Futuristic Gaming

By Jim Garringer Published: Jan 03, 2012

Zach Bethel

Physics, algorithms and CPUs aside, it is too early to tell if an innovation that will impact future generations of computer games has been developed at Taylor University. But Zach Bethel believes the project he has worked on for the past year, or something like it, could lead to an industry standard for future generations of computer games.

Bethel, a graphics major, transferred to Taylor at the start of his junior year. "I knew about the Taylor computer science program," he says. "I looked at a lot of different private schools and found Taylor to have the best in terms of the number of faculty and programs that really fit what I wanted to do. I originally wanted to do video game development, and that is still an interest, but I've refined that interest to writing rendering algorithms for game engines. Or it could be for movie production."

Creating a New Standard For Rendering

Rendering algorithms? Yes. Bethel says rendering is how drawings and shapes become the animations you see on your screen. He says step one is to understand the differences between computer games and computer
generated films. Both have similar geneses in that they start with a story and art that are assembled and sent to the rendering process.

But that is where the similarities end. Popular computer games such as Shogun 2, Bastion and DiRT3, while highly interactive with splashy graphics, are designed to load and run quickly on computers and gaming
systems in real-time. Pixar films, Toy Story, Up, Ratatouille and Monsters Inc., instead rely on offline rendering - a much more detail-oriented process that is not designed to be interactive. And a side-by-side comparison of the image quality between Shogun and Toy Story reveals what kind of detail is sacrificed on the gaming side to
gain interactivity.

Bethel spent the past year on an individual research project during which he searched for a way to run an animation from a computer's central processing unit (CPU) instead of the graphic card, which is the current industry practice. He hopes that it could lead to a blurring of the lines between what people see on a game screen and what they see on a television screen.

As part of his programming curriculum, Bethel studied the rendering process and wrote a series of equations - algorithms - that allowed him to create an animation of a statue. He said while his system was slower
and not better, that wasn't really the point.

"It was meant to be a stepping stone," Bethel says. "Graphics processing units are somewhat inflexible, so they kind of bind you to these tools you have to use to draw things on the screen and there are limitations
to those tools, but the consequence is that it runs really fast.

Professor Bill Toll, department chair of Taylor's Computer Science and Engineering department, commented on Bethel's work:

 “Zach did an excellent job on his research project.  His goal was to write a rendering system in software to render images as is now done in hardware on video cards.  This concept is important because it seems likely that rendering will once again be done in software in the future as processors become more parallel.  Zach's system uses multi-core processing in the CPU and hardware level instructions that allow arithmetic on multiple numbers at once on each core.  He did a good job determining optimal combinations of these technologies to provide fast software rendering in a context that will adapt well as future processors develop.”

Setting the Stage for Change

"I am able to do things with my solution that you can't do with a lot of graphic solutions," he added. "The flip side is that it is a lot slower. So it's really not something that companies are going to be knocking at my door to get because it's not going to compete for the speed aspect that gamers want. But it is more future oriented. Ten years from now, it might be that my solution, maybe a variant of it, or an evolution of it,
could become more standard."

Bethel points to Moore's law, which states computer technology increases by a factor of two every 18 months. "As processors improve over the next decade or so and they become more parallel, they will have
more power to draw graphics. And the algorithms I used in my project will scale with those processors.

"My research was focused on seeing if that direction was possible," he says. "I really took off with it outside of what I was required to do. I overachieved a bit on it. That was because I really enjoyed it and I think the result I got was pretty impressive."

Zach Bethel's Research

Bethel's short video demo of his project can be seen below: