Two days ago, ETPC reported some interesting news to the WCCIC Discord: prolific retro tech tweeter Foone had successfully lobbied to open source BRender, a licensed 3D game engine used in the making of many titles including Privateer 2: The Darkening.
So I have some really cool news:— foone (@Foone) May 3, 2022
I just got approval from Jez San, former CEO of Argonaut Games, to open source the BRender engine.
That's the engine used in Microsoft 3D Movie Maker, Argonaut's own Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, and the first two Carmageddon games. pic.twitter.com/3aKiuZkK5b
What exactly is BRender? In the late 1990s, game developers began increasingly to license third party technologies to streamline their increasingly complex work. Instead of spending time developing a unique 3D engine, developers could purchase an 'off the shelf' solution that gave them a head start by providing common needed features and support out of the box. The Privateer 2 team licensed Argonaut's BRender and toolkit and continued development from there, unlike earlier Wing Commander games which either premiered new engines or updated others developed in-house at Origin. BRender was used in many high profile games of the era including Carmageddon and I-War. Here's a review of Privateer 2 from the March 1997 issue of Boot magazine which includes a sidebar all about Brender:
The power behind Privateer 2
The 3D muscle behind Privateer 2 lies with a highly customized and optimized version of Argonaut’s Blazing Renderer (BRender) Power Rendering System. BRender provides game developers with 32-bit hand-optimized assembler code, and a host of developer-definable options that rival anything Microsoft promises with Direct3D— BRender’s ready to meet the challenge of real-time, software-based 3D polygon rendering.
Eighty-six thousand texture-mapped, perspec-tive-corrected, smoothly lit polygons per second; and up to 122,000 lit, flat-shaded polygons per second are among the published BRender specs; while 16-bit Z-buffers, hidden-surface removal, and fully-programmable colored light sourcing are among its other talents.
In this day of 3D accelerators, BRender may seem a bit dated, but fear not— the latest version (vl.2.1) supports hardware-accelerated BRender solutions and all the hot technologies (bilinear filtering, mip mapping, 16-bit color depths). Currently, the only consumer chipsets supported by BRender is S3’s ViRGE, and Yamaha’s RGV2. MMX support is forthcoming with newer drivers, so BRender will still live on after the MMX bomb drops.
If you expect to pick up Argonaut’s latest BRender tools and make the next kick-ass space sim, you’d better be ready to sweat, as Origin burnt many a candle customizing and optimizing the basic BRender engine to render those inter-galactic objects in The Darkening.
For more info: www.argonaut.com
If you look closely at the back of a Privateer 2 box you'll find the BRender logo in the bottom corner!
The version made available was 1.3.2 from November 18, 1998, sometime after Privateer 2's development. We reached out to Privateer 2 programmer Paul Hughes to find out if he knew how similar this version might be to the one used to create Privateer 2. He surprised everyone by not only remembering but revealing that he had an archived copy he could provide for release! He also noted that "IIRC it was completely standalone - we used it as a black box, just making a couple of bug fixes / tweaks specific to P2". True to his word, the version of BRender used in Privateer 2, 1.1.2 from September 1995, was released the next day:
OKAY, it's time for BRender source release #3! This is a much earlier version, dating back to September 1995, and targeting MS-DOS. This version was used in the game Privateer 2. https://t.co/Dpra0IAe6S— foone (@Foone) May 5, 2022
This should be pretty exciting for anyone interested in learning some of how Privateer 2 works under the hood (and for game development historians in general). You can follow foone's entire, ongoing BRender thread here, which has already collected and released several other versions of BRender. We look forward to learning more!