03-10-09 - Snark Suppository

I posted a pretty snyde comment on John Ratcliff's Code Suppository which I feel a bit guilty about, so I thought I would defend and clarify my position a bit.

First of all, to the specific question of bounding volumes : there is decent code for them in Eberly (though it's really not great and the sphere and OBB code is very far from optimal). There is very good code for all the common primitives in Galaxy3 - though you do have to buy into the whole system.

BTW this is sort of a side note but I really like John's Code Suppository in general, or Sean's "one file" way of distributing code. I'm glad they do it, because I can't and don't want to. I love it when other people make their code available to me like that, but I can't write code like that, and I find it impossible to maintain code like that in my own libraries.

As for the exact flaws and prior art in John's post, I sent him this :

1. Exact sphere fitting is well known.  See for example this very good source code :


2. Exact fitting of the best-rectangle via rotating calipers is well known.  See for example
any computational geometry textbook.

3. To fit an OBB the first step should always be computing the convex hull via something like QHull :


Once you have the convex hull, brute force is in fact a good solution.  (being O(N^2) in the number of 
hull faces is much better than being O(N^2) in the number of original faces).  

And there's more at : RAPID OBB-Tree or Computational Geometry Code or O'Rourke's page

(those are just the code references, you can find more papers on citeseer)

But the real answer is : pick up ANY academic text on computational geometry and there will be very good algorithms for all this stuff. The correct algorithms are also fast! And the error in the approximate algorithms is not small, the "put sphere center at the average of all points" heuristic can be very very bad, as can the OBB fit heuristics. (BTW the good computational geometry code in Galaxy3 is basically from me reading through O'Rourke's Computational Geometry textbook and implementating algorithms I thought were cool and useful - at his website, tons of good code is available for free ; the good sphere code in galaxy is just miniball).

For example, both Eberly and John use the PCA (covariance) axes to fit the OBB. That sort of works okay quite often, but occasionally it is unboundedly bad. (BTW all comments on Eberly's stuff are based on several year old code that was free; I haven't touched his stuff since he published that book and started trying to make money off it, so he may have fixed some of his stuff).

BTW also all primitive-fitting code should be able to find either the minimum-volume primitive or the minimum-surface-area primitive. In most cases minimum-surface-area is actually what you want, because that is what gives you the minimum chance of random ray intersection. It also tends to make nicer looking volumes in practice IMO (it forces them to be more "compact" - surface tension turns spread out things into spheres).

BTW #2 rotating calipers is one of those super simple and perfect algorithms that I believe everyone should know. It's one of those "ah ha" algorithms that makes you realize doing anything else is retarded, because you cannot beat it for speed and it gets the answer exactly right. ( there's a whole page on it )

I want to say again that I love what John is doing with Code Suppository, but I keep seeing bad bounding volume code recycled again and again in the game development community. Lots of people use fundamentally wrong image processing or audio processing code without reading any of the DSP literature. People do hacky heuristic UV unwraps without reading any of the papers. People write their own hashes and data structures or sorting algorithms without understanding their big-O or actually comparing to reference implementations.

This is bull! And there's no excuse for it any more. Game developers have long secretly treasured the hack and the heuristic. Everyone loves coming up with their own little simple trick. No more. We have long used "speed/optimization" or "time pressure" as excuses to do things wrong. That's BS now that we are many thousands of people working many years on multi-million dollar projects. And especially for code we are sharing on the internet.

Part of the reason why this stuff is even hard to find on Google these days is because so many people keep posting bad versions! If you search for "bounding box fit" on Google half of what you find will be amateur game developer newsgroups and such with people posting ass-tastic versions. It was almost better 10 years about when the only thing you got was university research web sites.

Part of the problem is that too many game developers only talk to other game developers, and lose sight of how strong all the research out there in the world is. Yes, yes, we are hot shit. But for any algorithm you can think of, there are 1000 Chinese PhD's working on it right now. You can't beat them. The best you can do is go to CiteSeer and read their papers and steal their work. If you think you can beat them, then you better be damn sure and prove it by actually testing against their work.

I'm calling everyone out. There's plenty of un-tested, un-benchmarked, un-researched code out there on the net. We don't need more. We need less! I don't want to see another code snippet that somebody tried and just visually looked at and thought it looked "pretty good". I want exact error bounds. I want complexity analysis. I want profiles against the other major examples in the field. I want to see references to prior art. I want to see rigor.

The next time somebody gives you their hash_map implementation, you ask them - how is it better than stlport hash_map ? how does it compare to google dense or sparse hash map? What are the memory use and execution time limits? Show me your reference list (does it include RDE, khash, and Paul Hsieh?). If they stare at you blankly - kick them in the nuts.

I should also note, and I think everyone knows - that I welcome and encourage similar criticism of my own work. I mean often in this space I am just ranting about nonsense that I obviously have no idea WTF I'm talking about. But when I post code - the whole point is for you to tell me ways in which it is wrong so that I can fix it. That's a huge part of why I post code on the internet, I want feedback and fixes and even just "this sucks, there's much better code for that here".

And finally, I'll end with a bit of a challenge :

I don't actually have perfect OBB code, and to my knowledge it doesn't exist. The code in Galaxy3 is much better than the common covariance method. The main improvement there is that I use rotating calipers to find the truely optimal 2d rectangle if one of the axes is fixed. However, I don't do the correct full search of axes. I only check all the normals of the faces of the convex hull. That is not the full set - you should also consider boxes which are only supported by edges and vertices (this is sort of like doing seperating axis tests and only using face normals and not doing edge-edge axes). O'Rourke has described an exact O(N^3) solution, but it's messy and to my knowledge no simple implementation exists.

So I have a few challenges that I'll leave for the reader (or myself in the future) :

1. What is the maximum error (vs the exact solution) of the Galaxy3 method of only considering OBB's which are supported by at least one face of the convex hull?

2. Is there a good implementation of the O(N^3) exact OBB algorithm?

3. Is there an O(N^2) or O(NlogN) OBB algorithm which comes within a (useful) finite bounded error of the exact solution?


John said...

Thanks Charles, I'll update my code when I get a chance. I have a graphics tool where I generate random point clouds and then visualize the best fit OBB; it looked 'good enough' so I was satisfied with the implementation I had at the moment.

I had an older implementation, more like the rotating calipers method, but it was a lot slower.

I agree that the point cloud input should be based on a convex hull; I do that already in my own code but forgot to mention it in the post.



cbloom said...

I've solved part of the challenge.

The Barequet & Har-Peled method has bounded execution time and error.

I am however unaware of any implementation of their method and it is quite complex.

BTW another practical obvious method is to make the convex hull then simplify it by pushing the planes out by epsilon. Find the optimal bbox for that convex hull, then refit the dimensions to the original point set. This has bounded error.

cbloom said...

Never mind, I found it :


cbloom said...

This page has some good general stuff :


John said...


I refactored my best fit sphere code per your recommendation and have uploaded revised copies of my code snippets.

Thanks for the great links and references.


old rants