Its been a hectic week – but finally most of the pieces are falling into place for the next release. There is only a couple of minor features I want to add before calling it a release. Meanwhile, I’ve updated the samplebrowser and released it as a sneak peak. I’ve replaced the Material Picker sample with a Material Editor were you can actually edit all the properties of the materials and also the lights added to the scene.
Here’s a screenshot of how it can look like when configured with all features enabled:
If you’re having trouble with the SampleBrowser on Safari or Chrome on the Mac, this is something I’m investigating. I’ve tested it with all browsers on Windows and Mac, but these two had some issues when textures were involved on my machine. Will look into it more carefully before releasing the next version. The odd thing though, it worked with the samplebrowser compiled as debug.
Hopefully I’m not forgetting anything (probably am) – but below is a clarification of what features Balder has.
Balder uses a left-handed coordinate system – currently there is no way to change this, but there are plans for opening up for any coordinate system.
Interaction – one can enable interaction on any nodes and they can be interactively manipulated during runtime
Rotation coordinates, in angles for each axis
Hierarchical rendering of nodes
A Scene contains objects, any Balder object implementing the interface INode; Lights, geometries, sprites
Defines a clipping area on the screen, coordinate relative to its container
Field Of View
Flat image based objects that exist in 3D space – they are rendered along with other 3D content and positioned and scaled correct according to their 3D space position.
Box – simple box with dimensions
Cylinder – top and bottom dimensions can be specified independently
Ring – inner and outer circle dimensions can be specified independently
ChamferBox – simple box with a chamfer segment
HeightMap – a plane that consist of a set of vertices (points) that can be manipulated by its height
ArbitraryHeightMap – a derivative of HeightMap, but its plane is arbitrary
Mesh – a complex mesh which can be loaded from a file
Container – not renderable itself, but can contain any Node in it – hierarchically
All data loaded from disk or elsewhere is known as Assets. There are Asset loaders for file types, you can even create your own Asset loaders quite easily. For Silverlight, there exist today a limitation which only allows loading of assets found in the XAP file – meaning that any asset added to the project must be a Resource in the XAP file. This is being worked on and will in a future release be more flexible.
ASE file – supports 90% of the Autodesk Ascii Scene Export format for 3D objects
Experimental support for Demoniak3D format
JPEG, PNG for Images
Assets are cached in a content manager, which means that if you load the same asset twice, it will clone the first one.
OmniLight – non directional light, emits light in all directions
DirectionalLight – emits light in a specific direction, without any starting point or ending point
ViewLight – view dependent light that will always emit from the view and into the Scene
Z buffered rendering
Flat shaded – single color faces
Gouraud shaded – color can be specific on each corner of a triangle
I’ve been working lately on a demo that is for gaming a lot more realistic than the spinning teapot or box that one sees in the sample browser for Balder. A friend of mine Peter Rosenlund, an excellent graphics artist, gave me a 3D model of a city that I can use for that (thanks a lot!!).
In the 3D model, he had applied static lighting manually in 3DSMAX by painting the Vertex colors – a feature I had not implemented in Balder. After a few hours yesterday and this morning, I got it all up and running and I must say it looks kinda nice.
Balder, rendering city without vertex colors applied:
Balder, rendering same city with the vertex colors applied:
The last few days I’ve been busy porting Balder to other platforms, amongst those; Windows Phone 7 Series. There are some nuances between the different platforms Balder will support, one of these for Windows Phone 7 was that the Load() method does not exist on an AssemblyPart from the deployment object.
Balder has a discover architecture were it discovers different types from the loaded assemblies, in the Silverlight version I could simply go and get all the AssemblyParts and get it as a resource stream and load them to get the actual Assembly instance. Since the Load() method didn’t exist I had to to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the Assembly class in the Windows Phone 7 version of .net has an overload for the Load() method that takes a string. According to the MSDN documentation it needs to take a fully qualified assemblyname, that turned out to be difficult to acquire. But, it turns out that its sufficient to pass it the short name – this can be derived from the DLL name found in the AssemblyParts property called Source.
I promised a release last month, but I had to do surgery and got a bit sidetracked with feeling sorry for myself being in pain. Anyhow, all is good and finally got the release out the door.
