BRender

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Argonaut's BRender
Brender logo.gif
Developer(s) Argonaut Software
Designer(s) Jez San
Sam Littlewood
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
MS-DOS
Mac OS (Classic)
OS/2
Sony PlayStation
SEGA Saturn
Release date(s) 1996: v1.2.1
1997: v1.3
1998: v1.4
Genre(s) Graphics Engine


Argonaut's BRender (abbreviation of Blazing Renderer) is one of the first development toolkits and a real-time 3D graphics engines for computer games, simulators and graphic tools. It appeared in the software-rendered engines era, around 1995, and was developed and licensed by now defunct Argonaut Software. The engine had support for Intel's MMX instruction set, software drivers including DirectDraw, and in later years was able to make the jump to hardware-rendering via its 3D hardware device drivers. It supported Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS, Mac OS (Classic), OS/2, Sony PlayStation and SEGA Saturn platforms. It was competing at the time with two other graphics engines: Criterion's RenderWare and RenderMorphics' Reality Lab.

Besides the performance, part of the appeal is due to its accessibility as it came with standard support for popular 3D and image formats (especially 3D Studio Max), with extensive documentation and examples, and with a diverse licensing/pricing range as well as trial packages. Many industrial and entertainment softwares used BRender for rendering such as SGI's FireWalker, Microsoft's 3D Movie Maker and Electronic Arts' Privateer 2. As consoles embraced graphics engines, its PlayStation support also ensured its use for many titles on the platform until the early 2000. While famous until the late 90s to the point of version 1.2.1 being pirated, the development kit has completely vanished since then and most of the currently available resources have resurfaced thanks to archiving efforts such as the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine.

Even though the retrogaming and modding generation didn't hit BRender-powered titles as hard as popular games such as Doom, in the 2010s BRender is still at the center of ongoing projects as the 3D Movie Maker, Carmageddon and Croc online communities develop new content and tools according to the engine specifications.

BRender and Carmageddon

Graffitis in BRoom
Stainless posted an ad in EDGE issue 25

Patrick Buckland and Neil Barnden were subcontracted to work for Argonaut Software around 1995. They were mainly responsible for the Mac and PowerMac ports of the BRender API. As Stainless Software, they also developed the gamelette BRoom as a technical demo showcasing BRender's capabilities. Despite the small scope of the project, obvious similarities to the future Carmageddon title are apparent: the genre is car-combat and some 3D models are near identical to their Carmageddon counterpart (minus the textures). The metallic and industrial style of the level is also similar to the industrial environment in Carmageddon which was the first level to be set up in the alpha. In 1996 they developed BRender Plaything which is self-introduced as a utility for the creation & editing of BRender resources and is an improvement over the then-existing BRview tool. Plaything was a great addition to the BRender toolset as previewing and preparing 3D assets was made easier in its WYSIWYG interface.

" After trying various packages Stainless Software chose to write Carmageddon with BRender because it was the only rendering solution which allowed the features and the level of flexibility we needed.
The API was written by gamers for gamers, and that makes a great difference which we hope is reflected in the quality of our software.
-- Mat Sullivan "


In the meantime, Stainless Software took advantage of their knowledge of BRender to go on with their own effort, still titled 3D Destruction Derby at the time they pitched it to Sales Curve Interactive. Adding their collision and deformation system upon BRender as well as a yet improved Plaything suiting the development needs, Carmageddon was on the way. The way the physics code and action replay system were added made them indissociable from the BRender graphics engine. Despite already implemented in the base game, BRender blend tables were only taken advantage of in the Splat Pack expansion to achieve translucency in level materials. At first the game made use of the engine's flagship feature, the software rendering, in both 320x200 and 640x480 resolutions in MS-DOS. Both modes were made available from the Windows 95 environment some time later. And finally Voodoo and Voodoo2 support was painstakingly added even later as 3dfx patches.

By then, Carmageddon 2 was already in development. Again an enhanced version of Plaything, promoted to Plaything 2 for the occasion, coupled to new 3D Studio Max 2 plugins helped the developers create and setup the levels, cars and pedestrians for the game. Carmageddon 2 put the emphasis on hardware accelerated graphics by support of both Direct3D and Glide API. Software mode was also featured but this time only in 320x200 and within Windows. It must be noted that unlike Carmageddon 1, graphic assets for Carmageddon 2 weren't made with regard to the software mode 256 color limited palette. This is explained by the focus on 16 bit textures to map the environments.

