Adding a stereoscopic renderer to Quake II

Sunday, 7th February 2010

Having tweaked the stereoscopic rendering code in Quake, I decided to have a go at Quake II. This doesn't natively support row-interleaved stereoscopic rendering, but I thought that the shared code base of Quake and Quake II should make extending Quake II relatively simple.

Quake II does have two console variables dedicated to stereoscopic rendering already, cl_stereo (enable/disable stereoscopic rendering) and cl_stereo_separation (controls the displacement of the camera between eyes; the same as LCD_X in Quake). These variables only seem to be used in the OpenGL renderer, though I haven't been able to get them to do anything meaningful – I have a hunch that you need a video card that supports stereoscopic rendering; these do exist, and have a socket on them for 3D glasses, but I'm having to make do with my DIY hardware. Furthermore, I've always found the OpenGL rendering in Quake and Quake II incredibly ugly, with blurry low-resolution textures (this is the reason I opted to emulate the software renderer when writing my own implementation of the Quake engine).

Quake II's tweaked software renderer that now supports row-interleaved stereoscopic 3D.

It turns out that Quake II does indeed render each frame twice with the camera offset when cl_stereo is switched on, but the software renderer doesn't do anything to blend the two views together. Using the same tricks as Quake – halving the height of the viewport, doubling the apparent stride of the render surface, shunting the address of the buffer down one scanline for one eye – seems to have done the trick, though finding out when exactly to carry out these steps hasn't been all that smooth. The particle rendering code still crashes with an access violation if called twice during a frame, but only in release mode. Fortunately, the entire software renderer has been written in C and assembly, so I've reverted to the C-based particle renderer instead of the assembly one for the time being as that doesn't appear to be affected by the same bug.

A slightly more bothersome problem is the use of 8-bit DirectDraw modes for full-screen rendering. Unfortunately, Windows seems to like interfering with the palette resulting in rather hideous colours. Typing vid_restart a few times into the console may eventually fix the issue, but it's far from an ideal solution. An alternative may be to rewrite the code to output 32-bit colour; this would also allow for coloured lighting. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd be especially good at rewriting the reams of x86 assembly required to implement such a fix, and the C software renderer I previously mentioned results in a slightly choppy framerate at high resolutions.

An alternative would be to learn how to use Direct3D from C and rewrite the renderer entirely, taking advantage of hardware acceleration but this would seem like an equally daunting task. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations I'd be interested to hear them!

Stereo Quake

Replacement binaries for Quake and Quake II can be downloaded from the project page; source code is available on Google Code.

3D glasses, a VGA line-blanker and fixing Quake

Wednesday, 3rd February 2010

Some time ago, I posted about using interlaced video to display 3D images. Whilst the idea works very nicely in theory, it's quite tricky to get modern video cards to generate interlaced video at a variety of resolutions and refresh rates. My card limits me to 1920×1080 at i30 or 1920×1080 at i25, and only lets me use this mode on my LCD when I really need it on a CRT. Even if you can coax the video card to switch to a particular mode, this is quite a fragile state of affairs as full-screen games will switch to a different (and likely progressively scanned) mode.

3D glasses adaptor with line blanker prototype
3D glasses adaptor with line blanker prototype

An alternative is to build an external bit of hardware that simulates an interlaced video mode from a progressive one. The easiest way of doing that is to switch off the RGB signals on alternate scanlines, blanking odd scanlines in one frame and even scanlines in the next. This type of circuit is appropriately named a line blanker, and my current implementation is shown above. It sits between the PC and the monitor, and uses a pair of flip-flops which toggle state on vsync or hsync signals from the PC. The output from the vsync flip-flop is used to control which eye is open and which is shut on the LCD glasses, and is also combined with the hsync flip-flop to switch the RGB signal lines on or off on alternate lines using a THS7375 video amplifier. Unfortunately, this amplifier is only available as TSSOP, which isn't much fun to solder if you don't have the proper equipment; I made a stab at it with a regular iron, the smallest tip I could find, lots of no-clean flux and some solder braid. I have been informed that solder paste makes things considerably easier, so will have to try that next time.

