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Voxels the agents of change

Voxels are a new and important addition to our tools which can make a lot of new gameplay mechanics possible. In this post I'm trying to show their compelling reason for existence by a set of examples and a bit of philosophical discussion

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh

November 6, 2017

6 Min Read

Let me be bold and say that we need a revolution as we move forward. We need a revolution to add to the possibilities of things which can be done in a game as game mechanics. I read that some people call them ludoms. We need more of them and technology is one of the two elements which can make more ludoms possible. The other is creativity for re-imagining the real world phenomenon or fantasy things as game mechanics by one way or another.


How important technology is for games?

Technology plays a key role in video games and new technologies changed the face of our industry forever. I still remember when i played my first 3d game or my first photo realistic rendering of water in real time. These experiences were great but what is greater is when a technology causes new forms of play to be possible. Sports games on Wii, some Kinect games or FPS games all are examples of types of games made possible by a specific technology. You could not make a really good FPS game without having a 3d map to navigate and similarly you could not make Wii Sports as fun without the Wii Mote.

In many cases people use new technologies or existing ones in a none-crucial manner to add some icing on top of the cake but when people go in length to make something creative possible using every bit of technology they have, magic happens. Doom’s 3d engine wasn’t a technology to make a 2d game more beautiful it was making a new type of play possible. The physics technology in sports games like FIFA are not there to make a wall destroy more beautifully similar to action games. They are making the simulation of the sport in question more realistic and the game more interesting to play. Voxels in Minecraft are not an after-thought added to the game to make it look blocky or make it possible to create some structure, the game is about them. They are making a certain type of crafting possible like nothing you’ve seen before.


Why voxels are important

Voxels are very important because they are not a simple technology added to our tools. They are one of the most important additions to game technology if we take a good look at them. Unfortunately ever quest v-next did not materialize to be another good showcase but it is easy to extrapolate their effect on certain types of games and gameplay mechanics. They are important for several reasons which I will try to count some of them down.

First of all they are important because they allow us to create or destroy new types of geometry much easier in the game. Players can create whatever shape they want with them without knowing anything about 3d modelling. Secondly thanks to them every object in the world can be a volume and we can see / change its interior matter or use it in gameplay mechanics in a clever way. Procedural content generation is also much easier to be done using voxel data compared to general mesh creation. There are also certain types of calculations like cellular automata which are easier to do in a voxel based structure.

Some examples

Voxels define volumes of everything in the world including their inner sides which allows us to create nice simulations. For example if we want to have a mechanic for spreading fire in a world, in a voxel based structure we can make fire inside a hole in the ground and then let it spread to neighbor voxels.

They are a good tool for dynamic geometry creation so we can let the players create towers, bridges and everything else and then we can use the geometry very smartly in our games. For example the player can have minions which use path finding to navigate the world and can use the recently built tower to go on top and target enemies or use a bridge to go to the other side of the river and bring a resource back to you. You can also let players destroy each other’s bridges so the opponent minions fall into the river and die. All of us don’t have to make simple resource mining RPG games with voxels. The geometry can be a real tool in the player's disposal.

An AR based game can be made which let you create your defense structures based on voxels and then starts a battle with an opponent with their built structure. The game can be about range shots and having correct angles and accelerations to hit certain targets which each person tries to hide. The targets can be in front of each other so you have to create your defense in a way that you still can attack.

We can make a game which each group of players has 5 minutes to create some structure or dig the ground to hide a treasure and after that you should try to defend your treasure and find the opponent’s one to capture. The first team capturing the other’s treasure is the winner.

We can make a racing game which every racer can modify one part of the road using voxels and then everybody races on the same track which is affected by all player modifications.

If you are not fund of any of these then you can create a game where you are a ball which can destroy the ground with curve shaped movements and then use the holes to get acceleration and shot itself to the sky and toward an end goal. It would be crazy if the camera follows the ball into the holes. Imagine early sonic game movements but in 3d and into the ground while the camera is behind the ball 

Some people might say some if not all of these are possible without voxels in one way or another but at least voxels make these easy to create, more efficient in terms of computations and also more flexible. To be honest I’m trying to make a voxel game myself and I am excited about them maybe more than I should be but still I think designers and developers should think more critically about them. Interesting thoughts of Miguel Cepero (founder of Voxel Farm ) in his blog  helped me to shape my ideas about voxels a great deal so I thought I would mention him here (I’m using their technology if it needs to be said in form of a disclaimer). They are making a great piece of technology and really know what they are doing. Based on my previous experience at MuchDifferent, I know how tough middleware development can be and I know how much good things they can make possible so would never miss an opportunity to introduce a good technology company to people.

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