Wednesday, August 03, 2011

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John Carmack on Euclideon's Unlimited Detail Demo, Notch's Reaction To It & Carmack's Own Plans for a Voxel Renderer

This is an impressive video purporting to demo Unlimited Detail, a new way for rendering graphics so that they're detailed far beyond current, standard methods. Watch in HD mode for the full effect:

It's from an Australian startup called Euclideon (though the site is currently unavailable, not an encouraging sign.) PopSci has a good article explaining how this technology works:

[R]ather than working with a limited number of polygon shapes (restricted, of course, by computing power), a graphic environment could be built from an infinite number of 3-D virtual atoms, much like the physical world... Unlimited Detail circumvents the computing power problem, [Euclideon CEO Bruce] Dell says, by acting like a search engine that figures out, in real time, which points need to be rendered to create a certain view from a certain perspective. So only the “atoms” that are being viewed in a given frame from a certain perspective are actually rendered at any given time.

3D graphics innovator John Carmack says the technology is potentially feasible in the near future: "[N]o chance of a game on current gen systems, but maybe several years from now."

Update, 12:30PM: Readers in Comments noted that Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson thinks this demo is a scam. Specifically, "[Euclideon] made a voxel renderer... It’s a very pretty and very impressive piece of technology, but... they’re pretending like what they’re doing is something new and impressive."

So why does John Carmack seem to think it would be feasible? I just asked him, and here's what he told me, adding a tantalizing hint of what he might be planning in the near future:

Unlimited Detail Demo

"I don't disagree with anything Notch said.

"I do not think non-polygonal renderers will be the winning choice in the next five years, but someone will probably have a go at it and learn something.

"I write a voxel tracer every five years or so..."

So there you have it. As I said, it's interesting Carmack mentions working on a voxel tracer in the same time frame that something like Unlimited Detail might be feasible (in his view.) Think he's planning to work on a voxel renderer that will do then what Unlimited Detail purports to do now?

Update 2, 9:30am: Last night I asked Carmack why he thinks it'll take 5 years for something like the Unlimited Detail demo to be feasible, and he kindly explained, also outlining his own plans for a voxel renderer:

"You can real time ray trace a static world on high end hardware today as a demo, but there is a long path between a demo and something that is competitive with rasterization in a real product. My plan for such technologies has always been to emit a depth buffer as well as color from the voxel/point cloud renderer and continue to use existing technologies for characters/particles/etc.

"It took us five years to go from a megatexture demo to a (almost) shipping game."

So in 5 years, we may see something like Unlimited Detail... only there's a good chance it'll come from Carmack's id Software. (I've re-titled this post to reflect these updates.)

Hat tip: Reddit and Taylor Schroeder.


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Maxwell Graf

This is vaporware BS technology, and has been popping up for several years now and again. check reddit or

Adeon Writer

Notch of Minecraft fame is saying this is a scam:

Adeon Writer


Hamlet Au

Haha, so John Carmack, the king of high end 3D graphics, thinks it's possible, but Notch, the king of blocky 16 bit graphics, thinks it's not?


I see no reason why we couldn't have both be true... that the base technology here might prove useful in future graphics but that this particular implementation is a scam.

Hamlet Au

Well I asked Carmack, if we're lucky he'll reply.


Voxels and point clouds.. both a decade plus old. Pretty Demo, but thats what it was.

Tateru Nino

I have to go with Notch on this one. There's nothing new here that we haven't seen before.

Nexii Malthus

Doesn't help that their website looks like a chinese scam site, see

Ehrman Digfoot

Well I don't think we need to bother Carmack again. Notch's post is pretty clear itself if you read it, and Ananda summarizes his argument well. This implementation is a scam, not the future of voxel technology itself. Notch concludes his post making the same point as Carmack.

Myf McMahon

Carmack thinks it's real? Are you basing your conclusion on that one rather vague Tweet of his? The one observing that you're not going to see games on current gen systems? That's a pretty extraordinary conclusion Hamlet.

I suggest you read Notch's blog posting, he actually backs up his conclusion with a few facts and figures. Dismissing someone out of hand, based on a half baked (and no doubt uniformed) opinion of their depth of knowledge, is pretty foolish.

Hamlet Au

That's why I double-checked with Carmack. :)

Cube Republic

Oh this BS again (5 years after seeing it the first time)

Ann Otoole InSL

I second Cube's remark. In addition this stuff stinks of venture capital raising scamminess. Did they ever find 5 bucks for a godaddy website?

I expect to see vastly improved everything in 10 years. The entire paradigm is likely to change by then. Unless the governments of the world close the internet down.


my take:

they're using sparse voxels with instancing. it's not revolutionary. it's not even really clever. it has serious drawbacks, which they somehow forgot to mention.

there are MANY people exploring voxel trees these days. google for "sparse voxel rendering." my favorite is this guy:


Did anyone actually bother to read the first 1 or 2 sentences of the engine's concept? This has nothing at all to do with voxels. It may remind of the concept, but this kind of point cloud renderer has much more in common with raytracing implicit surfaces than it does with voxels.


To be fair, and to proactively exculpate myself if *I* got it wrong: the company's own descriptions of their concept make it sometimes very hard to understand what they actually claim to be doing. They should get someone with language skills on that.

red bottom

I'd be interested in hearing. The TOS seems rather clear that it is not unless expressly approved by Amazon. I guess if the library got it in writing then they would be ok.


As Carmack said, he doesn't disagree with anything Notch said. The company is very disingenuous about discussing the limitations of a voxel renderer like the inability to do animations effectively.

Voxel engines do have potential for the static aspects of the world. That's what Carmack is talking about when it comes to blending polygon-based technologies with voxel ones.

Notch is right. People just don't seem to like his level of directness.

Mitur Binesderti

When Notch can build a 3D engine that uses basic object occlusion I'll start listening to him. Until then he's just a really smart guy that wrote a horrible 3D engine and who doesn't understand basic 3D engine design.

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