Focal Engine

Focal Engine is our most ambitious project yet, is the bedrock upon which all of our next gen shaders are being built, and upon which we will attempt to push Minecraft shader creation up to the very cutting edge of real time graphics with.

What is Focal Engine?

At the most basic level, Focal Engine is our own in-house, purpose built shader mod, born out of our ever increasing needs (and wants) during Continuum RT’s development. We quickly outgrew existing shader mods, and we were spending far more time attempting to work around limitations than we were meaningfully advancing our shaders.

Our basic goal with Focal Engine is a shaders mod that gives shader developers as much control as possible, with as few limits as possible. The possibilities with Focal, if we do our job, should be near limitless.

Focal Engine is currently in active development, and is available for free for anyone with a Continuum Graphics account (My Account > Downloads), but is not yet available to third party developers. Once the project is more complete, we will likely open it up for a small pool of developers ahead of a wider release.

Both Continuum 2.1 and Continuum RT currently utilize (and require) Focal Engine.

Planned / Future Features

  • Fully unlocked and configurable Vulkan rendering engine, giving developers complete control over how the game renders the world to let them add virtually any modern rendering technique/effect in Minecraft Java Edition, without needing to wait for a Focal Engine update to add support.
  • Access to a multitude of Vulkan extensions, namely ones such as Vulkan Raytracing which will enable the use of NVIDIA RTX and AMD RDNA RT hardware acceleration (also known as RT cores, RT accelerators, etc) and potentially Intel ARC’s equivalent, to let shaders use raytracing pipelines and ray query operations with an acceleration structure (also known as a BVH, or Bounding Volume Hierarchy, to more easily and (relatively) effortlessly support non-cubic blocks, models and even entities!
  • Direct access to game world data/geometry within shaders, allowing for GPU-driven rendering to improve CPU efficiency/overhead or even potentially allowing for more efficient support for current techniques used in Minecraft Java Edition shaders, such as compute-driven voxelization where shaders create voxels directly off of game world geometry within a compute shader, rather than using existing rendering passes to hack together a voxel structure.
  • Direct and dynamic control over the size of compute and rendering passes for easier support of upscaling solutions, both spatial and temporal, and potentially even cutting edge temporal upscaling solutions such as DLSS (and DLAA), XeSS and FSR.
  • Native HDR (High Dynamic Range) output support
  • Advanced custom UI for shaderpack configuration, including the potential for settings widgets that can be opened and tweaked over the active game (think modern game photo modes)
  • Almost any shader option customizable and tweakable without triggering a chunk reload
  • Potentially an API/access to our in game download/update/DRM system for 3rd party shader devs to distribute their shaders with, if they wish
  • No more reliance on Optifine, expanding compatibility and potential mod combinations (we do intend for both Optifine or Iris to be loadable alongside Focal, should users wish, and we will do our best to make this a reality)
  • Much improved mod compatibility, and an avenue for mod authors to work with us and other shader devs on compatibility problems

These features are tentatively planned, but are all subject to change at any time.

Current Features

  • Usage of the OpenGL 4.6 for the latest features offered by OpenGL, including bindless textures allowing for virtually unlimited textures to be available with a minimal hit to performance, indirect compute dispatches allowing for the GPU to directly control how many compute shader invocations are run in subsequent passes, direct state access to minimise global OpenGL state changes and cut through a lot of driver overhead, etc.
  • Enhanced rendering feature set, with far less limitations, near limitless buffers and expanded compute capability to enable more advanced effects at higher performance than was previously possible, with an overall easier development cycle. Our Focal Engine shaders are more complete, more feature rich, more visually impressive, and more optimized than ever before.
  • Enhanced profiling capability including the ability to mark specific passes, allowing optimization and debugging of shaders to a far more granular degree.
  • In-game downloads and updates of ALL of our current and past shaders and resourcepacks (requires login to a valid Continuum Graphics account)

The road so far

Due to the size of our team, and the somewhat uncharted territory we were/are in, plus the amount of time we had already invested into Focal Engine without so much as an announcement, we made the decision to release an early version of it at the end of 2020, based in OpenGL, and not the planned Vulkan API (read the announcement/initial release blog here).

This version of Focal, while still far from our end goal, enabled us to work with near no buffer limit (one area we were previously quite limited), which we used it to expand Continuum RT’s feature set. Between the additional buffers, compute features and much better profiling ability, we managed to release a rewritten version of Continuum RT that featured A-SVGF (demo here), proper water, including Ray Traced Refraction, an improved denoiser, and more, all enabled by default with roughly the same performance profile as the previous, non-Focal build, which lacked all of these things.

We also implemented an in-game UI that allows our users to login to their Continuum Graphics accounts, download and update previous and current versions of all of our shaders and textures.

In the following months, we started work on rewriting our Continuum 2.1 Alpha shader to take advantage of Focal’s new features, using this work to both update Focal with new features that we found we either needed, or would help us and eventually third party devs, as well as planning for our Vulkan rewrite of Focal. We got the rewritten 2.1 out in September 2022, after quite a lot of Focal Engine feature additions, refactors, a few Minecraft version updates for Focal, a massive list of feature additions, optimizations and a general polish pass on 2.1. This update was so large and wide sweeping that we took the shader straight into Beta.

The performance implications of using Focal Engine enabled us to have Volumetric Clouds, Volumetric Fog/Rays, Contact Shadows, full weather effects (fog, rain, puddles, water ripples, etc), and more all enabled out of the box. These effects either didn’t exist, were lower quality, and/or were disabled by default in the previous build. With 2.1 Beta on Focal, we achieved roughly the same performance as the previous, non-Focal Alpha build, with all those new/enhanced effects enabled.

Current Status

Where is Focal Engine currently at in development?

This is a very complex project, with many unknowns ahead of it. We’re a small team, in uncharted territory. As such, this is only meant to give you a rough idea of the current status. Please keep that in mind. 

Focal OpenGL

The initial OpenGL version of Focal is currently available to all users with a Continuum Graphics Account. No purchase is required. This version is currently considered to be legacy, and is in MAINTAINENCE. We are only updating it for new game versions, or to fix major bugs.

Current Status

Focal VK (Vulkan)

The initial version of Focal VK is currently in development. We are devoting almost all of our development resources towards it, only maintaining and fixing minor bugs with our other shader projects until it is complete. We have no ETA at this time. Check our latest blogs for the current status.

In Development

Full Public Release

This will come after the VK version launches and Focal is deemed to be in a stable, 'complete' state. We will make it available on our free download page (no account required), and open it up completely to third party shader developers. Development will continue, taking dev and user feedback into account.

How to Support Focal Engine

Just being apart of our community, using and sharing our shaders is a fantastic way to support Focal’s development, but if you would like to support it more directly, you can purchase any item in our shop, from a Continuum RT subscription, to our Continuum Early Access package, or maybe a Stratum Tier! All of these fund Focal and our other projects, and all of them are available for download/update from within Focal Engine right now!

Thank you to everyone who supports us, at any level. None of this would be remotely possible without your generosity.

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