Infinite Detail And Euclideon: The Elephants In The Room

Image: Euclideon

Yesterday we posted a video from Euclideon - a Australian company that claims it can revolutionise video game graphics, increasing visual fidelity by 100,000. This morning we spoke to Euclideon's CEO Bruce Dell - the man Markus Persson calls a "Snake Oil Salesman" - to ask a few questions regarding Euclideon's 'Infinite Detail' technology

"I think what I would like to make clear is that this is not the finished product," says Bruce Dell, CEO of Euclideon. "We feel like a mother who put cookies in the oven, and now everyone is surrounding the oven chanting 'are they ready yet? Are they ready yet?'

"Give us time and the cookies will taste just fine!"

Instantly we recognise the voice — it's the voice from that video. The voice that claimed Euclideon could revolutionise video game graphics, the voice that claimed a new technology called 'Infinite Detail' could increase visual fidelity by a factor of 100,000. The man Markus 'Notch' Persson, the creator of Minecraft, openly called a "Snake Oil Salesman".

It's 9am in Brisbane, and we've just woken said Snake Oil Salesman up.

"No! No, this isn't a hoax," Bruce Dell laughs, in response to our first, obvious question. "If this was a hoax then we've convinced the Australian government it was a hoax. We've convinced our board of directors and investors it's a hoax! "We have a government grant - so no, it is not a hoax! We have real time demonstrations."

The response to Euclideon's demonstration video, which we posted yesterday was instantaneous and fairly mixed. Some were cynical, some called it a hoax, others were more receptive - but it was hardly a convincing demonstration. Markus Persson, writing on his own personal blog, was perhaps the most scathing in his criticism.

"They’re hyping this as something new and revolutionary because they want funding," wrote Persson. "It’s a scam."

But if it's a scam, then the Australian Government is the mark, having invested 2 million dollars into Euclideon and its technology.

Image: Euclideon

Looking For Snow White

We asked Bruce to explain the technology and how it worked.

"Well, basically anyone who is technical is going to say you can't run that many polygons," he began, "but in the past we were trying to explain it in simple terms so people could understand.

"A good analogy would be this: imagine you go to a library to find a book — say... Snow White. Imagine you go to a library and those books aren't on the shelf; they're all lying on the ground. At the moment systems that run point cloud data are doing that, they're putting every point on the screen and there is no order to it. Now imagine you go to a library and all the books are on the shelf and in order - you go to the 'S' Section, then look for 'SNO' and it isn't long before you've found the book you need.

"One system is looking at thousands of books," he continues, "and the other system is looking at ten labels. That's the basis of a search algorithm like Google or Yahoo - they sort through all the knowledge in the world really quickly because it's categorised. "We made a search algorithm, but it's a search algorithm that that finds points, so it can quickly grab just one atom for every point on the screen."

According to Bruce Dell, it's all about efficiency.

"So think about the difference," he says. "If you had all of the points you are seeing on the screen, like in our demo, it's going to take forever. You'll be waiting for a long time. But if you're grabbing only one for every pixel on the screen, then you don't have a trillion dots, you have... well, pick a resolution and do the maths!

"That's the difference. In layman's terms that's how we're doing what we're doing. The workload is so small that at the moment we're running software just fine with real time demonstrations and we're still optimising, because we keep finding more efficient ways to do this."

That appears to be all well and good, but most criticism from the games industry has come from the detail Euclideon has been a little more coy on: animation, physics ...

"[V] oxels are horrible for doing animation," wrote Markus Persson in his aforementioned blog, "because there is no current fast algorithms for deforming a voxel cloud based on a skeletal mesh, and if you do keyframe animation, you end up with a LOT of data. It’s possible to rotate, scale and translate individual chunks of voxel data to do simple animation (imagine one chunk for the upper arm, one for the lower, one for the torso, and so on), but it’s not going to look as nice as polygon based animated characters do."

According to Bruce Dell, the reason no animations have been shown is simple - Infinite Detail is still a work in progress.

"We have animation," claims Bruce, confidently. "We're certainly going to do a lot more work in that area. I have faith that you'll find our animation quite satisfactory, but we have no intention of releasing anything in that department until it looks absolutely 100% because if we release it now, I assure you that no-one will take it as 'that's where we're up to and we're still working on it', they'll just scream 'it's not perfect yet! They can't make it perfect! This can't compare to polygons!'"

