GDC Europe 2014

This year, I attended GDC Europe again. Apart from GDC I also attended Respawn, see a future post for my impressions of the talks and the event in general. Here are some notes of the talks I saw live and my impressions if they are worth watching on the vault.

Ten Questions: Am I Ready to Go Indie?
Don Daglow

Don Daglow asked several questions that every member of the audience who was interested was invited to answer for him- or herself. The questions were from many areas, pertaining to the life of an indie developer. The questions I noted were:

He broke much of the talk down to the discussion of risk tolerance and experience. The most interesting point for me was however when I explained that he thinks that “Nevergiveupness” is the ability that permeates everything: If you have it, you will continue working until some of your approaches are successful.

Watch it in the Vault? I’ll probably rewatch it!

The unusual rendering pipeline of Sigils – Battle for Raios
Dietmar Hauser | Head of Console Technology, Sproing Interactive Media GmbH

The engine of Sigils uses pre-rendered sprites, which is also the main topic of the talk.

Watch it in the Vault? If you’re working on a mobile game and consider pre-rendered graphics, yes.

The Challenge of Bringing FEZ to PlayStation Platforms
Miguel Angel Horna | Lead Programmer, BlitWorks

Fez was originally programmed using C#, and one of the major problems in bringing it to Playstation was going away from this language. The studio, working on ports in general, used a language translator to bring C# to C++. However, this process was not without hickups, and they had to change many details by hand.

Watch it in the Vault?  Watch it if you have a similar task, otherwise, might not be that useful.

Efficient Usage of Compute Shaders on Xbox One and PS4
Alexis Vaisse | Lead Programmer, Ubisoft Montpellier | Speaker

This talk was focused on the in-house technology for rendering cloth at Ubisoft. They showed a demo in the beginning of a dancer with a skirt that flowed while she whirled around. They copied her to show how many instances last-gen consoles can simulate at once. Then the talk continued into the direction of compute shaders. The basic idea is that a cloth is simulated as a network of particles. During each simulation step, the particles are simulated independently and afterwards, the network’s overall behaviour is restored. There are several pitfalls when parallelizing this, which were detailed during the talk. For example, they found that for different cloth sizes, it’s more efficient to build different versions of the shaders. Furthermore, an important aspect was to utilize the local memory of each computing unit efficiently. In the first version, the simulation dropped to 50% the speed of PS3 and XBOX360, after those optimizations they got something like 500% increase.

Watch it in the Vault? Definitely watch if you are a programmer and interested in physics.

From a Cookie to the Full Cake – Redesigning ‘Game Jam’ Games
Mattia Traverso | Game Designer, Through Games | Speaker
Alan Zucconi | Game Developer, Alan Zucconi Ltd | Speaker

This talk was part of the Independent Games Summit, and the difference really showed :-) The two guys were super enthusiastic and wanted to cram as much as they could into their slot, and there was a guy on stage (Sos, the developer of McPixel) who jammed on a game during the presentation. They had several messages. The main one was that it’s not really possible to take a game jam game and take it without adaptations to a full game. It requires re-building and re-designing in many cases, since the experience of the jam game was fine-tuned to be fit into the average attention span of a jam reviewer (=very short). In the end, the games clearly show the same idea that was behind the jam game, but in a more refined, expanded way.

Watch it in the Vault? It’s a nice energetic talk!

Don’t Juice It or Lose It
Folmer Kelly | CEO, Sets and Settings | Speaker

This talk was the antithesis to the GDC talk “Juice it or lose it”, which has been making the rounds. The original idea, in case you haven’t heard, is that one should polish an indie game with effects to go from a plain look to a more exciting look without increasing costs massively. Using tweens, using particle effects, this should be possible, was the argument. The speaker now argued that this led to a situation where many games juice it too much. For example, particle effects in platforms should suggest the underground, such as dirt. If they are also present on a rocky surface, this can break the immersion of the game. Other examples were overdone tween effects, which suggest bounciness, which might be inapproriate to materials that are stable and heavy. However, the talk didn’t have that many concrete examples, which to me, especially for an art/design-driven talk, was a bit too little.

Watch it in the Vault? Maybe

Next-Generation Mobile GPUs and Rendering Techniques
Niklas Smedberg | Senior Engine Programmer, Epic Games | Speaker

There were many talks by Epic, and I still intend to watch some of them on the vault when they come out. In this talk, they showed some aspects of the rendering pipeline for mobile in Unreal Engine 4. He renewed the common problems of mobile GPUs, which are about 10 years behind their desktop counterparts. One of the most important aspects to take into consideration is tile-based rendering, where mobile GPUs (which have to drive massive resolutions, see the retina display etc.) don’t have enough memory for the whole image and render it in tiles. This makes for example full-screen effects or techniques such as deferred rendering hard, because they need to access the whole image after it has been rendered. The added bonus is that the code he described is available as part of the normal UE4 that can be bought on a monthly basis.

Watch it in the Vault? Definitely!

Games with Freedom: Programming Procedural Generation and AI
Manuel Kerssemakers | Abbey Games

I’m very interested in procedural content generation, partly because it’s just cool, but also because it seems like a very natural extension to the topic I wrote my dissertation on, which was authoring. This talk presented the work they did on two games. In the second game, Renowned Explorers, they used PCG for the level generation. They wanted an hex-like grid, which however was not regular and perfect. The solution was to employ Voronoi diagrams.

Watch it in the Vault? Definitely! There wasn’t that much information. If you only watch one presentation on PCG, have a look at that by Joris Dormans last year
Session Name Facial Appearance Scanning Using Machine Vision
Andy Bastable | Rare Ltd.

This talk was pretty nice. They used machine vision in a sports game for Kinect 2. The idea is that they create an avatar that looks convincingly close to the real person just from looking at them using Kinect 2. They start out with an average mesh, fitting it to the face. Then, a huge combination of machine learning and hand-tuned heuristics are involved. An interesting point was that they had to be careful with some details: for example, the choice of baldness for the hair or the amount of body fat are very sensitive areas. In some cases, the algorithm errs on the side of safety by making moderate choices.

Watch it in the Vault? Informative, nice to see academic topics used successfully in games.


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