My cheap LCD glasses lack any form of internal circuitry, merely offering two LCD panels wired directly to a 3.5mm stereo jack, and so I'm using the 4030 exclusive-OR gate oscillator circuit to drive them.

The adaptor provides one switch to swap the left and right eyes in case they are reversed, and another is provided to disable the line blanking circuit (useful for genuine interlaced video modes or alternate frame 3D). You can download a schematic of the circuit here as a PDF.

I've been using these glasses to play Quake in 3D, which is good fun but an experience that was sadly marred by a number of bugs and quirks in Quake's 3D mode.

WinQuake, demonstrating the crosshair bug and excessive stereo separation of the player's weapon
WinQuake, demonstrating the crosshair bug and excessive stereo separation of the weapon

The most obvious problems in the above screenshot are the migratory crosshair (appearing 25% of the way down the screen instead of vertically centred) and the excessive stereo separation of the player's weapon.

If the console variable LCD_X is non-zero, Quake halves the viewport height then doubles what it thinks is the stride of the graphics buffer. This causes it to skip every other scanline when rendering. Instead of rendering once, as normal, it translates the camera in one direction, renders, then offsets the start of the graphics buffer by one scanline, translates the camera in the other direction then renders again. This results in the two views (one for each eye) being interleaved into a single image.

The crosshair is added after the 3D view is rendered (in fact, Quake just prints a '+' sign in the middle of the screen using its text routines), which explains its incorrect position – Quake doesn't take the previously halved height of the display into consideration, causing the crosshair to be drawn with a vertical position of half of half the height of the screen. That's pretty easy to fix – if LCD_X is non-zero, multiply all previously halved heights and Y offsets by two before rendering the crosshair to compensate.

WinQuake, demonstrating the DirectDraw corruption bug
WinQuake, demonstrating the DirectDraw corruption bug

A slightly more serious bug is illustrated above. When using the DirectDraw renderer (the default in full-screen mode), the display is corrupted. This can be fixed by passing -dibonly to the engine, but it would be nice to fix it.

After a bit of digging, it appeared that the vid structure, which stores fields such as the address of the graphics buffer and its stride, was being modified between calls to the renderer. It seemed to be reverting to the actual properties of the graphics buffer (i.e. it pointed to the top of the buffer and stored the correct stride of the image, not the doubled one). Further digging identified VID_LockBuffer() as the culprit; this does nothing if you're using the dib rendering mode, but locks the buffer and updates the vid structure in other access modes. Fortunately, you can call this function as many times as you like (as long as you call VID_UnlockBuffer() a corresponding number of times) – it only locks the surface and updates vid the first time you call it. By surrounding the entire 3D rendering routine in a VID_LockBuffer()VID_UnlockBuffer() pair, vid is left well alone, and Quake renders correctly in full-screen once again.

The final issue was the extreme stereo separation of the player weapon, caused by its proximity to the camera – it does make the game quite uncomfortable to play. The game moves the camera and weapon to the player's position, then applies some simple transformations to implement view/weapon bobbing, before rendering anything. Applying the same camera offset and rotation to the player weapon as the camera when generating the two 3D views put the weapon slap bang in the middle of the screen, as it would appear in regular "2D" Quake. This gives it the impression of a carboard cutout, and can put it behind/"inside" walls and floors when you walk up to them; I've added a console variable, LCD_VIEWMODEL_SCALE, that can be used to interpolate between the default 3D WinQuake view (value: 1) and the cardboard cutout view (value: 0).

WinQuake with the 3D fixes applied
WinQuake with the 3D fixes applied

You can download the replacement WinQuake from here – you can just overwrite any existing executable. (You will also need the VC++ 2008 SP1 runtimes, if you do not already have them). Source code is included, and should build in VC++ 2008 SP1 (MASM only appears to be included in SP1, which is required to compile Quake's extensive collection of assembly source files).