" Carma was probably the highlight of working on BRender - they were a great team - I used to drive down to the Isle of Wight to do support, every visit would see more craziness.
They were unashamedly making something that they themselves wanted, with really very few concessions.
-- Sam Littlewood "


While not the last game to use BRender, Carmageddon 2 is probably to most ambitious and the one to take BRender the farthest. At that point, by the addition and update of their physics code, artificial intelligence, and development environment, Stainless Software had basically turned the BRender graphics engine into a proper game engine, nicknamed Beelzebub. This, with the early release of development tools, might explain the longevity of the modding scene for the game, each year pushing asset complexity a bit further. The game was patched a couple of times. Amongst other things, patch 1.02 (aka. v2) raised the resource limits greatly and allowed much larger fan-made levels.

After the release, they used a modified Carmageddon 2 as a base to pitch a Hot Wheels game to Mattel but it didn't go further. The Hot Room level and die-cast car Flashfire were available amongst the C2 development assets and brought back into the game by fans. Stainless Software then moved on to a gladiatorial 3D physics based combat game project using their BRender-based game engine: Arena AD was set to be released by late 1999 - early 2000 and seemed to be quite advanced when it was showcased at E3 '99. However a mishap in development schedule tore apart the already tense Stainless-SCi business relationship and had financial consequences. This was not only the end for Arena AD but for Stainless Software as well, the team had to merge with VIS Entertainment. In late 2001, Patrick Buckland revived the studio as Stainless Games and the rest of the team was back by 2003, Neil Barnden included. They brought back their own Beelzebub technology elaborated through the Carmageddon series development, and little by little replaced the last remnants of the BRender engine in the code as they modernized the graphics engine features.

Decline

Out of the three competing british graphics engine, Criterion's RenderWare, RenderMorphics' Reality Lab and Argonaut's BRender, the latter bit the dust, mainly due to Microsoft and their Direct3D API. After courting the three competitors, Microsoft announced the acquisition of RenderMorphics and their Reality Lab product in february 1995. This happened two days before BRender's official launch and despite Microsoft using the technology for 3D Movie Maker. When Reality Lab, now renamed to Direct3D, shipped with DirectX 2.0 in june 1996, Microsoft promoted it as the industry standard and gave away 3D technology licenses for free.

" Basically, no one competes with Microsoft and wins.
-- Jez San "


While BRender was able to make the jump from software to hardware rendering and worked on a broad range of platforms, Argonaut couldn't compete against Microsoft's free technology and pulled out to concentrate on making games instead. RenderWare on the other hand evolved from PC-based graphics engine to console-focused game engine and became one of the most used engines for PlayStation 2 titles thanks to Criterion working closely with SCEI during the console's development.

Some games using the BRender engine

Game Year Platform(s) Developer
3D Movie Maker 1995 Windows Microsoft Kids
Alien Odyssey 1995 MS-DOS Argonaut Software
Arena AD (cancelled) 1999 Windows Stainless Software
Bob Bondurant's High Performance Driving 1996 Mac Fathom Pictures
Bundesliga Manager 97 1996 MS-DOS Software 2000
Bundesliga Manager 98 1998 Windows Software 2000
Carmageddon 1997 MS-DOS, Windows, Mac Stainless Software
Carmageddon: Splat Pack 1997 MS-DOS, Windows Stainless Software
Carmageddon II 1998 Windows, Mac Stainless Software
Croc: Legend of the Gobbos 1997 Windows, PlayStation, Saturn Argonaut Software
Dr. Who, Destiny Of The Doctors 1997 Windows Studio Fish
F1 Manager 1996 MS-DOS Software 2000
F1 Manager Professional 1997 MS-DOS Software 2000
FX Fighter 1995 MS-DOS Argonaut Software
FX Fighter Turbo 1996 MS-DOS, Windows Argonaut Software
I-War (Independence War) 1997 Windows Particle Systems
I-War: Defiance 1999 Windows Particle Systems
Kanaan (cancelled) 1998 Windows Argonaut Software
Motor Mash 1997 Windows, PlayStation Eutechnyx
Pete Sampras Tennis 97 1997 MS-DOS, Windows Codemasters
Play with the Teletubbies 1998 Windows, PlayStation Asylum Entertainment Ltd.
Privateer 2: The Darkening 1996 MS-DOS, Windows Electronic Arts
Queen: The eYe 1998 MS-DOS, Windows Destination Design
VR Baseball '96 1996 MS-DOS, Windows Interplay Productions

Gallery

BRender demos

Carmageddon series

Other Brender-powered titles

See also

External links