What is Helix? In a nutshell: it's a WebGL 3D engine* built in Javascript.

I didn't build it to compete with other Javascript 3D engines. Building and maintaining 3D engines is a sort of hobby of mine. It allows me to experiment much more freely than when I'm confined to an existing engine. I do occasionally use it for real projects depending on their requirements.

If you're interested in playing around with it, go ahead! Want to go straight ahead and use it in a professional project? You may want to think twice (and the risk is entirely yours). As the engine is built by me and especially for myself, you may run into some quirks and pedantries that may be confusing at first. The original code base was ported from a personal C++/DirectX project, and since then large parts of the JS version have been rewritten and remolded. Some concepts from DirectX (blend/stencil states, vertex layouts, ...) stayed in because they were simply good ideas*. If you're coming from an old-school Flash background, you may also run into approaches that are similar to the original Away3D "Broomstick" prototype that I developed back in 2010 before it became 4.0.

(DirectX 10+ is absolutely awesome, I don't care what your friendly local GL-only fanboy says)

In any case, I think it's worth making things open source. There may always be things to learn and teach doing so.

Some aspects of note:

  • The 3D engine uses a left-handed system, where X points "right", Y "up", and Z into the screen. This may be the opposite of most GL-based systems, but it allows for a consistent notion where positive Z means forward. Always.
  • The engine is built using the Entity/Component model. This means objects in the Scene are Entities that can have Components registered to them, defining modular behaviour. More information on this in the documentation.
  • Materials are strictly split up in "geometry" code and "lighting model" code. You can focus on writing uncluttered geometry code that.
  • Some aspects may or may not be supported by the device (hdr rendering). The engine will catch this automatically, but in most cases it's good to provide alternative solutions. Lack of HDR support or adaptive tone mapping may require a different lighting setup.
  • "Bones" (used in skinned animations) are always named "joints". It's more correct, and I'm a pedant. There!
  • More pedantry: adding and removing children to a scene graph node is called "attaching" and "detaching". I feel it describes more accurately what the relationship between child/parent is.

* Actually, it's built as a game engine, but only the rendering and animation engine has been implemented at this point.

Getting started

The easiest way to get started is just grabbing and including the .js files in the build folder. Take a look at examples/hello-world to see how to create a simple scene and render it (the other examples hide a lot of boilerplate code).

Some important things to note:

  • HX.init(yourDOMCanvas) needs to be called before anything else!
  • You do not need to call requestAnimationFrame. Helix handles this internally and exposes the HX.onFrame Signal. Just bind a function to it, and it will be called every frame.

With this, you're ready to explore the other examples. Easy ones to start:

  • primitive-texture
  • primitive-dir-light
  • primitives
  • env-map-equirectangular
  • ggx-lighting
  • io-md5
  • sibenik-obj
  • specular-properties


If you want to change code and re-build the project yourself? Helix's compilation process uses Node.js, npm, and gulp, so be sure to have those installed. Then, in a terminal, simply perform the following steps in the helix directory:

npm install -g gulp
npm install

This will make sure all dependencies are installed. Unless any dependencies change, you need to do this only once.

Then, to compile:


The newly built files will end up in the build folder.

If anything goes wrong, make sure you have the latest versions of Node.js and npm installed!


Helix is divided into several modules, each having their own directory in the src folder and are built to separate files to prevent optional functionality bloating your Javascript includes. Currently these are the following:

  • helix-core: the module containing the basic game engine and essential functionality.
  • helix-io: the module containing non-essential importers.