Elite Dangerous: Impressions of Deep Space Rendering

I am a backer of the upcom­ing Elite Dan­ger­ous game and have par­tic­i­pat­ed in their pre­mi­um beta pro­gramme from the begin­ning, pos­i­tive­ly enjoy­ing what was there at the ear­ly time. ‘Pre­mi­um beta’ sounds like an oxy­moron, pay­ing a pre­mi­um for an unfin­ished game, but it is noth­ing more than pur­chas­ing the same backer sta­tus as that from the Kick­starter cam­paign.

I came into con­tact with the orig­i­nal Elite dur­ing christ­mas in 1985. Com­pared with the progress I made back then in just two days, my recent per­for­mance in ED is lousy; I think my com­bat rat­ing now would be ‘com­pe­tent’.

But this will not be a game­play review, instead I’m going to share thoughts that were inspired while play­ing ED, most­ly about graph­ics and shad­ing, things like dynam­ic range, sur­face mate­ri­als, phase curves, ‘real’ pho­tom­e­try, and so on; so … after I loaded the game and jumped through hyper­space for the first time (actu­al­ly the sec­ond time), I was greet­ed by this screen fill­ing disk of hot plas­ma:

ED001

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Journey into the Zone (Plates)

I have exper­i­ment­ed recent­ly with zone plates, which are the 2-D equiv­a­lent of a chirp. Zone plates make for excel­lent test images to detect defi­cien­cies in image pro­cess­ing algo­rithms or dis­play and cam­era cal­i­bra­tion. They have inter­est­ing prop­er­ties: Each point on a zone plate cor­re­sponds to a unique instan­ta­neous wave vec­tor, and also like a gauss­ian a zone plate is its own Fouri­er trans­form. A quick image search (google, bing) turns up many results, but I found all of them more or less unus­able, so I made my own.

Zone Plates Done Right

I made the fol­low­ing two 256×256 zone plates, which I am releas­ing into the pub­lic so they can be used by any­one freely.

Cosine zone plate with constrast weighting

Cosine zone plateCC0

Zone plates with contrast weighting

Sine zone plateCC0

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Yes, sRGB is like µ-law encoding

I vague­ly remem­ber some­one mak­ing a com­ment in a dis­cus­sion about sRGB, that ran along the lines of

So then, is sRGB like µ-law encod­ing?

This com­ment was not about the col­or space itself but about the spe­cif­ic pix­el for­mats nowa­days brand­ed as ‘sRGB’. In this case, the answer should be yes. And while the tech­ni­cal details are not exact­ly the same, that anal­o­gy with the µ-law very much nails it.

When you think of sRGB pix­el for­mats as noth­ing but a spe­cial encod­ing, it becomes clear that using such a for­mat does not make you auto­mat­i­cal­ly “very picky of col­or repro­duc­tion”. This assump­tion was used by hard­ware ven­dors to ratio­nal­ize the deci­sion to lim­it the sup­port of sRGB pix­el for­mats to 8-bit pre­ci­sion, because peo­ple “would nev­er want” to have sRGB sup­port for any­thing less. Not true!Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 19.02.54I’m going to make a case for this lat­er. But first things first.

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