for Unity3D is now available

Today we are pleased to announce that a new version of Cubiquity for Unity3D has been released on the asset store. Version 1.2 brings performance and memory gains, adds support for 64-bit architectures, includes faster transfer of mesh data from the native library, and provides experimental heightmap import.

A new example map is included (imported from here).

Our new example map shows a city modeled at a resolution of 512x512x64 voxels which can be destroyed in real-time (complete with physics). Data courtesy of William Rigby and the game ‘Build&Shoot’).

We have improved both performance and memory usage by introducing an octree to reduce the number of mesh chunks which are active at an given time. We’ve combined this with a sophisticated time-stamping system, which allows us to minimize the amount of work required to synchronize our internal representation with Unity’s scene hierarchy. The city map shown above loads in just a few seconds and runs smoothly with destruction and physics enabled.

We have also replaced our ‘ConvertToVDB’ and ‘ConvertToImages’ tools with a single general purpose tool called ‘ProcessVDB’. This provides experimental support for importing heightmaps as terrain volumes – experimental in the sense that it seems to work well but needs some refinements to the workflow.

This map was created using the new (experimental) functionality to import from a heightmap.  It can then be edited as usual to create caves and overhangs.

This map was created using the new functionality to import from a heightmap. Once in the editor the usual sculpting tools can be applied to create caves and overhangs, or to apply materials and textures.

The licensing model hasn’t changed – you can use the system free for non-commercial and evaluation use, or for $200 (per-seat) you can buy a commercial license through the Unity asset store:

For those of you who are waiting on the integration with Unreal Engine 4, I spent some time with Matt over Christmas and saw that the system is indeed progressing nicely. Both the smooth terrain and ‘colored cubes’ volumes are largely working though integrating with the editor and blueprint system is a lot of work. We both have only limited time so there’s not currently a set schedule for the initial release, but keep an eye on the forum thread for the latest updates.

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First look at Cubiquity for Unreal Engine 4

As you might have seen if you’re following us on Twitter, I’ve been working hard recently to get Cubiquity working with Unreal Engine 4. Both David and I have long been fans of the Unreal games and the engine and so I’m having great fun diving into the code. I haven’t spend a lot of time on it yet but earlier this week I had the time to push the integration to a point where I can start showing off some features. Take a look at the video below for an overview of the current state.

The aim is to have at least feature equivalence between the UE4 version and the Unity3D version. So far I have only the smooth voxel terrain working and haven’t started on the coloured cubes version yet. There is live editing in the editor preview mode but not yet integrated as an editor tool such as users might be used to after working with UE4’s heightmap terrain features but this is something I will try to get in before the first official release. For the first beta release I want to spend some time neatening up the interface to the engine to make what’s currently available as usable as possible.

I’ll be posting an update here on the blog when there’s code out for people to test but in the meantime follow us on Twitter @VolumesOfFun (or me personally @milliams) or track our updates on the Unreal Engine Forums.

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