Another year, another new project. Flex Mobile is well underway, and I’ve transitioned over to a group within Adobe working on gaming technologies. Of course, Adobe products, and Flash in particular, are heavily used in game development, and we’ve started to increase our focus on gaming over the past year. One of the first key technologies we’re delivering is a GPU-accelerated 3D API in the Flash Player codenamed “Molehill”, which enables incredibly beautiful and incredibly performant 3D content to be built using Flash. And just last weekend, we’ve put up our first public pre-release of Molehill as part of the Flash Player Incubator program on Adobe Labs.

Now, if you’re a hardcore 3D programmer, you’ll know exactly what to do with Molehill, and Thibault Imbert has a great introduction to the API for you. But if you’re anything like me, and your development experience has been in the world of 2D graphics or UI, you might find even this introductory material pretty head-scratching. Vertex and fragment shaders? Index buffers? Assembly language? LOLWUT?

I’ve just recently been learning more about GPU-based 3D programming myself, so I thought I’d try to make a molehill out of the 3D development mountain, and write an introduction to what this stuff is all about for those of us who are coming from the 2D world. In this first post, I’ll generally describe how modern GPUs work. I’m planning to write a follow-up post with more detail on how you actually work with the GPU for 3D graphics, and then another follow-up on how you can leverage the GPU for incredibly fast 2D graphics as well.

One caveat—I may say a few things that aren’t strictly true, mostly because I might be deliberately oversimplifying, but also because I might just be ignorant. Overall, I don’t think this picture of the world is too misleading, but please feel free to correct me in the comments.

Update: One fundamental point I meant to make when I originally wrote this post, but forgot to add, is that Molehill rendering is completely separate from display list rendering. All of the drawing that Molehill does basically ends up in a single layer that essentially draws into the background behind all of your display list content—the two don’t interact at all. I’ll discuss how you can leverage Molehill for 2D in a future post.

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