3D graphics have, for many years now, been based on the idea of polygons -- flat shapes fitted together to form three dimensional objects. There have been some experiments with other approaches -- volumetric 3D pixels or "voxels" became quite popular with some developers in the late 90s, but for the most part, polygons were seen as the way forward. New consoles and graphics cards were marketed based around how many polygons they could push around the screen at once, and it looked like the industry had settled on a good solution.
Enter an Australian company called Euclideon, who were unconvinced that polygons were the future. Last year, they decided to work on a fundamental reimagining of how graphics were drawn. Taking inspiration from the world of scientific and medical imaging, which uses tiny atoms or "point cloud data" rather than polygons, Euclideon claimed that it could produce a potentially unlimited level of detail in real time.
One year on, Euclideon hasn't finished its tech, but it has certainly made a huge amount of progress. To demonstrate the power of its system, it's created a 1 km square island that would be made of 21,062,352,435,000 polygons using conventional drawing methods. By using its proprietary "polygon conversion engine" Euclideon has converted these polygons to a scale of 64 atoms per cubic millimeter -- this is small enough for you to be able to zoom right down and look at individual grains of dirt on the ground. All this running at 20fps in software and potentially much higher when taking advantage of specialist graphics hardware.
Euclideon's technology allows the ability to scan real 3D objects into a virtual world. Previously, this produced models far too high in geometry and polygon counts to be practical for gaming, but the atom-based system of drawing potentially makes for graphics with an unprecedented level of detail.
Euclideon claims that its software development kit will be finished and in the hands of the games industry within the next few months. Only then will we be able to tell if its claim that their system is the "biggest breakthrough since 3D graphics" holds any water -- it certainly looks like a potentially exciting development, however.