22 Feb 2007
PaperVision3D’s Flashy Origami
Flash developers have been creating pseudo-3D effects since the early days, despite the complete lack of any 3D features in the package. Initially you could only play pre-rendered animations, but as ActionScript has improved people have pushed things further. I got some crude 3D positioning working in Flash 4, and since v5 have successfully created game engines (no links; the contracts don’t allow me to publicly claim credit) that position 2D graphics in 3D space.
But polygon-based 3D rendering has always been the ‘Holy Grail’ pursued by some, with limited success. I’ve seen numerous spinning cubes and some clever alternative rendering techniques, but nothing pretty/fast/flexible enough to catch on.
That may change with PaperVision3D, a polygon-based Flash 3D engine I briefly mentioned at the end of last year. Recent demos have been impressive, and people are already trying out effects like bump-mapping. OK, we’re talking about hundreds or thousands of times fewer polygons than in a modern console game, so it’s only impressive considering Flash’s limited abilities, but it could be an important development.
It probably still won’t be fast enough to make creating slick games/apps straightforward (there’s a world of difference between a hardcore coder carefully devising and optimising a specific graphical effect, and a merely competent developer importing and manipulating 3D objects without worrying about clever hacks), and 3D maths is too daunting a leap for most Flash developers anyway, but there’ll be some lovely demos. And I reckon that’ll help to prod Adobe into adding native 3D to Flash a bit sooner.
(That weird stomping/yelling noise you’ve heard in the distance for the past five years is frustrated Director developers jumping up and down, screaming about how their beloved package can do proper 3D and is infinitely superior to that toy Flash.)