The Column: 3D Graphics Simulation

As the single fully weighted piece of work for the 3D Graphics module during my second year of my Computer Science degree at Hull University I had to create an OpenGL graphics simulation. Despite having had little prior experience of using 3D graphics frameworks, I am very pleased with the outcome and look forward to continuing to spend a lot more time with both the OpenGL and DirectX API’s; in particular my final year project looks to be a ray-tracing renderer (potentially CUDA) which should give me additional exposure to what is becoming a more and more promising technology for gaming.

I created a report accompanying the finished program which I’ll simply include bits of below to explain the project and how the simulation works.

The Column

The Column

The Column is a 3D graphics simulation designed around a series of stacked boxes containing cylinders. Balls are emitted at the top of the stack and interact with both the geometry and each other via way of collisions and response. In addition, the simulation features a “Sphere of Doom”, a large sphere near the bottom of the stack that absorbs balls, shrinking their size and mass. A portal lies at the bottom of the stack that transports any balls that enter, back to the top of the column. The entire simulation is made using OpenTK (OpenGL) in C#. All geometry and physics are rendered mathematically.

The specification determined that one emitter should emit balls with the approx density of aluminium, the second one, copper and the third, gold.

The program simulates a dynamic system through various means. The balls use an Euler integration method with a gravitational constant that combined with calculated velocity, mass and density of each ball, simulates the motion of the balls falling down the column.

Ball to ball collision response is handled via “elastic collisions” based on the mass of balls and perpendicular velocities from the collision point, thus a heavier ball will knock a lighter ball out of the way. Additionally the angle of impact effects the amount of force transferred.

Rendering is performed via OpenGL using version 3.1 and Vertex Buffer objects. All primitive 3D models have been constructed manually or mathematically. I use GLSL vertex and fragment shaders for “Phong Shading” based ambient, diffuse and specular lighting calculations that provide interpolated lighting of geometry between vertices. My scene uses 3 point light sources and has built in support for both directional and spot lights if desired.

I have implemented a particle system object that emits particles of a given shape. I have used simple quad planes for the simulation for performance optimisation and rotate them for added effect combined with the lighting. The particles are highly customisable in lifetime, movement, scale and quantity and can be added for any desired event. I use them specifically for collisions with the Sphere of Doom and upon spawning of balls from emitters.

My portals use a Frame Buffer Object which renders the scene from the desired camera position to a texture. I then switch to the Display Frame Buffer and render the entrance and exit portals using the respective textures to give the effect of seeing through the portals to their destination, which in turn is updated in real-time.


I have spent considerable time optimising the simulation to maximise the overall frame rate. Much of this has been achieved by streamlining the shader structure to avoid dynamic branching, specifically with the avoidance of “IF” statements , the use of step functions and moving as many calculations as possible to the vertex shader. The fragment lighting calculations are easily the most intensive part of the simulation and reducing my lights to a maximum of 3 per fragment has also helped greatly.

With a simulation such as this, there is always something that could be improved on, tweaked, optimised or added. Suffice to say I am very satisfied however with the quality of the finished product which has more than surpassed my initial expectations and I feel I have learned very useful and contemporary skills that will be essential for the future. Perhaps most importantly, I have thoroughly enjoyed the assignment.

I’ll get a video uploaded of it in motion at some point. I’m currently looking at improving my portals a bit by potentially using an asymmetric frustrum.

Sphere of Doom

3 thoughts on “The Column: 3D Graphics Simulation

  1. Pingback: OpenGL Cross-platform PC/PSP Game Coursework | Alex Rodgers

  2. This is brilliant. I’ve been trying to dabble with OpenGL but haven’t come very far. Is there any chance I can take a look at the source code for this?

    • Hi, the problem is this project is still potentially used as coursework by my University so I haven’t wanted to put the source code online. However after I finish my MSc in a few months I may do so.

      There are actually plenty of great tutorials out there for OpenGL such as:

      Also, I recommend once you have the basics down to get a copy of the OpenGL red book. It’s not tutorial exactly, but it’s a useful reference guide for when you want to implement specific things.

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