Crystal Space: an Open-Source 3-D Graphics Engine
The Crystal Space community definitely needs programmers to contribute. Tyberghein is looking for people who are skilled in programming graphic engine internals and adept in algorithmic thinking—essentially those who can help fine-tune the performance of the core engine itself. “I have lots of people helping on the other parts of Crystal Space (i.e., OpenGL and Direct3D programming, Windows and Linux porting) but very few people are capable of helping me with the engine”, he says.
“If we had more good programmers, we could do much more”, Zabolotny says. “We primarily need people skilled in cross-platform C/C++ programming.”
As of this writing, the primary goal for the Crystal Space team is achieving API-stability. “Our development version is now rather stable, but there are still a few things to do”, says Tyberghein. The current release of Crystal Space, 0.90, serves as a predecessor to the long-awaited 1.0 release. The API between 0.90 and 1.0 should be nearly the same, but the release of 0.90 is meant to facilitate bug hunting and documentation writing.
One of the enhancements in 0.90 being tested is a revamped landscape-rendering engine that is more tightly and better integrated within Crystal Space's code than it was in previous versions. There are several new special effects that the graphics engine can draw, like hazes and lens flares, and there is the addition of a particle-rendering system. On a technical level, Crystal Space's tools have been made much more modular and simpler to access. More plugins and code, which were previously available in separate libraries, have been incorporated.
Ultimately, could Crystal Space ever evolve to the point where it has what it takes for commercial game development and become as widely used as proprietary 3-D graphics engines? Even Tyberghein expresses doubts:
If you license the Quake III engine, then you're sure to get a quality product that will work. So if you want technical support, you should not use a free engine. However, if you feel like you can cope with the lack of support, or if funding is a problem, then an open-source engine is for you.
Hieber concedes that “Crystal Space is miles away from Quake III”, but he does not believe this will hinder anyone from making great games with Crystal Space. It is, after all, well designed, though it doesn't necessarily have powerful technologies, which affect the quality of games. “Look at Tomb Raider or Half-Life”, he points out. “Neither has a really great 3-D engine, but they all have been successful because of the value of their game play.”
Visit the Crystal Space site at crystal.sourceforge.net.
Howard Wen has covered the video game industry for over ten years, writing for several publications and web sites including Wired, Salon.com, Playboy.com, GameSpot.com, O'Reilly Network and the Dallas Observer. He first started reporting on the video game industry as a staff writer for VideoGames & Computer Entertainment. He can be reached at his site, www.howardwen.com.