If you don't have a copy of Quake, I recorded its looping demos in 3D and uploaded them to YouTube. This was before I made the above fixes, so there's no crosshair or player weapon model in the videos – if you have access to YouTube-compatible 3D glasses or crossable eyes, click here. smile.gif

IM-me wireless terminal

Thursday, 14th January 2010

A recent post on Hack a Day alerted me the to the IM-me, a device designed to be used with a web-based IM service that communicated with the PC via a USB wireless adaptor.


According to Hunter Davis, the body of the messages were sent between the PC and the IM-me are in plain text. This sounded like a good start to me, so I picked one up from Amazon UK for £7.49 (they're now available for even less than that). You get a lot of electronics for that price; there's a CC1110F32 microcontroller inside (the chips inside the device and its wireless adaptor are clearly marked – no nameless blob of epoxy that you might have expected from the price) and Dave has poked around the insides of his and has mapped the contact pads exposed via the battery compartment to the debug port on the microcontroller. You could use this debug port to overwrite the stock firmware with your own if the fancy took you. However, I'm more interested in seeing what I can do with the device without writing my own firmware for it.

The wireless adaptor shows up in Windows a simple USB HID, so I installed SnoopyPro and logged a chat session with myself. Fortunately, there is indeed no obfuscation or encryption to the structure of messages. I have worked on a C# library that handles most of the different message types (no group chat yet, only direct contact-to-contact) and written up what I've found here. The C# code can be found here, though it is not especially robust yet.


I think that my main problem is a poor grasp of asynchronous I/O. I read data asynchronously, but write synchronously, and don't currently do anything to protect against my code "speaking over" the incoming data. If you output data when the device is half way through sending a packet, it seems to ignore the data you're sending it. In the case of long messages, which are made up of multiple packets sent in rapid succession, they don't appear to ever reach the device. The USB device responds with a single 0 byte after a packet is written to it, which I don't currently wait for. I'm not sure how you can, when mixing asynchronous reading and synchronous writing, so if anyone has any suggestions or links to reading material I'd greatly appreciate it!

I have no intention of going near the existing IM-me web service – being able to use the IM-me as a general-purpose wireless terminal to talk to your own software opens up a wealth of possibilities. You could set it up to notify you of new emails, read RSS feeds, post updates to social networking sites, use it as a home automation console, remote control a media PC... You may wish to paint it black first, though!

Addendum: Whoops, after refactoring some code I broke the checksum generation. It appears that the IM-me ignores the checksum when receiving messages. I have stuck a brief pause between each byte written to the device and a slightly longer one between each packet sent to the device, and I can now send long messages to it.

Ejecting discs from a damaged camcorder with a remote control

Tuesday, 29th December 2009

I hope that those of you who celebrate it had a good Christmas break and will have an excellent new year!

I recently attempted to repair a DVD camcorder that had been dropped; the eject button no longer worked, though the disc could be ejected by connecting to camera to a PC, right-clicking the DVD drive that subsequently appears in Explorer, then selecting Eject.

I started by removing all of the screws around the affected area, but the plastic casing remained strongly held together by some mysterious internal force. I removed more and more screws, but it soon became apparent that the only way to get into the camera would be to force it open – not being my camera, I didn't feel comfortable doing so, as the rest of the camera worked well and I didn't want to damage any fragile internal mechanisms. I couldn't find any dismantling guides online, so gave up on the idea of fixing the button.

Fortunately, I own the same model of camcorder – a Panasonic VDR-D250 – myself. With my interest in infrared remote controls I had previously found information about the Panasonic protocol it uses. The supplied remote control only has a few simple buttons on it (no eject button, sadly), but I reckoned that the camcorder may accept a number of other commands that the stock remote didn't include.

Remote control to eject discs from a Panasonic camcorder

I started by modifying a universal remote control program for the TI-83+ that I had previous written to allow me to send specific commands to the camcorder, then ran through all of the possible command IDs, noting down those that appeared to have some effect. Eventually I had a pretty decent list, albeit one with quite a few gaps in it. Fortunately, I had found the Eject button code, along with codes to switch mode (which is done on the camera by rotating a mode dial), one that powers the camcorder off, another that appears to restart the camera and another one that resets all settings (not so useful, that one).

