Expand description

A simple occlusion culling algorithm for axis-aligned rectangles.


Occlusion culling results in two lists of rectangles:

  • The opaque list should be rendered first. None of its rectangles overlap so order doesn’t matter within the opaque pass.
  • The non-opaque list (or alpha list) which should be rendered in back-to-front order after the opaque pass.

The output has minimal overdraw (no overdraw at all for opaque items and as little as possible for alpha ones).

Algorithm overview

The occlusion culling algorithm works in front-to-back order, accumulating rectangle in opaque and non-opaque lists. Each time a rectangle is added, it is first tested against existing opaque rectangles and potentially split into visible sub-rectangles, or even discarded completely. The front-to-back order ensures that once a rectangle is added it does not have to be modified again, making the underlying data structure trivial (append-only).


Partially visible rectangles are split into up to 4 visible sub-rectangles by each intersecting occluder.

 +----------------------+       +----------------------+
 | rectangle            |       |                      |
 |                      |       |                      |
 |  +-----------+       |       +--+-----------+-------+
 |  |occluder   |       |  -->  |  |\\\\\\\\\\\|       |
 |  +-----------+       |       +--+-----------+-------+
 |                      |       |                      |
 +----------------------+       +----------------------+

In the example above the rectangle is split into 4 visible parts with the central occluded part left out.

This implementation favors longer horizontal bands instead creating nine-patches to deal with the corners. The advantage is that it produces less rectangles which is good for the performance of the algorithm and for SWGL which likes long horizontal spans, however it would cause artifacts if the resulting rectangles were to be drawn with a non-axis-aligned transformation.


The cost of the algorithm grows with the number of opaque rectangle as each new rectangle is tested against all previously added opaque rectangles.

Note that opaque rectangles can either be added as opaque or non-opaque. This means a trade-off between overdraw and number of rectangles can be explored to adjust performance: Small opaque rectangles, especially towards the front of the scene, could be added as non-opaque to avoid causing many splits while adding only a small amount of overdraw.

This implementation is intended to be used with a small number of (opaque) items. A similar implementation could use a spatial acceleration structure for opaque rectangles to perform better with a large amount of occluders.


  • A builder that applies occlusion culling with rectangles provided in front-to-back order.
  • A visible part of a rectangle after occlusion culling.