Clover’s Toy Box 24.05

Clover’s Toy Box development: adding material support and changing future plans.

Background: Clover’s Toy Box (2017—) is my private 3D game engine from scratch project. It’s a continuation of ideas for Spearmint (2008—), my enhanced version of the Quake 3 (1999) engine. I cut my teeth modifying SRB2 / the Doom (1993) engine in 2006-2008. I’ve done computer programming for about 18 years.


About a year ago I started working on adding support for Quake 3 materials (*.shader files) to Clover’s Toy Box and Toy Box renderer for Spearmint (my private reimplementation of the Spearmint renderer using Toy Box).

Quake 3 materials define how to draw an image on a 3D model, game level surface, or in the menu. They allow for multiple blended images, animated image sequences, and dynamic effects such as scrolling an image, flashing color, or changing the position of the surface.

It’s difficult to implement the Quake 3 material system as there isn’t a complete definition of how it works, it’s complicated, and it interacts with all rendering. It kind of spiraled out into implement or fix all the rest of Quake 3 renderer features in Toy Box renderer for Spearmint.

Most of the Quake 3 material features are supported by Toy Box now. It’s missing the sky dome, fog, and a few position modifiers (deformVertexes). It has some of the additions made in Spearmint but I haven’t focused on it. However there is still many issues for rendering Quake 3 that are not directly part of the material system.

My Toy Box renderer—including the implementation of the Quake 3 material system—runs on OpenGL, OpenGL ES, and WebGL as well as the Wii console. Though the Wii console runs out of memory loading level textures (only 88 MB of RAM) and it’s missing an implementation of polygonOffset for preventing decals from flickering.

It runs on modern and legacy OpenGL. (OpenGL is a programming interface for hardware accelerated graphics rendering on a graphics card.) Toy Box is compatible with modern OpenGL 3.2+ Core Profile and streams geometry using OpenGL 4.4 persistent mapped buffers. I’m particularly proud (amused?) of the Quake 3 material system being fully implemented on legacy OpenGL 1.1 which Quake 3 supported in 1999.

(I also fixed ioquake3 and Spearmint to fully support a sky box using OpenGL 1.1 which may be useful for some Intel graphics under Windows 10 stuck with Microsoft’s generic OpenGL 1.1 driver.)


Some parts of the material system were straight forward to add. Others not so much. I spent a lot of time testing Quake 3 format levels (official, add-ons, and other games). I found issues and made a list of them to look into. Looking into issues often found it was a different manifestation of a known issue that I hadn’t fixed yet.

I have a list of like 50 issues and not everything made it onto the list. It’s honestly not that exciting to recount. Things were broken and then I fixed them.

The material system can kind of be broken down into five categories:

  • Material file parsing, implicit keyword behavior, and sort order.
  • Changing OpenGL rendering state.
  • Changing vertex attributes (position, normal, color, texture coordinates).
  • Changing vertex attributes but behavior very specific to Quake 3.
  • Special handling for the sky and fog volumes.

Material parsing

The Toy Box Quake 3 material loader handles various implicit behavior. If a material has “rgbGen vertex”, it default to using “alphaGen vertex”. However “rgbGen exactVertex” uses opaque alpha which is inconsistent. Using image blending disables writing depth which is to prevent surfaces behind it drawing over it. There is several things that affect the implicit sort order. It’s just a lot of random stuff to fill out the full Quake 3 material definitions correctly.

The Quake 3 material definitions are converted to a separate material system that has some additional features and different implementation of some features. My intention is to create a new material file format that doesn’t depend on Quake 3’s implicit behavior.

OpenGL state

Changing the OpenGL rendering state was mostly straight forward to add. Many of the material keywords are easy to infer how they directly map to the OpenGL API. Face culling, blend modes, alpha test, depth test, depth write, and polygon offset.

Though colors being floating-point (i.e., 1.0) in the material definition and converted to an 8-bit integer (i.e., 255) when it’s loaded was not obvious and affected alpha testing for conditional transparency.

A material for an unofficial Quake 3 add-on level (xccc_dm4) specified using alpha 0.5 and set the alpha test to greater-or-equal to 0.5. This caused transparency to flicker because OpenGL rendering doesn’t have perfect precision and alpha values vary slightly above and below 0.5.

Quake 3 converts the alpha 0.5 to 8-bit integer (0.5 × 255 = 127.5) and rounds it to 127 and then the OpenGL driver compares 127 ÷ 255 as a floating-point value 0.498039216 with alpha test reference 0.5. This way there is no flickering. Though it doesn’t draw at all as the alpha is always lower than 0.5. This is apparently what the creator intended as it’s not visible in a video they made of the level either.

So I convert the floating-point value from the Quake 3 material to an 8-bit integer and then back to a floating-point value as that’s what I’m using for colors in Toy Box.

Vertex attributes

There are vertex attribute generators/modifiers for vertex position, normal (direction), texture coordinates, and color. I implemented all of them in the CPU vertex shader (it’s just a function that outputs new vertexes). This way they work on all graphics APIs (OpenGL fixed-function and shaders, Wii, …).

The CPU vertex shader which I started quite some time ago (see Toy Box 22.04 § “OpenGL 1.1 fixed-function rendering”) had to be expanded to allow for multiple material layers with separate generated/modified vertex attributes and to support many new effects.