Image: Euclideon

The Empire Strikes Back

We spoke to an Australian physics engine developer with experience of Bruce Dell and Euclideon. His company dealt with Bruce Dell years ago, when Euclideon was seeking funding for the Infinite Detail project. Said company declined to fund the project, citing issues with memory management, particularly when it came to animations.

According to him any live demonstrations given by Euclideon featured poor art and assets, so it was difficult to gauge precisely how hardware intensive Infinite Detail actually was.

The developer in question asked not to be named, but his primary concern wasn't with the 'Infinite Detail' tech itself, which he claimed could work with adjustments - the issue was the toolset and the investments required to move an entire industry across to a new standard. Currently every game developer in the world is using tools dedicated to polygons - convincing an entire industry to toss years of investment and research would be a difficult task indeed, especially with an unproven technology.

Bruce Dell disagrees with that assertion.

"I see comments from people saying the games industry will never use this," he begins. "Well, this industry isn't quite so old and stubborn. The games industry is actually quite open and we're in contact with quite a lot of players in that industry." According to Bruce, the sheer efficiency of his technology will win developers over.

"The present polygon system has got quite a few problems, but not in terms of graphics. Polygons are not really scalable between platforms - if I were to make a character on a PlayStation 3, I can't put him on the Nintendo Wii because he uses too many polygons, so I have to completely rebuild him. Imagine we weren't doing a polygon game, say we were doing a 2D game, if I drew a character on the PlayStation, he's just a bitmap image - this can easily be rescaled. You could do it in Microsoft Paint! 'Infinite Detail' data is like a 2D bitmap image in that rescaling its size is easy, whereas polygons can't scale like that. "The big thing is - if you make a game using the present polygon system, you have to rebuild it to rescale it. You don't have to do that with Unlimited Detail.

"The industry's response was, basically, what you have is really good, you do not understand that the industry is used to using polygons and our tools are very good. I took a look at those tools and thought yes, they are very good. We want to get things to the stage where the artists don't have to change anything, just that now they're using unlimited detail."

Not all developers have openly dismissed Bruce Dell and his 'Infinite Detail' technology, but even the most optimistic have opted for a 'wait and see' approach. John Carmack, for example, mentioned Euclideon briefly on his Twitter account claiming that "production issues would be challenging" but wondered if the tech might viable "a couple of years from now".

Even Bruce Dell himself admits that he needs time. Come back later, he says, perhaps sooner than we think, and we might get the final product.

"Basically we're in the middle of a trilogy and this is like our Empire Strikes Back," he explains. "We disappeared for so long that I think everyone thought 'oh, they're dead'. So we thought we'll release a one year report, tell everyone we're alive and then disappear again.

"The intention is to come out again, once we've finished, and then we'll be releasing real time demonstrations."


    Niiiiice work Mark. Journalism HO! Wonder if the US Kotaku will steal your work again?? >.>

      Was thinking the same thing while reading this.

      You really do do some fantastic work here, Mark.

      Nice Recettear reference. Which reminds me, I need to play some more.

    The thing that i think a lot of people aren't getting is that this is still a developing technology and even if this peticular engine doesnt get passed from the tech demo stage then its going to pave the way for future development.

    This technology has amazing potential to revolutionise graphics but as all technology there is still a lot of development for it to become feasible.

      The video doesn't present it straightforwardly as a developing technology though, rather it is full of boasting and the specific claim that it offers 100,000 times the level of detail of current solutions.

      Certainly they want to promote themselves (to seek funding, etc) but they've overblown that and that's what has people sceptical.

        How is it over blown? They say that their software is capable of the detail and show it. What people are crying for blood about is the animations but the video mentions nothing about them, so they aren't claiming it can do it yet.

        Not to mention that no where in the video do they say its anywhere near completion, people are far too impatient these days

          It's overblown because they say things like "this is the biggest advancement since 3D graphics," etc. and talk about the entire games industry switching over. The whole tone of the video makes it sound like "we have the technology" and the game devs are just too slow to adapt to it.

          It's only when they get called out on certain things that they admit the drawbacks - you don't hear about any of them in the video and that's a tad dishonest IMO.

            Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head there. I thought that the tone of the most recent video was unbelievably smarmy. If they had even said something along the lines of "if we can develop our tech the way we want it to, it has the potential to be the biggest advance in the industry since 3D graphics", and perhaps toned down (or just plain got rid of) some of the vague "infinitely better!" sections, there would have been at least a little less skepticism.

          @Hamish & Justin:

          You guys are idiots. Not only did you fail to recall that the guy in the video has absolved game devs and artists from any guilt or responsibility for any poor work they may have done under the restraints of the Polygon method of computer graphics, but you also judged the entire video based on the tone instead of the content.

          Also, them saying that “this is the biggest advancement since 3D graphics" isn't an over-blown statement if you actually you know, get the concept they were describing to you. If I said to you,

          "hey guys, I found a way to use my phone to connect to and operate any electrical device my house and channel their electrical energy to charge my phone! This is revolutionary game changing stuff that no one has done before!"

          Would you guys be interested want to know more, or would you guys dismiss it because I used a tone that you don't like?

          You guys didn't understand the context of the tone because you guys simply didn't or couldn't grasp the concept of how big of a deal this thing is, if proven (of which I doubt they will have trouble doing).

            Kizaru, you're right People must be crazy to not just take a company's youtube video on faith and assume that the grandiose claims made by the video are completely true.

            On a less sarcastic note people have a right to not take a company's word on a thing when that company is making big claims that can not be proven. Without some technical information there is no way for anyone outside that company to really know what they have done. It is not at all stupid to not immediately believe people when they tell you something that is unlikely.

      and they were boasting about it over three years ago, so it may still be developing, but should be at a point by now where they can show some animation and release more actual details.

        doesnt understand the concept of a sales pitch

    Thanks for this Mark, I was hoping you'd work on an interview regarding Euclideon as there were a lot of unanswered questions.

    In my mind, I'm still very "wait and see".

    “We have a government grant – so no, it is not a hoax!"

    Getting the Australian government to waste money on hare-brained schemes is easier than shooting fish in a barrel - it's not exactly the best evidence of something being legit.


      I've already been on the wrong end of that stick!

      Getting the Australian government to waste money on hare-brained schemes is easier than shooting fish in a barrel – it’s not exactly the best evidence of something being legit.

      You are an idiot
      you have not tried to get a govt grant for something new. Unless they can see a profit for them selves they wont give you cent, promote innovation B*ll*hit, I have been through this twice and had to take new ideas overseas because of the short sightedness of the aust gov (the US china and India have all funded me since)

      No it isn't. Getting the Australian government to hand over a dollar is a monumentally difficult task. The grants exist to be given but competition is fierce. Having a 2 million dollar grant means they put some compelling evidence in their grant submission.

      But I do applaud your bravery at using Fish in a Barrel and Hair Brained Scheme in the same sentence. Off course now I'm visualising you as anthropomorphic coyote.

    That's fair enough. It's an update to say how they're going. When they give the final one, to show off the tech, we'll see how it goes.

    This is great. Nice follow up by getting it from the horse's mouth. I was also thinking yesterday why would the Govt throw nearly two million in funding at this if it wasn't seen as a viable technology to be developed.
    I say good on you guys and all the best. Any technology that has the potential to make advances in gaming is a plus and needs to be supported.

    Is Tim Johnstone from Firepower on the board ?

    Notch's comments really made me lose a lot of respect for the guy, being "The Indie Games" guy, a scene all about doing new things, pushing envelopes etc to come out and totally put down this work is really ignorant.

    In his experience working with voxels is horrible, well 20+ years ago what does he think people were thinking about with polys.

      i totally agree with you, while i think the technology they've shown so far is far from even being pre alpha, the fact that notch came out and just said: "nope, not possible, they are lying.".

      To me it seems like voxels need alot of optimization and a dedicated team of people with dreams and the brains to slowly make them reality.

      p.s. Notch really shouldn't talk about memory management considering minecraft runs slower than a 95 year old with a walker. Notch is to optimization as Cats are to Dogs.

        I don't think you read Notch's blog then. His explanation as to why the video is a gross exaggeration is irrefutable: according to the numbers they state, it would require 512 petrabytes of data to animate that island. Their clearly cheating by doing a lot of duplication, and regardless, he's right to point out the animation issues.

