There's something about 3-D graphics that just draws you in. Even though I have a degree in Mathematics, I've always had the impression that programming in 3-D would be difficult. I've recently discovered though, that it's really not very hard. In fact, it's almost easy and a lot of fun—thanks to the Irrlicht 3-D graphics engine.

The Irrlicht 3-D graphics engine is written in C++ and allows you to get impressive results without a whole lot of code, as you'll see later in this article. With Irrlicht, you can write programs that will run under Linux or Windows and take advantage of OpenGL or DirectX. Irrlicht directly supports 3-D models in various formats, including Maya (.obj), COLLADA (.dae), Quake 3 levels (.bsp), Quake 2 models (.md2) and Microsoft DirectX (.X), among others. This means there are plenty of ready-made models available for download on the Internet that can be used with Irrlicht. Also, many tools are available for creating models and textures to use with Irrlicht.

When I was evaluating some other 3-D engines, I chose Irrlicht because it seemed to be the easiest to wrap my head around, while at the same time, it had all the features I wanted. Irrlicht supports both mesh-based animation as well as a skeletal animation system. With Irrlicht, materials can be layered to produce stunning effects. And most important, Irrlicht is extremely well documented with tutorials on-line as well as a very responsive on-line forum. Oh, and it's free. And, it's open source.