Having found the eject code, I set about building a dedicated remote control. I picked the ATtiny13 microcontroller as a base, as that's a more than capable microcontroller with its 9.6MHz internal clock, 1KB program memory, 64 bytes SRAM and 3V operation.

Panasonic Eject remote control circuit diagram

I was a bit surprised to see that AVR-GCC supports the ATtiny13, and whilst C may seem overkill for such a project I'll gladly take advantage of anything that makes my life easier. smile.gif

// Requisite header files.
#include <avr/io.h>
#include <util/delay.h>

// Frequency of the IR carrier signal (Hertz).
#define F_IR_CARRIER (37000)

// Timing of the data bits (microseconds).
#define T_DX_MARK   (440)
#define T_D0_SPACE  (440)
#define T_D1_SPACE (1310)

// Timing of the lead-in and lead-out bits (microseconds).
#define T_LEAD_IN_MARK    (3500)
#define T_LEAD_IN_SPACE   (1750)
#define T_LEAD_OUT_MARK    (440)
#define T_LEAD_OUT_SPACE (74000)

// Commands definitions.
#define OEM_DEVICE_1_CODE         (2)
#define OEM_DEVICE_2_CODE        (32)
#define CAMCORDER_DEVICE_ID     (112)

// Transmits a single unformatted byte.
void panasonic_send_byte(uint8_t value) {
    // Send eight data bits.
    for (uint8_t bit = 0; bit < 8; ++bit, value >>= 1) {
        // Send the mark/burst.
        DDRB |= _BV(1);
        // Send the space.
        DDRB &= (uint8_t)~_BV(1);
        // Extend the space if it's a "1" data bit.
        if (value & (uint8_t)1) {
            _delay_us(T_D1_SPACE - T_D0_SPACE);

// Transmits a formatted command packet to the IR device.
void panasonic_send_command(uint8_t oem_device_code_1, uint8_t oem_device_code_2, uint8_t device_code, uint8_t sub_device_code, uint8_t command) {
    // Send the lead in.
    DDRB |= _BV(1);
    DDRB &= (uint8_t)~_BV(1);

    // Send the five command bytes.

    // Send the checksum.
    panasonic_send_byte(device_code ^ sub_device_code ^ command);

    // Send the lead out.
    DDRB |= _BV(1);
    DDRB &= (uint8_t)~_BV(1);

// Main program entry point.
int main(void) {

    TCCR0A |= _BV(COM0B0) | _BV(WGM01);     // Toggle OC0B when on CTC reload. Use CTC mode.
    TCCR0B |= _BV(CS00);                    // Set clock source to CPU clock/1.
    OCR0A = (F_CPU / F_IR_CARRIER / 2) - 1; // Set the CTC reload value to generate an IR signal at the correct carrier frequency.

    // Send the "eject" command ad infinitum.
    for(;;) {

The code is about as simple as the circuit. IR signals are transmitted as carefully timed bursts of a particular carrier frequency (37kHz in this case). For example, to send a "0" bit 440μS of this 37kHz signal are sent followed by 440μS of silence. To send a "1" bit, 440μS of carrier signal are sent as before, but a 1310μS period of silence follows it.

The AVR's timer is used to generate a ~37kHz carrier signal. The timer is an eight-bit counter that counts up at a user-defined rate (in my case I've chosen to increment the counter by one every CPU clock cycle). I've configured it to invert the output level of pin OC0B and reset every time it hits a particular value. By setting whether this pin is an output or an input the output of a burst of 37kHz IR signal or silence can be selected. Simple delay loops, generated with the helper function _delay_us, are used to time the transmission of data bits.

Insides of the Panasonic ejecting remote control.

The final step was to assemble the circuit on stripboard and install it in a smallish project box. I've put the switch adjacent to the LED for two reasons; to conserve space and to protect it a little from accidentally being pressed by the protruding LED bezel.

Building a single-button remote control is a relatively straightforward affair, so whilst the above code has a very specific purpose it should be easy enough to modify it to control other devices.