Its been almost 6 months since the last release. So this better be good. 🙂
The following are as complete a list I could compile of whats new and improved, btw. you’ll find the new release here. A new version of the SampleBrowser can be found here.
Scanline renderers has improved quite a bit
Content caching – loading the same content twice will only clone existing in cache
Color class – conversion plus operations are rewritten, introduced ColorAsFloats
Dependency properties now represented as Property with caching in it
World matrix + general matrix fixups
NodesControl fixed, one can now nest these, plus a massive performance improvement during databinding using the ItemsSource.
Mouse events actually working – 0.8.8.6 had quite a few bugs with this, they are pixel perfect
PivotPoint fixed – working recursively
Completely rewritten rendering pipeline for stability, expandability and performance
Memory leaks in mouse event handling
Fixed Asset handling system – had a few bugs in it. Still has to revisit this.
Parsing of ASE files now use invariant culture all over the place. Had a couple of places it didn’t.
Manipulation events on objects, implemented using mouse events.
They contain more detailed information about the object being manipulated, such as material information. Also, the events are not like the mouse events, they actually contain delta information about the manipulation occuring.
Tooltips, there is a property on all objects called Tooltip, you can create tooltips as you please, as you’d do with the TooltipService in Silverlight for other objects. The TooltipService will not work, hence the specialized property for it.
DirectionalLight – basic directional lighting
ViewLight – lighting that is “attached” to the camera/view
ArbitraryHeightMap – heightmap that can have its corners placed arbitrarily
New ASE parser – supporting multiple objects, world matrix. Also a lot faster.
Ring – geometry type
Started implementation of a ChamferBox – very basic at this point
Passive Rendering, will draw in wireframe during interaction and flip to full rendering when interaction has stopped. When no interaction, it will not render, Balder goes idle.
Pausing – for pausing everything.
Grabbing a frame from the Display can now be done
Container for renderable nodes – has its own world coordinate system that can be manipulated, lights can’t be placed in this container.
BubbledEvent system for events that needs to bubble up in the hierarchy
Messenger system for decoupling and stability
IGeometryDetailLevel – basically only used for Passive rendering at this point
Geometry artifacts such as Face, Vertex and so forth are now classes and has been generalized. Its now up to the implementing platform to create specialized versions of them.
Removed MEF and introduced a specialized TypeDiscoverer instead.
Changed to Visual Studio 2010
Build server up and running with a more complete Balder.build file for continuous integration
IGeometryContext does no longer hold the geometry data directly, introduced something called IGeometryDetailLevel. One can get the full detail level, which is the default (and only for now), by calling the method GetDetailLevel() on the IGeometryContext. In addition, any Geometry has a property called FullDetailLevel for convenience.
Mouse events has been specialized – they are named the same as one is used to from Silverlight, but the MouseEventArgs has been “duplicated” in Balder.Core.Input. The reason for this is that the Silverlight class for this is sealed and does not have a public constructor, and the mouse event handling needs to handled in a special manner in Balder. Also, the events are now bubbled as well through the geometry hierarchy.
After just 4 hours of dedicated optimizations with the aid of the EQATEC profiler for Silverlight – I managed to speed up the rendering pipeline of Balder quite dramatically. The profiler has a great comparison feature – simple and straight to the point. It shows that the rendering pipeline for Balder got optimized at an average og 2.28 times. (RenderingManagerRender) :
Its been a little more than 24 hours since I started playing with the EQATEC profiler and have identified bottlenecks in Balder that is close to impossible to discover without a profiler. One of things I really liked about the EQATEC profiler was its really easy to use user interface, its super-intuitive and I got up and running in seconds and could drill down straight to the bottlenecks just as fast. What impresses me with the profiler is the speed of it, I've worked with quite a few profilers in the past for the desktop – and they have always surprised me in a negative way with the amount of memory they use and not to mention the enourmous datafiles they generate. EQATECs just feels right, kudos to Richard Flamsholt and his team in Denmark for this product. You can download a free/personal license from here.
I thought I just give a quick guide into how its used.