          No, you people have to remember Notch is a guy who codes poorly in Java. He might be popular, but he is by no means good or as well informed as people like John Carmack who seem to think it is possible.

          Notch made a horrible assumption in assuming that the unlimited detail engine uses voxels the same way his horribly inefficient minecraft engine uses them. Just looking at unlimited detail's models tells you they aren't using voxels in the same way. Unlimited detail looks like it just builds the outer surface of any individual model, not the entire volume as minecraft does. Apples and oranges, and Notch's calculations don't mean a thing.

            Notch based his math off the figures they provided. In the clip they say the entire island was made up of 'atoms', and make a big deal about showing it off. All Notch did was calculate the number of atoms required by an the island that size to get his figure. It doesn't take a sophisticated knowledge of engines to know that they can't be doing exactly what they're describing to that scale without heavy duplication.

            Also, John Carmack thinking a technology is feasible in the future doesn't make this video any more plausible. Stephen Hawking believes space travel is possible, but that doesn't mean I'm going to take a companies claims that they can fly me to the moon today seriously. I'd dare say Carmack is as suspicious as Notch.

              Notch didn't have to calculate the number of atoms in the island, I'm pretty sure that voice-over gives the number. And as someone has said before, that number isn't the number of points being placed/tracked.

              Not saying this is gonna see use in the next five years or anything, but from what I've heard/read from Notch over the years is that he gets a bit of a 'Troll' itch every so often. Skepticism in this case would be understandable. Notch just seems like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning and spilled his milk right before sitting down to watch the video and respond. :-P

              A company reasonably could fly you to the moon if you could afford it and if the company could afford it. It's a big undertaking but yes extremely plausible, just not a huge market in that like there is in unlimited detail gaming.
              Also Notch probably would be right but he doesn't even know how they store the memory and the actually byte size of each point, he just assumed that they would take at least 1 and probably at least 3 if it stored the points the same way todays engines do. They could very well have stored the data in a completely different way that uses less than a byte for any given atom. I say that everyone should stop acting like a bunch of ignorant jackwagons and at least try to face this reasonably. If you are skeptical, sit and wait. If you are optimistic, wait and sit. Everybody will eventually know who they can point fingers and laugh at.

                i think you're right. we just have to sit and wait. and i think Notch is jealous. i think along the way to create minecraft he actually tried this approach and failed. that's why he's skeptical about this. But it's just me and thoughts.

                It'd be cool to play around in real-time demo. even if it's pre-alpha.

    Great article Mark. You've managed to find out the answers to most of the questions I've had. I'm still a little dubious if it will ever be put into practice but it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. It would be nice if it was successful.

    I remember seeing this demo, or one like it, a few years ago I'm sure.
    Almost certain this isn't new, and didn't work properly with animation and non-repeated geometry back then either.

    I like how every time he's asked for an explanation of the algorithm used, he falls back on overly-simplified analogies that are tenuous at best.

    But to take the bait, and imagine it's just like a search engine. Why is Google so fast? It uses giant server farms to index the payload (URLs) by an index (keywords). Now, what happens if you change the content of your website? From experience, it takes a week or so at best for the data to be re-indexed by the new keywords.

    So sure, I'll keep an open mind and accept that the kind of fast lookup of payload (voxel data) by key (spatial location) is feasible. But what happens when something moves? The key changes and data has to be re-indexed. In a game world, hundreds of models, containing potentially "unlimited" voxels, move every frame. I for one don't look forward to a week-long delay in my game whenever something moves :P

    We've seen the large scale, static tech demo. He says they have animation tech demos, which I imagine can only be small scale (one model at a time). Using his own analogy, rendering a large scale, dynamic world at an interactive framerate just wouldn't work.

    What I'm interested in knowing is why they've put out this video after a year with no improvements on the areas that people have concerns about. Animations, physics and lighting are big issues to tackle, if they aren't going to show those until they're ready, why are they showing us the large static environments?

    All of the assets look to be copied and pasted, which makes me think that memory usage is still a major issue, or they'd have shown more diverse assets as well.

    This hasn't really done anything to dispel my doubts. Sure, this technology might work in the future, but nothing I've seen makes me think the future is any time soon.

    Again though - no mention of anything technical.

    this migth be real, but all im hearing is a salesman / consultant.