I also finally replaced the initial CPU vertex shader specific to OpenGL 1.x (low-level, non-VBO compatible) with the API-independent code. Now OpenGL fixed-function rendering can use persistent mapped buffers and vertex buffer objects.

I mark material layers for which attributes need to be processed on the CPU and then tell the GPU to just use the submitted values for that attribute. This allows mixing CPU and GPU vertex attribute handling. For example, processing the position modifiers on the CPU and using the GPU to apply the texture matrix for texture coordinate modifiers.

Most of the Quake 3 position modifiers need to be applied per-vertex (opposed to a matrix multiply). This is always done in the CPU vertex shader as it isn’t compatible with graphics APIs for the Wii or OpenGL 1. They could be implemented using OpenGL 2 GLSL shaders but it’s very specific to each position modifier. I’m trying to keep the graphics backends kind of generic.

Currently if any attribute requires the CPU vertex shader it results in animating the model on the CPU instead of using OpenGL 2 GPU skeletal or frame animation. This is kind of a disappointment for “skeletal models with mixed CPU and GPU vertex attributes” as the performance is probably largely affected by animation. Though I haven’t considered what cases it would be beneficial to optimize this for; a lot of the CPU-only effects use the vertex position.

Vertex colors

I split up some of the Quake 3 material keywords so they could be handled in a more general way.

Spearmint has twelve RGB vertex color generators. In Toy Box the color generators are split up into four base color generators (white, vertex, one minus vertex, model lighting) and five color modifiers (constant color, waveform for color intensity, entity color, one minus entity color, and underbright to counteract Quake 3 scene overbright).

This replaces having lightingDiffuse and lightingDiffuseEntity for model lighting without and with entity color, and const, wave, and colorWave for white with constant color, a waveform for color intensity, and both.

It’s easy to tell the Wii to use white or vertex color but one minus vertex and model lighting use the CPU vertex shader to generate the color arrays. The color modifiers can all be combined and applied using the Wii GPU. Most of the color generators are GPU accelerated on the Wii. One minus vertex which is rarely used (I haven’t actually checked if it’s used by anything). Eventually I need to figure out GPU model lighting for supporting normal maps (per-pixel light direction).

OpenGL 2 GLSL can do all of the base types + apply the color modifier on the GPU. Though I currently have one minus vertex disabled because I’m not sure it’s worth supporting it in the backend.

OpenGL 1 can only do white and vertex color (like the Wii) but it can only apply color modifiers on the GPU if it uses white and not vertex colors or model lighting. So the renderer just marks the material layers using vertex colors or model lighting to use the CPU vertex shader for color modifiers. Model lighting already uses the CPU vertex shader so it doesn’t really affect much.

Vertex texture coordinates

Spearmint has six texture coordinate generators (base texture, lightmap, vector w/ matrix, cel-shading, two types of reflection-mapping) and in Toy Box they’re split up into a five base generators (base texture, lightmap, position, normal, and reflect) and a matrix if needed. Reflect is shared by the two reflection mapping methods for Quake 3 and Raven Software’s Quake 3 based games.

This doesn’t reduce a lot but it does make it easier to implement GPU support as a base type + texture matrix. I haven’t added them yet but OpenGL 1.3 fixed-function and 2.0 GLSL can support all of them. The Wii has GPU support for all generators except reflect.

I tested generating reflect vectors and storing them in the vertex normals on OpenGL for using reflect via the normal generator and it works. This may be a way for the Wii to utilize CPU reflect with GPU texture matrix. Eventually Wii can have at least partial GPU support for all of the texture coordinate generators.

Vertex attribute conclusion

The Toy Box material handling is being designed around GPU color multiply and texture matrix multiply. Quake 3 has more specific handling for combining some generators and modifiers to allow for better CPU optimization. Scrolling a texture only needs two additions per-vertex, not a full matrix multiply.

My understanding is that the Wii always does a texture matrix multiply. It can be set to an identity matrix but it can’t be disabled. So it may not require extra processing to use a texture matrix multiply aside from the data transfer of the matrix to the GPU.

Very specific behavior

Some of the material keywords are very specific to Quake 3 and it would be very difficult to accurately remake them without basing it on the math from Quake 3. Math can be patented but not copyrighted. So it seems that using these equations would not be copyright infringement. Though they aren’t really necessary for creating a new game and I’d probably leave them out of a new game.

Keywords such as tcMod turb for turbulent lava texture scroll and alphaGen lightingSpecular for slightly non-standard specular with a hard coded light origin. I haven’t decided if I should try to remake the sky dome texture coordinate generator and so the sky dome is currently missing. Quake 3 uses these on basically every official level.

Future plans

I had thought about releasing closed-source commercial software (content tools, game engine) compatible with Quake 3 data formats as a way to try to monetize Toy Box. Though it’s very unrealistic to generate the level of revenue I would like it to and it would probably just become a burden.

I’m no longer planning to release any software based on Toy Box supporting Quake 3 data formats. I’m not planning to pursue selling or releasing a content application or game engine. I’m also not planning to reprogram and release Turtle Arena (without bots) on Toy Box.

I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished in Clover’s Toy Box so far and I intend to continue developing it. Currently the only planned software to release based on Toy Box is original games (which I don’t actually have plans for).

I want to move in the direction of focusing on art with the end goal being images and videos instead of a full game. Though that’s not necessarily related to Toy Box and there is a lot of stuff I need to deal with before that.



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