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Environmental Bump Mapping
by Matrox Graphics

While at E3 this year we had opportunity to not only hear the marketing perspective on the new generation of 3d accelerators, we actually saw these boards in operation. Two features stood out in actual application: the texture compression abilities of the Savage4 board, and the environmental bump mapping abilities of the Matrox G400.

Since we will see games taking advantage of these features this fall, I was curious to hear more about the actual operation itself. What is bump mapping? How does it work? What difference will it make in the games you play? Are there any software based parallels of this hardware operation and how do they compare?

My interest in these and other questions sent me to the Matrox Graphics site, since their new G400 has the ability to perform Environment Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM) in hardware.

Matrox Graphics G400 EMBM

Environment Mapped Bump Mapping is a DirectX 6 quality feature which will be used to substantially increase the visual realism of 3D scenes. In fact, 3D graphics hardware that supports this feature will be able to render 3D scenes with more realism than was ever before possible on the PC.

Environment Mapped Bump Mapping is essentially a technique that allows a much higher level of detail to be added to a 3D world than could be possible with texture- mapped polygons alone. Fine details such as the pock- marked surface of bricks in a dungeon and scratches on robots and tanks can be added with ease. Special effects such as realistic water surfaces, heat shimmering off hot asphalt on a summer day and air turbulence in flight simulators can also be uniquely accomplished by using Environment Mapped Bump Mapping.

This new feature will prove to be as revolutionary as alpha blending in terms of the creative effects that game developers will accomplish when given free rein. With the advent of the Matrox G400 as the first chip to support Environment Mapped Bump Mapping in hardware, game developers are quickly pledging to add support for this feature into cutting-edge games that will ship in 1999 (see above).

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  • Black & White from EA/Lionhead
  • Expendable from Rage Software
  • Messiah from Interplay/Shiny
  • Descent III from Interplay/Outrage
  • Draken from Psygnosis/Surreal
  • Incoming Forces from Rage Software
  • Team Alligator and Jump Runner from Simis
  • BattleZone 2 from Activision/Pandemic
  • B17 II from Wayward Design/Microprose (?)

Bump Mapped Scene
Environment Mapped Bump Mapping on the Matrox G400 can be used to simulate the movement of waves.

Environment Mapped Bump Mapping can be used in various ways to add compelling effects to a 3D scene. For example, Environment Mapped Bump Mapping has the capability to create animated bumps, as well as fixed or motionless bumps on the surface of a 3D object. An animated bump can be applied to any 3D object or to any part of a 3D scene to simulate various environmental effects such as waves and ripples on water (figure 1) and distortion in the atmosphere due to heat or turbulence.

Although other chips currently shipping may claim to support bump mapping, they do so using multi-pass alpha-blending capabilities to simulate bumps on textured 3D objects. It is worth noting that this method offers only a fraction of the effects possible with true Environment Mapped Bump Mapping. In addition, multi-pass alpha- blending produces artifacts, is limited to monochrome lighting and is unable to simulate any environmental effects.

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Last Updated May 26th, 1999

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