Panda3D Compiled and Installed on ‘Klystron’

I have just completed a project, by which I downloaded, compiled and installed the 3D-game / 3D-application development software named Panda3D, on the powerful Linux laptop I name ‘Klystron’. That laptop is not to be confused with the less-powerful Web-server I name ‘Phoenix’.

This game-development kit started out years ago as a much-simpler project from Carnegie-Mellon University, which at the time I called a toy. But as it stands today, the level of sophistication and power available through Panda3D has grown tremendously. It is no longer a toy by any means, and is also one of the few game-dev platforms I know of, that can be scripted directly in Python.

One of the new features that make it interesting, is the ability to use Bullet Physics, especially since the simpler ODE (Open Dynamics Engine), game-physics engine, is broken on some platforms.

Another new feature is the support for a browser plug-in, that will allow games etc. to be deployed as Web-content, as long as the browser has the run-time plug-in installed. The actual embedded applet will then take the form of a ‘.p3d’ File.

One aspect of compiling this software that takes some getting used to, is that its python-based make-commands accept an ‘–everything’ parameter, which essentially tells the make-script to find all the relevant dependencies on the local computer, and then to configure the version of Panda3D we are compiling, to link only to the dependencies which were found, thereby either including some features or leaving them out.

I found that my only way to process that information, was to run the make command a first time as a dummy-run, and then to interrupt it. At the top of its build-log, it will show the power-user which libraries / dependencies it did not find, as if the intention was not to include those. After having interrupted this first run, I next went through my package-manager and installed all the packages named, which I felt might add some value to my build of Panda3D.

And so, after I checked out the GIT version of the software to a folder named ‘~/Programs/panda3d’ , and after ‘cd’ -ing to that directory, I felt that the following recipes were of use to me:

Continue reading Panda3D Compiled and Installed on ‘Klystron’

Observations about the Z-Buffer

Any game-engine currently on the market, uses the GPU of your computer – or your tablet – to do most of the work of rendering 3D scenes to a 2D screen, that also represents a virtual camera-position. There are two constants about this process which th game-engine defines, which are the closest distance at which fragments are allowed to be rendered, which I will name ‘clip-near’, and the maximum distance rendering is to be extended to, which I will name ‘clip-far’.

Therefore, what some users might expect, is that the Z-buffer, which determines the final outcome of the occlusion of the fragments, should contain a simple value from [ clip-near … clip-far ) . However, this is not truly how the Z-buffer works. And the reason why has to do with its origins. The Z-buffer belonging to the earliest rendering-hardware was only a 16-bit value, associated with each output pixel! And so a system needed to be developed that could use this extremely low resolution, according to which distances closer to (clip-near) would be spaced closer together, and according to which distance closer to (clip-far) could receive a smaller number of Z-values, since at that distance, the ability of the player even to distinguish differences in distances, was also diminished.

And so the way hardware-rendering began, was in this Z-buffer-value representing a fractional value between [ 0.0 … 1.0 ) . In other words, it was decided early-on, that these 16 bits followed a decimal point – even though they were ones and zeros – and that while (0) could be reached exactly, (1.0) could never be reached. And, because game-engine developers love to use 4×4 matrices, there could exist a matrix which defines conversion from the model-view matrix to the model-view-projection matrix, just so that a single matrix could minimally be sent to the graphics card for any one model to render, which would do all the necessary work, including to determine screen-positions and to determine Z-buffer-values.

The rasterizer is given a triangle to render, and rasterizes the 2D space between, to include all the pixels, and to interpolate all the parameters, according to an algorithm which does not need to be specialized, for one sort of parameter or another. The pixel-coordinates it generates are then sent to any Fragment Shader (in modern times), and three main reasons their number does not actually equal the number of screen-pixels are:

  1. Occlusion obviates the need for many FS-calls.
  2. Either Multi-Sampling or Super-Sampling tampers with the true number of fragments that need to be computed, and in the case of Multi-Sampling, in a non-constant way.
  3. Alpha Entities“, whose textures have an Alpha channel in addition to R, G, B per texel, are translucent and do not write the Z-buffer, thereby requiring that Entities behind them additionally be rendered.

And so there exists a projection-matrix which I can suggest which will do this (vertex-related) work:


| 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 |
| 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 |
| 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 |
| 0.0 0.0  a   b  |

a = clip-far / (clip-far - clip-near)
b = - (clip-far * clip-near) / (clip-far - clip-near)


One main assumption I am making, is that a standard, 4-component position-vector is to be multiplied by this matrix, which has the components named X, Y, Z and W, and the (W) component of which equals (1.0), just as it should. But as you can see, now, the output-vector has a (W) component, which will no longer equal (1.0).

