Monday, February 18, 2008


Having past experience with Shadow Volumes in DirectX I could see a potential issue in using this technique in Decade so I therefore focused my attention on Shadow Maps.

Before giving some detail on my shadow map implementation I will briefly describe why I have bypassed Shadow Volumes for now. Shadow Volumes are created by calculating a silhouette of the mesh from the lights point of view. This silhouette is generated from the raw mesh data. The low poly trees currently used in Decade consist of colour keyed faces. The resulting Shadow Volume generates a shadow of the full face and not just the visible (non blended area). Below is a faked image which shows the shadow that would be generated using the Shadow Volume technique. Notice that the shadow for the tree remains the same regardless if colour keying is enabled or not.

Shadow Maps generate shadows by rendering the scene from the lights point of view and saving the depth buffer to a texture. This texture is then used to shadow the scene. The advantages that Shadow Maps have over Shadow Volumes are

  • No colour keying issues
  • Complex geometry does not affect the performance of the algorithm. The scene rendering should be efficient as it must be rendered 3 time per light
      From Lights point of view. Depth Buffer saved to Texture
      From Cameras point of view with only ambient lighting.
      From Cameras point of view with light enabled and Shadow Map applied.

    The complexity of the geometry is of much higher importance in Shadow Volumes because as mentioned previously the silhouette is generated from the raw mesh data

Due to the limited resolution of the texture map holding the depth/shadow data Shadow Maps can and usually do result in very aliased shadows. In the image below the light is only 75 units from the scene however it is very evident from looking at the car shadow that the shadow quality is very low. The right image shows the depth buffer from the lights point of view which is used to render the shadows.

Below can be seen how the Shadow Mapping technique becomes unusable as the light source moves further away from the scene or as the scene boundary grows. With less shadow map pixels used to represent the shadow of the same area of space the shadow loses form and any relationship with the casting object.

These issues make the Shadow Mapping technique inappropriate for rendering any large outdoor scene. Further research has shown that Shadow Mapping has some advanced friends such as Parallel Split Shadow Mapping. (PSSM). The PSSM method involves splitting the frustum into several parts along the eye vector, and rendering a separate Shadow Map for each split. This allows the area closest to the camera to use higher resolution shadow maps and with the resulting Shadow Map stretched over a much smaller area, less aliased shadows are possible.


  1. I love seeing your engine come together! Great work sofar.

    I'd really like to see you try out this rally car inside your terrain engine. Have you tried this yet ?

  2. Hi Kris

    Thanks for the comment. Always good to hear someones opinion.

    I have considered putting the rally car in the terrain and racing around, however I want to get shadows propperly working first with PSSM before I add ODE heightmap support to Decade as well as improve the car physics.