A Little History Lesson for STISIM Drive Software

Previously on the STISIM Drive blog we provided a bit of history about our driving simulator software and the operating systems upon which we built it. It was a fun walk down memory lane seeing how our software has evolved over the years. So much fun, in fact, that it got us thinking about another very important part of our software: the graphics.

Our driving simulator software has been around and running on PCs for more than 30 years. During that time our simulator has undergone some pretty significant changes, none of which is more evident than the actual roadway environment.

Back in the mid 1980s when the STISIM simulator was first developed, PC processing power was… limited. Generating the rich visual displays that we take for granted nowadays was simply not possible. Look at it this way: A good PC cost about $2000 during this time, but a good graphics card cost somewhere between $10,000 to $15,000 (how’s that for a little history lesson?).

Luckily, Texas Instruments came out with their TIGA-based graphics card that did essentially the same job (quickly filling in polygons) but for a fraction of the price (coming in around $2000). And what did you get for that $2000 graphics card? The ability to create very simple roadway displays that seems pretty cartoonish and downright primitive by today’s standards.

 

You can almost hear the pitter patter of Fred Flintstone’s feet in this roadway environment.

 

Right around the turn of the century, a new player emerged on the graphics-hardware scene. 3dfx, a hot startup, came out with a brand-new graphics chip that allowed personal computers to render graphics just as good as the more expensive, non-PC machines – and at a fraction of the cost. Thanks to 3dfx (and their proprietary rendering engine), STISIM Drive’s graphics improved a lot.

 

You can see the environment is getting more detailed and less blocky.

 

The 3dfx graphics revolution was great while it lasted, but eventually they were usurped by Nvidia and ATI, which remain the graphics standards to this day. This meant that while the graphics themselves continued to improve, the cost of good graphics boards stayed on the lower end ($300 compared to the multiple thousands of years before).

These new graphics boards also took advantage of updated rendering capabilities, like Open Graphics Library (OpenGL) and Microsoft’s DirectX. And, thanks to this awesome rendering technology, STISIM Drive took another huge leap forward in graphics realism.

 

Is that a guy holding a Starbucks cup walking down the street??

 

Now, in these most modern of days, tried-and-true graphics hardware has merged with sophisticated graphics rendering software, which allows 3D worlds to be built easily and intuitively. The current version of STISIM Drive uses the Object-oriented Graphics Rendering Engine (OGRE) to generate roadway scenes that could be plucked right out of real life.

You could turn a corner and find a neighborhood just like this almost anywhere.