    I see them in my industry all the time. They come in, talk the high level talk and try to make the sale.

    Again im not dismissing this as a hoax, i am just saying I wont believe it until I see some technical details discussed.

    It's a bit odd that you're claiming Notch was the most scathing in his criticism when his criticism was essentially that this is old news with a new sales pitch (and some major undisclosed limitations). It's not like he was saying that the tech's not 'real', just that it's got some major drawbacks that make it impractical for use in games.

    It's disappointing that the regularly spaced objects weren't brought up; it's a very common constraint on voxel demos because it looks impressive without being computationally intense, but it's almost never going to happen in a commercial situation.

    I don't really think that the industry would shun voxel-based technology just because hardware isn't optimised for it. nVidia and ATI would love to have an excuse to sell some new cards, after all.

    I knew it: Here is a referenec back in 2008.
    If it is the 'new baby' then it is having a very long gestation:

    Well he speaks a good game which means he's confident in the tech and it's results or he's just that slick in pulling a scam.

    So right now I'll wait and see too. Could be the injection the graphic industry needs to catapult the technology. Could still be a scam but even if it is it's going to set minds thinking. May be something we'll see in future or something like it anyway.

    This is from march 2008 at the link I posted above:
    "Is This Vapourware?

    Unlimited Detail says that the entire R&D is done. They now need to build the commercial version of the editor and the PC and console versions of the engine. "

    Hmmm.... that was over 3 years ago.

    They should've held back until they had viable examples of animations, everyone is going to be douchebaggy now because they want an instant product.

    This is a very possible technology for graphics in video games of the near future, I feel it might be much like the Human Genome Project, it's just slowly chugging along, going to take years to get it all in the industry, but with the demand, the technology increases. I know looking through the internet that video game players are absolute jerks and will complain about graphics constantly, that's good, it gives drive for the industry to out-perform each other, eventually, somebody is going to be looking into this technology as an option.

    No matter what the end result of this tech I still find it hilarious that Notch, the man who can't get such a visually simple game like Minecraft to run well on so many moderate systems, has the gaul to make such statements. He really has a massive ego.

      Yeah it's kinda like the angry birds guys

      Oh and notch it's been 9 months since the lanterns were meant to be implemented

      So if it takes that long for a lantern think I'm willing to give these guys some more time

        He kind of back down from that because of the backlash. It would have (mind my language) pissed off a lot of people if he had made all there torches suddenly extinguish.

        As for the demo they have made a big mistake:
        Unveiling there product without releasing it.
        If you want to make a product release it soon after you unveil it, even if you just release a beta version. Better yet just don't say a word about it until it is done.

    Thanks very much for this really great story Mark, this has been a matter of debate for a lot of us and this cleared up a lot of it.

    We were all pretty much in the same frame of mind, as in wait and see. When I did some digging and actually tracked down the grant for 1.9mill we were decided that either:
    These guys were doing real research.
    Were inept and stupid.
    It was a hoax.

    But on the information given it was really not anything to go on, and I have to admit that secretly I would love for it to be true and viable. Anyone with any modelling experience understands the pros and cons of this system, if a genuine fix was found awesome.

    What angers me is Notch basically slandering people in the public court with the same amount of evidence.
    As an Australian I'm downright defensive, because as it seems what these people are doing is research into known technology.

    Whether its viable to make games or not, research and Australians doing this research isn't a bad thing.

    If at the end of the day it's a lemon then fine, but whats with all this soothsayin' slander? Sounds more like haters gonna hate to me.
    This is known tech that isnt viable right now mainly due to memory and processing restraints. Personally though long term I dont see any other option, polygons and such are just the easiest way to interpret our surroundings using current hardware...
    That's first year stuff...

    Just because this may not be viable to run yo next pokemonz on, does not mean this tech, and research into it isn't important.

    Also.. go grab another coffee Notch.

      Tend to agree with you here.

      Any research is better than no research, even if its a dead end.

      As for Notch... they guy is using Java... not exactly top of the line or pushing the boundaries.

    All I can say about this is if it IS real, and you CAN animate with it.. imagine fallout 4 if bethesda started working with this stuff.

      As long as there's an ironclad restraining order stopping Obsidian going NEAR the franchise EVER again, I say yes!

