Is the Australian-developed Unlimited Detail technology the future of gaming? Or is it just a scam? We invited Euclideon CEO Bruce Dell to our office to prove his claims by letting us go hands-on. He was happy to oblige.

The following article was originally published in issue 22 of Game Informer Australia, and was written by contributing editor Adam Mathew. For a bit of background on Euclideon's claims, as well as a video of the original tech demo the company released this summer, check out our original news article.

Up and Atom
Fledgling Australian company Euclideon recently ignited YouTube and the international gaming industry with a short teaser of its Unlimited Detail 3D engine. Its claim: using an unconventional "atom based" approach to building 3D worlds, this new technology can increase the current visual fidelity of graphics by 100,000 times. Can it be true?

Skepticism furrowing my brow, I invited the Wollongong born-and-bred CEO of the company, Bruce Dell, into the office to discuss Unlimited Detail, respond to his critics, and to go hands-on with the tech. I wanted to gauge its potential for myself and, in truth, to try and break it. To make sure there was no smoke and mirrors.

I had a basic idea of what to expect. Most of the computer graphics that we enjoy in games today are based on polygon systems, with all the objects in the world built out of flat little shapes. But Unlimited Detail forgoes these flat panels by building everything in the world out of tiny little atoms, more commonly known as "voxels", the three-dimensional equivalent of pixels.

"In the graphics industry, everyone is used to using polygons, so we thought we'd build a polygon converter," Dell explains. "So by converting regular polygons into Unlimited Detail (or 'point cloud data'), you can then run them in unlimited quantities. At present, we're converting polygons at a rate of 64 atoms per cubic millimeter. Not sure how small that is? It's a rate of 1,000,000 atoms per cubic inch."

Better yet, Dell claims that this process, called the "Unlimited Detail algorithm" is so efficient, it can run capably on anything from a PC to a mobile phone with no graphics card required.

Understandably, the suggestions of "unlimited graphics power" made by Euclideon were met with considerable amounts of excitement, but also a lot of cynicism and, in some cases, outright abuse. It's due to this reaction that I have insisted that I get a real-time, hands-on demonstration of the technology.

But I'm after more than just an explanation of how this revolutionary idea works: I wanted to learn how an Australian from a coastal town just south of Sydney came up with such an out-of-the-box concept for the future of graphics processing. A concept that is currently polarizing and flat-out confounding his classically educated computer scientist peers.

Euclideon's logo isn't just a logo...

Big Brain on Bruce
Suggesting he's a computer scientist, or at least a university alumni in the field, proves to be a mistake: Dell is quick to point out that he holds no such uni degree, nor anything approximating it. Seeing my eyebrow rise – and being well aware of the "snake oil salesmen" accusations leveled at him by Minecraft creator, Markus "Notch" Persson – Dell quickly explains that his lack of a tertiary education is core to his success.

"Not going to uni isn't something people should be proud of – and I don't want to disrespect unis because they're necessary and good," he disclaims without skipping a beat. "But there is a pattern, historically speaking, between inventing new things and being disconnected from the established way things are done."

Dell went on to explain why being sheltered from schools during the early '90s evolution of 3D gaming was a massive boon. It meant he avoided the temptation of easy answers. Whenever he encountered a problem with his own budding 3D engine, he was forced to solve the riddles himself, rather than plucking the accepted solution from a textbook. His self-taught approach created a unique schism between how he imagined the innards of a 3D engine ought to work, and what others were collaboratively accepting and creating elsewhere.

Dell attributes two things to the genesis of Unlimited Detail during that period: a big misunderstanding, and a hobby that spiraled into an obsession. 17 years ago, Dell was an avid coder hobbyist of 2D games on his Amiga 500. He had created quite a few basic games for himself and his family, but his world was rocked, like many at the time, by the release of one particular SNES game with landmark graphics.

"Do you know what started all this?" Dell confides. "Donkey Kong Country. When that first came out I made the mistake of thinking that [Rare was using] real-time 3D processing. Obviously they were just using pre-rendered sprites, but as a start-up 2D coder I was utterly dismayed. I thought 'oh no, I can't compete with this. I'm not smart; I'll never be able to do this.' Then one day I had a weird idea in my head [Unlimited Detail] and I looked at it and thought: I wonder if that would make similar 3D?"

After three years and a lot of stubbornness, Dell says he finally had some primordial-looking, but functional 3D working on his humble Amiga. Better yet, he realized that the way he had achieved it was quite unlike anything else out there. After ten more years of reinventing 3D graphics he assures me that the fateful seed planted by Rare, via Donkey Kong Country, has all but fully germinated into a radically different type of graphics middleware that has obvious advantages over what we use today.