The following is the first part in a series of articles pertaining to the OpenGL Application Programming Interface (API). The series will continue to expand and (hopefully) provide useful information to the public in understanding an API that is still evolving (though quite mature enough as it is).

Part One will deal with what has been a revolutionary step forward in terms of providing "realism" in 3D without requiring massive amounts of processing power - Texture Mapping.


Texture mapping is simply a function where you fit images onto polygons (a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three sides) in any particular scene. It is very possibly the most significant advancement in PC graphics for the last decade. Texture mapping can enhance the realism of games, providing for very realistic images for anything from the walls of a room to any monsters you may encounter in a game. Prior to the introduction of texture mapping for the PC (it was actually being used in high-end workstations for stuff like simulations, prior to making it to the desktop), achieving high levels of realism was a matter of "brute force" – using nothing but thousands or millions of small lit and shaded polygons that take an unusual amount of time to render and hence resulted in very poor performance. Texture mapping is a very intensive task however, requiring a CPU to do lots of calculations and hence results in very slow performance. Fortunately the introduction of affordable and powerful 3D hardware into the consumer market (such as those offered by 3dfx, ATI, Matrox, NVIDIA, etc.) has taken this burden off the CPU while doing the calculations more efficiently and faster at the same time.