        They ruin every IP they touch, even their own sequels seem to take steps backwards.

        At the very least we can hope Obsidian will eventually run out of IPs being offered to work with in their own way they are digging their own grave using the pick of mediocrity and shovel of earned mistrust.

        It's just going to be a laborious task, because they work with really good established IP's people are automatically drawn to the game without checking the developer/publishing house before they buy. Thus over-inflating the success of the product as it is only every measured by sales and profits in this day and age.

    I am very excited for this technology. I have been playing with voxels for quite some time trying to crack the holy grail of efficiency. And despite what our lord and savior Markus Persson *rolls eyes* says voxels WILL be the future of graphic technology and it's only a matter of when. By the way Minecraft is a VERY simplistic game, this guy is far from genius, and akra is right... Java?!

    I admit that the animation part is true for now, but when voxels are applied to a polygon (think sorta displacement maps in 3DS) then animation is very do-able also with things like bulging muscles very easy to animate. We can only get quite close to real-life graphics with polygons. Voxels are real-life 3d graphics.

    I could go on all day about the benefits of this!

    The fact that the guy refuses to talk anything remotely technical and comes up with dodgy analogies instead makes me pretty skeptical honestly.

    "At the moment systems that run point cloud data are doing that, they’re putting every point on the screen and there is no order to it."

    If this is true, then everyone working on dot clouds is ignoring decades of work in computer graphics. Space partitioning is not a new idea, it's been developed since the 60s and been in games since Doom started using BSP trees. In fact, what he describes is a raycasting approach combined with space partitioning. It's not new. It's been done before. It's called a sparse voxel octree. Here's a paper from nVIDIA:

    In addition to having the issues regarding animation and so on that are voxel issues, I'd expect that adding things such as semi-transparency (eg water effects) will throw away a lot of the benefits of the approach.

    "Polygons are not really scalable between platforms – if I were to make a character on a PlayStation 3, I can’t put him on the Nintendo Wii because he uses too many polygons"

    I'm sure that this dot cloud approach will top out in other ways. Like memory. Animation is going to cost a lot of extra memory, and holding all those dots in an efficient structure is going to suck up a lot as well. And that memory needs to be fast enough to be quickly searched. Plus, polygons *are* scalable to a degree. And there's a lot more to video games than just rendering polygons.

    The reason that he's getting the 'snake oil' allegations is that he refuses to provide any technical detail. There's no mention of the sort of hardware this is running on, how much memory is taken, how scalable it really is, what the limitations are and so on. Instead it's the 'next evolution' in graphics and it's going to increase performance a million times while it does your laundry. I'm not saying it's a lemon - and I certainly wouldn't take Notch's word for it, the renderer in Minecraft is awfully inefficient - but it's hard not to be very skeptical, especially when they're trying to pass it off as entirely their work when it clearly isn't. The fact that the Australian Government gave them some cash doesn't mean anything beyond that it's worth investing some time into researching. Which it is. That doesn't mean it's not a dead end, just that finding out is worth the investment.

      Negative Zero,

      I'm not technical at all, but I liked your argument.

      I concur, a very solid argument.

      The fact that they are boasting so openly and so extravagnatly about it seems very suspicious. 100,000 times increase in graphical fidelity overnight? Please.

      Don't get me wrong, they may have something decent on their hands here, but, well, we all remember Peter Molyneux don't we?

      Thank goodness someone else noticed that this isn't in any way new tech.

      There's way too much hyperbole in this. Bruce comes across to me as someone who is repeating analogies that have been explained to him, but that he doesn't really understand himself.

    I'm more amused by the fact Notch is calling it out, and this article makes it sound like a valuable opinion. Since when is he the go-to guy for feedback on this sort of stuff?

    I'm not going to say I'm not dubious, but how about the haters wait and see before sh*tcanning it completely? I agree with the previous comment that says it just sounds like haters hatin' more than anything.

    For a WIP tech demo it looked ok, far from perfect but still quite impressive at least from a technical viewpoint. Aesthetically? well, it is a tech demo and the bloke stated clearly that they where coders rather than artists so I guess that is understandable.
    I just wished that the demo implied that they were having fun with the technology rather than just pushing pixels.

      The fun will come after the "pixel pushing" has been perfected. You have to run before you walk.

        *Walk before you run.

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