Sparrow3D - Multi Platform Game Engine


Advanced Member
Jan 15, 2006
Good evening, folk.

Some of you may know me from "snowman" or "puzzletube". I am the guy behind these games and in the last months I re-engineered my whole engine and gave it a name:


Sparrow3d is an engine similar to Penjin, Fenix, glBasic or the new Pengyne engine.

Why another engine?

First of all I wanted to write a 3D software renderer for the gp2x and other open handhelds. I just made more because of my laziness. It began with snowman, where I needed a basis, which had to be the same for every supported system. After snowman came puzzletube and there the first time I put my code in a own library and since then I optimized and rewrote the whole system. And added lot of other useful stuff.

To be fair I start with the disadvantages of sparrow3D (in comparison e.g. to Penjin):
  • no OOP. pure C. (of course you can use it in OOP, but you have to do it yourself)
  • no GL ES. Everything is rendered in software for compatibility to the gp2x and dingoo. So my renderer is slower, but works everywhere :)
  • only 16 bit graphic (better for my optimizations)
But there are of course PLENTY advantage. ^^
  • pure C (faster)
  • many supported platforms (gp2x, open2x, wiz, dingoo, caanoo, pandora, linux, windows)
  • 3D renderer with textures, which works on every supported platform
  • abstraction of the hardware. E.g. you don't have to know, whether there is a analog stick or a D-Pad
  • blit functions for surface in 2D or 3D
  • rotozoom functions (faster then SDL-gfx)
  • simple primitives like rectangles, ellipses or lines
  • mesh loading (obj files)
  • simple Sprite engine
  • font rendering
  • based totally of SDL. No other dependences.
  • using in an existing application. I have plans to make some 3D visualizations in Gmu :)
To see, what you would get, I made a test application for all supported handhelds:

Pandora Repo


Source Code at Github

Furthermore I created a more detailed description. But be aware! It will be corrected by some person with a (much) better English soon™.

This Document is for the illustration of the cohenceres and logics of
the functions from sparrow3D. I hope it makes sense for you and helps
you to come in sparrow3d.
Sparrow3D is a software renderer and a (gaming) engine. It affords the
possibilities for event handling, 2D and 3D graphic functions, plotting
of meshs, a simple sprite engine and drawing font.
It totally bases on SDL (with SDL-image and SDL-Font). No other
dependencies. Thus sparrow3D runs on this systems (yet):
- GP2X
- Dingoo
- Cannoo
- Pandora
- PC (Linux and Windows)
It improves SDL on another abstraction layer. That means, that you
don't need to know the name of buttons or which kind of axis (d-pad or
analog stick e.g.) is avaible. You just develop for a generic device.
Advantages / Features of sparrow3D (crudely):
- fast, because written in C
- abstraction of the hardware
- abstracted functions for blitting of surfaces
- faster rotozoom then SDL-gfx e.g.
- primitives like rectangles or ellipses
- 3D Software Renderer, which runs on GP2X and Dingoo, too
- Sprite Engine
- Loading of Meshs
- Drawing of Fonts from ttf-files (so scaleable)
Next up a small introduction of the parts of sparrow3D. You can, but
may not use all of it. E.g. it is possible very easy just to use the 3D
Software Renderer in an existing SDL application.
Although the name supposes it, you don't have to use this part. If you
just want the sprite or 3D handling, you can ignore it.
The core offers you a window, event handling - accompanied by the
abstraction of the different targets - and loading of optimal surfaces
for the system (faster).
Furthermore you have a feedback function if the screen resizes.
Many parts, but at least _all_ 3D functions, base on fixed point
numbers. For people never using them: Fix point numbers are very much
like normal integers. But sparrow3D's fixed point numbers are divided
by 65536. That means the integer number 65536 is as fixed point number
65536/65536 = 1.0 or 128 is 128/65536 = 0.001953125.
Fixed point numbers are (much) more inaccurate then classic floating
point numbers, but on ARM systems without FPU MUCH faster.
For addition or subtraction nothing changes. Only the multiplication
and division needs extra function, which sparrowMath defines. Cosinus
and Sinus are very slow. So sparrow3D has faster (lool up table based)
functions for them, too.
Furthermore sparrowMath has other simplifications like converting a
HSV-Color to a 16-Bit color.
For most of you sparrowPrimitives will be the most importent part of
sparrow3D. It is responsible for the drawing of different primitives in
2D. One importent aspect of sparrow3D is, that it depends on SDL, it
improves and extends. First of all you have to choose a render target.
That can be the screen surface, but every other 16 bit Surface is
possible. It is VERY important (really VERY VERY important) to know,
that every render target MUST be a 16 bit surface! If you want to draw
to a 32 bit surface, you have to draw in a 16 bit dummy surface and this
surface you can blit (with SDL methods) to a 32 bit surface. That was
necessary for simplicity and optimization reasons.
Furthermore you have no "real" alpha blending with sparrow3D. If
acitivated, there is just an alpha test. The Color pink (defined as
SP_ALPHA_COLOR) will not be drawn then.
There is no default target. At begin you have to choose one. After this
every drawing operation will work with it. Moreover a z-Buffer is created
for the surface, which minds the z values of the target pixels. Both the
z test and the setting of the z values are adjustable. Drawing with
z-Buffer is always slower, but for 3D essential.
There are (crudely) these parts, which sparrowPrimitives handles:
- Dawing triangles and quads with or without texture
- Rotozoom Drawing of surfaces or surface parts (Tiling)
- Bliting of surfaces (without rotation and zoom, but faster) or
  surface parts (Tiling)
- Drawing of random colored lines, rectangles, ellipses, rectangle
  borders or ellipse borders
All these function are able to write to the zBuffer. That is the reason,
why you should reset the z-Buffer at start like the whole screen.
Another possibility is culling. The triangle and quad functions (NOT the
rectangle functions!) use culling if you want. That means, the primitive
is NOT drawn, if you define it clockwise. So for correction results you
have to define it COUNTER clockwise! That is very important for closed
meshs, because you don't want the back be drawn.
This very important part it the giver of the engine's name: It is for
the three-dimensionality. Based on sparrowPrimitive there are different
functions. Like OpenGL sparrow3D uses matrices for the orientation. A
short OpenGL should give you enough view to use sparrow3D. But
nevertheless sparrow3D is not compatible to openGL because of speed
Like OpenGL sparrow3D uses two matrizes for orientation (model view
matrix) and projection (projection matrix). The easist way to understand
the model view matrix is to imagine it as an "invisible roboter arm",
which you can move and rotate however you want. Objects you draw will be
drawn, where the "roboter arm" points to. Keep in mind, that these "arm"
instructions are relative. That means two times moving to (0,0,-2) sets
the "arm" to (0,0,-4). But the best way to get it, is learning by doing!
You are able the reset, translate, rotate or scale the model view
matrix. Furthermore you can manual edit the matrix or save (and reload)
it like glPush or glPop from OpenGL. I do this in testsparrow.c, too.
With the projection matrix sparrow3D "transforms" the space coordinates
to screen/surface coordinates. This happens obserbing the z value. An
object, which is far away (more negative z value), is smaller.
In addition sparrow3D has some very basic light functionalities with
lights you can place whereever you want in the space.
There are 3 kinds of 3D graphic functions:
- "real" 3D functions, where a triangle or quad (with or without
  texture) is placed random in space. These objects consider light.
  Furthermore functions, where you can draw whole face-bunches (meshs)
  in one step, which is much faster because most points are used be many
- "Billboard" 3D functions, which point always to the screen/surface,
  but in the xy plain still are rotated and scaled. Here you have
  rectangles, ellipses and border functions again like in
- "Blit" 3D functions, which use a correct calculated position and
  z value, but the size and rotation is ignored. Very fast. You could
  use it e.g. for particles, where the size is not necessary.
sparrowMesh is used for loading mesh structures from obj-files and
deleting them.
No game without font. These part takes sparrowFont. It is able to open
ttf-files with the aid of SDL-ttf and caches particular letters (e.g.
the alphabet, numbers and punctuation characters) in SDL-Surfaces, so
that you just have to blit them (which is very fast). It uses a very
fast (and cached) binarytree internal.
At the moment (with default sparrow3D stuff) you are not able to draw
text in the 3D space or to rototate or zoom it.
For most games sprites are essential. If you have a classic 2D Jump and
Run it is obvious, but even a 3D game can use them e.g. for
Head-up-Displays (HUDs).
A sprite from sparrow3D is basically just a a bunch of SDL surfaces or
parts of it (Tiling). Each of these sub units have a time, which shows
how long this surface will be shown before the next surface (or surface
part) will be seeable. If a sprite is shown complete, it starts from the
start again. With this methode very simple animations are possible
Also sprites can be rotated or scaled. This is slower, but skilful and
particular used it is an easy method to get more dynamic in the game. A
good example is worms. Most parts of the game are 2D and not scaled, but
e.g. the projectile is rotated.
sparrow3D is advanced constantly. If you have questions, suggestions or
feature request, feel free to ask!