Playing VGMs on an STM8S

Monday, 14th December 2009

Following the STM8S tutorial in my previous post, I've tried to put the chip to some practical use. My initial experiments into producing a video signal proved unsuccessful; I managed a static image using hard-coded delay loops, but when trying to use interrupts to trigger the generation of scanlines the timing was all wrong and without an oscilloscope or a working simulator I couldn't find out what was wrong. I decided to turn my attention from picture to sound.

Photo of VGM player

VGM files store game music by logging the data written to the sound chips inside the console or computer directly along with the delay between writes. This results in reasonably small files that are capable of producing excellent sound quality, depending on the way the sound chips are emulated (or, in some cases, not emulated).

I've chosen to focus on the SN76489, a simple sound chip found in a variety of machines including the Sega Master System and BBC Micro. Three of its four sound channels are simple square wave tones, implemented as a 12-bit decrementing counter that flips the state of its output every time it underflows and is reset. Changing the value that is preloaded into the counter when it is reset changes the period of the output square wave, resulting in a change of pitch.

Square waves

The fourth channel proves rather more of a challenge. It uses a shift register (15- or 16-bit depending on the particular version of the chip) instead of a simple tone counter, and has two modes. When generating periodic noise a single bit shuttles around the shift register, generating a 1/15th or 1/16th duty cycle square wave. This has effect of producing a lower pitch with a distinctive "buzzy" timbre. The other mode is white noise, which uses a feedback system to generate pseudo-random noise.

The emulated SN76489, or PSG, has been implemented in two parts. The first is an interrupt handler written in STM8S assembly for speed. This is executed approximately 44,100 times a second (44.1kHz is the internal time step used in VGM files) and is used to update the internal PSG counters and shift register and generate the output level for that particular sample. Two output levels are generated as I've implemented the Game Gear's stereo extension to the PSG (this simply lets you switch individual channels on or off for each ear). These levels are loaded into capture compare registers for TIM2, which is used in PWM mode to generate the analogue output signals.

The rest of the code is written in C. This includes the second part of the emulated PSG, which handles bytes written to the PSG and updates its internal registers as appropriate.

VGM player circuit

Due to a 16KB limitation with the free version of the Cosmic compiler (and the 32K physical limitation of the microcontroller itself) the VGM file is stored on external EEPROMs which are accessed over the I2C bus via the microcontroller's I2C peripheral. As I don't have any large single EEPROMs, I've used two 32KB EEPROMs, one at address 0xA0 and the other at 0xA2. When the read pointer overflows one EEPROM it automatically steps to the next EEPROM. In theory any size could be supported using this code, but I've used 16-bit variables for all of the file pointers introducing a 64KB limit – this should be easily fixable, but I don't own enough memory to test the code myself, so I've left it as it is for the moment.

// The program I use to split VGM files into 32KB chunks.
// Bear in mind that most VGMs are compressed (VGZ): you'll need to decompress them first.
// You can use 7-zip to do so.
using System.IO;
class Program {
    static void Main(string[] args) {
        var SourceFile = @"D:\Documents\Documents\VGM\StrykersRun-title";
        using (var r = new BinaryReader(File.OpenRead(SourceFile))) {
            for (var i = 0; i < int.MaxValue; ++i) {
                var data = r.ReadBytes(32 * 1024);
                if (data.Length == 0) break;
                File.WriteAllBytes(string.Format("{0} [{1}].bin", Path.GetFileNameWithoutExtension(SourceFile), i), data);

To take advantage of the delay between PSG accesses I've implemented a very simple buffering system that queues up a few bytes in advance from the EEPROM. This works well for music, but sampled audio (which involves updating the PSG very rapidly) doesn't work as the code spends too much time waiting for data to be transferred from the EEPROMs.

I've included some recordings of the output below.

The source code can be downloaded from here. If you do try to run it you'll find that it tends to hang when trying to initialise the EEPROM; this is due to the I2C bus being left in an active state by forcefully terminating the program before debugging. I find it helps to program the board, disconnect then reconnect the power supply to the EEPROMs to reset them, then hitting continue in the debugger.

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