Daniel Shervheim

Particle System

A project for Dr. Stephen Guy’s class Animation and Planning in Games.

Our directive was to implement a particle system capable of handling a large number of particles in real-time.

I chose to offload the simulation and rendering components to the GPU via compute shaders. This allowed me to simulate a hundreds of thousands of particles in real-time.



  • Rectangle, circle, sphere, and cone emitters.
  • Box and sphere colliders.
  • Change a particle’s behavior over time (color, size, transparency, and speed).
  • Custom spawn rate (e.g. X particles per Y seconds).
  • Custom gravity vector.
  • Custom coefficient of restitution (with a randomize option).


I initialize the particle system on the CPU. I calculate starting positions and velocities for each particle, then upload them to the GPU.

To avoid costly CPU-GPU communication each frame, I spawn the maximum number of particles at the beginning of the simulation and upload them to the GPU before the simulation starts. I then avoid updating a percentage of the particles until the desired spawn-rate has been achieved.

I also maintain a list of sphere and box colliders on the CPU. I upload them to the GPU (either once at initialization, or each frame).

I update the particles in parallel on the GPU each frame. I also perform collision detection between each particle and all of the colliders on the GPU. This enables the particles to react to the environment. Once a particle has died, I reset its position and velocity to recycle it.

Source Code

I implemented my particle system in Unity. My particle system is completely separate from the built-in particle and physics systems.

The source code is available to download here.