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I'm interested in starting some physics simulations and I'm getting hung up on the visualization side of things. I have lots of resources for reading how to implement the simulation itself but I'd rather not learn two things at once - the simulation part and a new complex visualization API.

Are there any high-level visualization tools that are language independent? I understand that I'll have to learn some new code for visualization but I'd like to start at a high level, OpenGL is my long-term goal and not my prototype goal.

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Just to clarify, are you talking about using a Physics engine to create a simulation or creating the physics from scratch and a Visualiser to use with your code? – Ray Dey Jan 2 '11 at 20:03
Physics from scratch. Though if it only exists in combination with an engine, that would be interesting to know. – Nick Jan 2 '11 at 20:08

Everybody mentions polygonal renderers. If your visualisation is going to be volumetric (smoke, fluids) or vector or something else you should consider VTK - Visualization Toolkit

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If you don't have a lot of preexiting code you might want to consider Unity.

Some benefits:

  • Probably the easiest "drop in a primitive shape in an editor and attach some functionality to it" engine I know of.
  • Has the ability to allow you to recompile code at run time for tweaking purposes (this breaks if you do certain things, but assuming you don't design yourself into a corner and rely on something that has known issues this could be very useful)
  • Can write scripts in either C#, "Unityscript" (which is a variant of Javascript), or Boo (which is a lot like Python), so while it isn't language independent at all, you could probably find a language you're comfortable with.
  • Can use .NET DLLs, so ostensibly you could write some underlying code in F# or maybe even C++/CLI
  • Super cross platform.
  • Don't have to know any graphics code, and everything is very visual in the editor
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Havok and PhysX both come with Visual Debuggers. They're relatively simple to use in your code.

As far as I know, I haven't seen any generic visualizers, simply because it's impossible to know how you're designing and implementing your physics classes, what integrators you're using, what units you're using, etc, etc.

Havok and PhysX are both free to use now, so I'd probably recommended using them.

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up vote 0 down vote accepted

While not language independent, I found that pygame was a simple solution that contained most of the functionality I needed. Python in its most basic form is fairly easy to use (or learn) and hooking some basic python up to some visuals on a screen is done very easily with pygame.

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