Tomorrow I will post a (new) video, too. But I have screenshots for you:






Maybe I will use this engine for a game for the Rebirth competition, too. At the moment I am not sure because of to few time. :-\

But we will see.

greetings, Ziz


Advanced Member
Jan 15, 2006
Because somepony asked in another board:
The engine is licensed under LGPL and MPL.

You get the source code here:


Certified Guru
Jan 8, 2009
Great !! Seems very interesting ...thank a lot for your hard work..and for share with us.


Advanced Member
Oct 25, 2011
Great! gave a try on the game before on another thread!
All love for software render...

will check this new tests!

Congrats! :)


Advanced Member
Jan 15, 2006
As promised here a video:

In fact it's just the demo from above, but filmed at my PC...


Active Member
Mar 19, 2011
Really a good work, Ziz, really good work ;)
i like the thing that is SDL only based ;)


Advanced Member
Jan 15, 2006
Good morning, folk.

After a long time I have done some little and bigger updates.
First of all I got some little improvements from pmprog (better handling of resizeable windows and an event feedback function as optional parameter for the main loop function) and from foxblock (some bugfixes and general improvements especially for compiling with Codeblocks in Windows™).
Furthermore I did some bug fixes and speed optimizations too and implemented
  • functions for creating and deleting sparrow3D compatible surfaces
  • some new math functions (arcsine, arccosine, tangens)
  • locking and unlocking of the rendertarget (in fact just an enclosure of SDL_LockSurface and SDL_UnlockSurface with returning the surfaces raw pixel data)
  • the functions for drawing text now support line breaks - just add '\n' anywhere in your C-String
  • Because of people using C++ I made the 'char*' in the font part to 'const char*' (std::string::c_str() returns a const char*). Other used C-Strings will follow later (mostly if someone needs it in C++ without bad casting...)
  • a new example for handling different render targets
  • sometime I improved the light: fewer flickering. Dunno, whether I ever mentioned it :)

And here is a new video especially of the last two parts in the list. It shows the four demo applications shipped with sparrow3D. Enjoy.