Mandelbulber v2

Fractals are amazing. Even decades after their initial popularity, when contemporary fads such as chaos theory and the butterfly effect are barely mentioned, the world of visualizing infinite complexity remains fascinating. In the 1980s and 1990s, home computers were able to open a window on this world for the first time, with fractal generators running on Amigas and early PCs capable of rendering an image over a period of minutes or hours, depending on the formula and the number of iterations you needed to calculate. They were even used in early games, generating the mountains in Rescue On Fractalus! and the caves in The Eidolon, both published by Lucasfilm Games. And the most famous of those fractal formulas was the Mandelbrot Set, whose spirals, galaxies, and curves became synonymous with fractal images.

There was once a plethora of fractal generating software, but it's fallen a little out of favor in recent years. Fortunately, however, a couple of the best applications have survived, and Mandelbulber is one of these. But it's a fractal explorer with an additional dimension, because the Mandelbulbs of its name are three-dimensional fractals derived from the original Mandelbrot set. These 3D models are quite unlike the original 2D Mandelbrot images, not least because they can be rendered fully textured, with ray tracing, depth of field effects, fog, and anti-aliasing. You can add shadows, transparency, and refraction, and materials can include luminosity, diffusion, normal maps, and displacement. While in old fractal programs you could only zoom in (or add iterations), and move up, down, left, and right, a 3D fractal is literally multidimensional. You can zoom in on but also around and into the 3D environment, with parts of the fractal often protruding in front of others.

Create cyber-complex, multi-dimensional images with unlimited resolutions, customizable materials, and full ray tracing.

There are a huge number of fractal presets to choose between and all can be edited, tweaked, and saved as their own presets. The main Qt 5 UI helps you navigate with buttons, cursor keys, or the mouse when it's in movement mode. The mouse can also act as a 3D cursor for choosing elements in the output render to use as the focus point, for example, or to select the area you want to explore further. There are almost as many rendering options as there are in Blender, including a panel for editing materials, a panel for effects, a panel for output rendering (including the ability to generate stereoscopic output), and a panel for exporting your view for use in other 3D applications. Most of the time you don't have to because the internal materials, ray tracing, and depth-of-field effects look amazing and can render these sci-fi worlds with a level of photorealism impossible just a decade ago. If you have the hardware, this can be accelerated with OpenCL, but even without the rendering it is quick until you get too far into the caves and creases of your fractal. But even then, you can farm out your processing to a distributed networking renderer. Mandelbulber really is fractal exploration for the 21st century.

Project Website

Exploring 3D Mandelbulbs with Mandelbulber feels similar to using the Esper photo analyzer in Blade Runner.

Transport simulator


As children, many of us enjoyed playing with toy railway tracks or putting together our own electricity-powered speedways. And there really isn't a good reason why we can't continue to enjoy these distractions as we get older, especially if some of that same enjoyment can be recreated in software. This is what Simutrans does, only in a way that feels more like SimCity 2000 than model railways. It's a transport management game set within an environment that looks like an old version of SimCity 2000. "Old" is the keyword, too, because you can set which year you'd like to start in, which obviously influences the kinds of transport technology you'll be able to use. From coal-fired to the future. Unlike SimCity, however, you start the game by generating a random map which already contains a city or two, usually of epic proportions, and it's going to be your job to solve all their transport needs.

You typically start by linking up suburban areas with some form of transport, and adding any form of transport means clicking on an appropriate tool palette. These palettes hold all the infrastructure you can access for each mode of transport you can access. For railways, for example, you select an appropriate rail and draw a line across your map. But the palette also includes bridges, crossing signals, and many other elements, and other modes of transport, too. Each item has a cost and obviously adds to the complexity of your transport system, but it's a lot like having the world's biggest model railway at your fingertips, and it quickly becomes hugely complicated. If you want something simpler and more immediate, an integrated panel can download and run a preset scenario from which you can build on to solve a transport problem. This is a great mission-oriented way to get started, without the complexity of the sandbox mode overwhelming you, and makes the game a lot of fun even when time is limited.

Project Website

Like SuperTux, Simutrans can also be downloaded from the Steam store, which is perfect if you happen to have gotten hold of a Steam Deck.

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