LambdaCube 3D

Purely Functional Rendering Engine

A new era in 3D rendering

Even if the title of this opening post might sound slightly pompous, we believe that a bit of ambition won’t hurt at this point. After all, we intend to challenge the state of the art in 3D rendering. As for who the mysterious ‘we’ refers to, you can find out in the About section.

The primary topic of this blog will be LambdaCube 3D, a domain specific language and library that provides a purely functional way to program GPUs. However, we also intend to cover additional issues related to creating interactive audiovisual content, especially games, in idiomatic Haskell. Just a few examples: reliable cross-platform audio programming, integrating physics, functional reactive programming (FRP henceforth).

A bit of history

LambdaCube started its life in the beginning of 2009 as Csaba’s toy project to gain some experience in Haskell by putting cool things on the screen through the OpenGL bindings. As Gergely was his mentor at the university at the time, they teamed up and submitted an application to the Jane Street Summer Project. As a result, the demo application was completely rewritten and turned into a library in a few months, and saw its first Hackage release. This library was still designed as a reimplementation of the OGRE 3D engine, i.e. it would be able to load content created for OGRE, and it had superficial integration with the Bullet physics engine as well.

The first release was followed by a long period of silence due to other obligations (and maybe a slight case of double stealth mode), but development sped up again in 2011. After a few months of work behind the curtains, an improved version of the library was released, which already made it possible to build the Stunts demo. This version still followed the same principles as the first one, focusing on OGRE support, and was decidedly the last release of its kind, since it was impossible to provide a nice functional interface while building on a legacy base.

Previously, there have been attempts at programming GPUs in a way that’s truly functional in spirit. So far, the most feature complete system to our knowledge is GPipe, which served as the primary inspiration for the third major version of LambdaCube. Just as GPipe, LambdaCube allows the developer to describe the whole rendering pipeline in a purely functional manner as a stream processing network, and let the system figure out how to map the description to the underlying graphics APIs and manage resources. The primary difference between the two is that GPipe is a DSL embedded in Haskell, while LambdaCube aims to be a fully independent DSL that can exist outside the Haskell world.

The current state of affairs

In its current state, LambdaCube is already functional, but still in its infancy. The current API is a rudimentary EDSL that is not intended for direct use in the long run. It is essentially the internal phase of a compiler backend exposed for testing purposes. To exercise the library, we have created two small proof of concept examples: a port of the old LambdaCube Stunts example, and a Quake III level viewer. It is our pleasure to see that LambdaCube already provides much better runtime performance than GPipe without compromising the overall design.

If you are interested in getting your hands dirty, feel free to check out the Getting Started section.

Stunts demo with Parallel Split Shadow Mapping

Quake III Arena level viewer


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