Binary Space Partitioning - Overview


Binary space partitioning is a generic process of recursively dividing a scene into two until the partitioning satisfies one or more requirements. It can be seen as a generalisation of other spatial tree structures such as k-d trees and quadtrees, one where hyperplanes that partition the space may have any orientation, rather than being aligned with the coordinate axes as they are in k-d trees or quadtrees. When used in computer graphics to render scenes composed of planar polygons, the partitioning planes are frequently (but not always) chosen to coincide with the planes defined by polygons in the scene.

The specific choice of partitioning plane and criterion for terminating the partitioning process varies depending on the purpose of the BSP tree. For example, in computer graphics rendering, the scene is divided until each node of the BSP tree contains only polygons that can render in arbitrary order. When back-face culling is used, each node therefore contains a convex set of polygons, whereas when rendering double-sided polygons, each node of the BSP tree contains only polygons in a single plane. In collision detection or ray tracing, a scene may be divided up into primitives on which collision or ray intersection tests are straightforward.

Binary space partitioning arose from the computer graphics need to rapidly draw three dimensional scenes composed of polygons. A simple way to draw such scenes is the painter's algorithm, which produces polygons in order of distance from the viewer, back to front, painting over the background and previous polygons with each closer object. This approach has two disadvantages: time required to sort polygons in back to front order, and the possibility of errors in overlapping polygons. Fuchs and co-authors showed that constructing a BSP tree solved both of these problems by providing a rapid method of sorting polygons with respect to a given viewpoint (linear in the number of polygons in the scene) and by subdividing overlapping polygons to avoid errors that can occur with the painter's algorithm. A disadvantage of binary space partitioning is that generating a BSP tree can be time-consuming. Typically, it is therefore performed once on static geometry, as a pre-calculation step, prior to rendering or other realtime operations on a scene. The expense of constructing a BSP tree makes it difficult and inefficient to directly implement moving objects into a tree.

BSP trees are often used by 3D video games, particularly first-person shooters and those with indoor environments. Game engines utilising BSP trees include the Doom engine (probably the earliest game to use a BSP data structure was Doom), the Quake engine and its descendants. In video games, BSP trees containing the static geometry of a scene are often used together with a Z-buffer, to correctly merge movable objects such as doors and characters onto the background scene. While binary space partitioning provides a convenient way to store and retrieve spatial information about polygons in a scene, it does not solve the problem of visible surface determination.

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