The profiler is not integrated in Visual Studio and does not need to instrument your assemblies during compiletime, it works on the binary output of your compiled output. After starting the profiler, you need to point the profiler to your output directory in which the binaries for your application resides, typically the bindebug directory in your Visual Studio project folder. Click the browse button as shown below:
The first time you run it and if you have 3rd party assemblies that are signed you'll be asked to include or exclude these – the default recommendation is to exclude these. There is a resigning option included as well, but I didn't need this so I just skipped them. After it completes gathering your assemblies and recognizes the Silverlight app by finding the testpage and everything, you can go ahead and click the Build button in the lower right corner. It will instrument your binaries and add hooks for all your methods.
Then you just simply click the "Run App" button and your application will start and performance samples will be collected. You now need to play around in your application for the profiler to get enough data to play with.
After stopping your application, you'll be presented with the sample output with details of when it was profiled, its size and total time it ran.
Double click the session you want to view (if you have more than one) and you can start to drill into method calls with the summary sitting on top and a more visualized version of the method with drilldown capabilities at the bottom.
Simple drill down and you'll see the amount of time spent in every method you drill down into:
This is by far, in my oppinion, the best tool that has been released since Silverlight was released. It completes the developer experience and finally we can really show the full potential of Silverlight and the power the CLR actually gives us.
Thanks again to EQATEC for the donation to Balder – we will certainly make use of the license and optimize as close as we can to clock-cycles. 🙂
One of the things that has been missing in the Silverlight development story is a proper profiler that is simple to use and does not require you to hack the registry or do complex command line hacks to get it working. The Danish company called EQATEC has been making profilers for a while for the compact framework, but now they have implemented a Silverlight version that I must say I'm really impressed with. EQATEC has donated a professional license to the Balder project and I have already started using it, and my findings are very interesting. I've found more bottlenecks the last 24 hours than I have during the entire course of the project without a profiler. So I'm expecting Balder to get even more speedier in the near future.
If you want to have a look at how the profiler works, Channel 9 has a great video on it here.
UPDATE 8th of July 2010 : 0.8.8.7 is out – read more here.
Finally after a couple of months of hard work and polishing the code, API and performance, version 0.8.8.6 ofBalderis out. A SampleBrowser can be found here for viewing most of the features ofBalder. The features that has changed or is new are as follows:
* Introduced Silverlight in Core, but still maintaining platform independence – Using core objects directly in Xaml can now be done
* Removed all controls in Balder.Core.Silverlight.Controls – not needed anymore
* Introduced View namespace with IView interface and Camera implementing it
* Viewport has View property insted of Camera
* Moved rendering from a multithread environment to run synchronously on the CompositionTarget. It gives better performance, due to synchronization issues between all threads. Will be revisited in the future.
* New drawing routines, optimized
* Heightmap primitive
* Box primitive
* Rotation, Scale on nodes
* Cylinder primitive
* DebugLevel is known as DebugInfo
* Material system in place
* Support for ReflectionMapping on materials
* Double sided materials
* Sprite rendering with alpha channel
* NodesControl – datadriven nodes control with templating – In Balder.Silverlight.Controls
* NodesStack – datadriven stacking of nodes with templating – in Balder.Silverlight.Controls
Its been crazy weeks since I decided to pull 0.8.8.5, but it was for the better. The result is that the rendering speed and quality has gone up quite dramatically. The next version of Balder will be 0.8.8.6 and will contain at least the following:
– Optimized framebuffer management
– Optimized drawing/rendering
– Optimized lighting
– Proper polygon clipping against the viewport
– Completely refactored way of handling objects, no duplication in the type hierarchy for Balder, like in 0.8.8.0.
– New controls : NodesControl, NodesStack – similar as Canvas and StackPanel works with 2D elements in Silverlight
– New geometry types; Box, Cylinder, Plane
– Transparency for objects / materials
– Introducing the concept of View, you can now create custom cameras
– DebugLevel is no longer flag-based, but a self contained object with properties for all Debug options
– Rendering is now synchronously – gives better framerate in most scenarios, but hogs up rendering event. Ongoing process.
Its been crazy since december with a lot of work being put into Balder and more to come. I don't have a date yet for when I'll have the release, but I'll try to push it as soon as I'm content with the result.