The other assumption which I am making here, is that the rasterizer will divide (W) by (Z), once for every output fragment. This last request is not unreasonable. In the real world, when objects move further away from us, they seem to get smaller in the distance. Well in the game-world, we can expect the same thing. Therefore by default, we would already be dividing (X) and (Y) by (Z), to arrive at screen-coordinates from ( -1.0 … +1.0 ), regardless of what the real-world distances from the camera were, that also led to (Z) values.

This gives the game-engine something which photographic cameras fail to achieve at wide angles: Flat Field. The position from the center of the screen, becomes the tangent-function, of a view-angle from the Z-coordinate.

Well, to divide (X) by (Z), and then to divide (Y) by (Z), would actually be two GPU-operations, where to scalar-multiply the entire output-vector, including (X, Y, Z, W) by (1 / Z), would only be one GPU-operation.

Well in the example above, as (Z -> clip-far), the operation would compute:


W = a * Z + b

  = (clip-far * clip-far) / (clip-far - clip-near) -
    (clip-far * clip-near) / (clip-far - clip-near)

  = clip-far * (clip-far - clip-near) /
            (clip-far - clip-near)

  = clip-far

  (W / Z) = (W / clip-far) = 1.0


And, when (Z == clip-near), the operation would compute:


W = a * Z + b

  = (clip-far * clip-near) / (clip-far - clip-near) -
    (clip-far * clip-near) / (clip-far - clip-near)

  = 0.0


Of course I understand that a modern graphics card will have a 32-bit Z-buffer. But then all that needs to be done, for backwards-compatibility with the older system, is to receive a fractional value that has 32 bits instead of 16.

Now, there are two main derivations of this approach, which some game engines offer as features, but which can be achieved just by feeding in a slightly different set of constants to a matrix, which the GPU can work with in an unchanging way:

  • Rendering to infinite world coordinates,
  • Orthogonal camera-views.

The values that are needed for the same matrix will be:

Continue reading Observations about the Z-Buffer

Atomic Game Engine Installed – twice

One of the projects which I have recently undertaken, is to compile and install Atomic Game Engine, both on my Linux laptop ‘Klystron’, and on my Windows 7 machine ‘Mithral’. This was originally a closed platform, but has received renewed interest, because it is now available under the MIT license, which is a form of Open-Source licensing, more permissive than GPL v3 is.

This platform has the eventual capability, to deploy 3D applications and games, to Windows, OS/X, Linux, Android, iOS and WebGL recipient-platforms, while some forms of it will run under Windows and Linux, in my own experience.

I have to say though, that my ability to get the Linux version of this game-design platform working, was not due to my own prowess, but rather to the fact that the development team at Atomic Game Engine, provided dedicated and consistent technical support to me, every time I ran into a problem. I would guess they are rather tired of answering my many questions for the moment, so it is also good news, that both under Linux and Windows, my installations of this platform are complete – to my own satisfaction.

I have exported a 3D application to Android from my Windows platform, but have not reproduced this success under Linux, mainly because the platform requires that I specify where my Android SDK and where my Ant executable are located – sensibly – and I do not have any Android SDK presently, installed on ‘Klystron’. I do have the Android SDK installed on ‘Mithral’, which as I said is required, and so the export to Android worked there.

Installation under Windows was much more straightforward than it was under Linux, which is often the case, because the Windows version comes as an available binary SDK, while under Linux it still needs to be custom-compiled. And whenever we custom-compile anything, we can run into dependency issues.

One major issue I faced under Linux, was the fact that the Mono packages that are standard for my Debian distribution, are not adequate in what they provide, for development in C# to be enabled. And so what I needed to do, was to subscribe to another Mono repository, managed by Mono project, to upgrade my whole Mono installation, and after that, C# also worked.

So, Atomic Game Engine allows for 3D applications and games to be designed, using the languages C#, JavaScript, and TypeScript, according to my own experience… But, a C# Project cannot be exported for WebGL playing.

Also, I have discovered along the way, that We are no longer expected to install ‘Visual Studio 2015 Express’, but rather “Visual Studio 2015 Community Edition”, and in order to get C# support to work properly on my Windows 7 machine, I needed to do an in-place upgrade, from ‘VS Express’ to ‘VS Community’.

I am pleased that all the installation and upgrading seems to have gone well, and seems to have left me with no major reliability issues, either on ‘Klystron’ or on ‘Mithral’.

However, because the build of Mono now on ‘Klystron’ is non-standard, I cannot vouch for it in general. On my actual server-box ‘Phoenix’, I must choose to stick with the more conservative Mono packages, that are meant to go with Debian, because this box needs to run reliably 100% of the time. OTOH, on ‘Klystron’, I had nothing else depending on Mono, for which reason I was also willing to do the upgrade.