17 juil. 2008

Paris GDC'08 - Conference Coverage (Matt Hoper)

This is a preview of a GameDev.Net article which is available here

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Matt Hoper
From DOOM to RAGE: Megatextures, Pushing Artistic Boundaries

There is one thing that you can’t say id Software is: they are not followers. From their inception to their latest achievement, they stretched the technology boundaries. Of course, pushing the limits of technology also has a counterpart: you also have to improve your art pipeline accordingly. This was the subject of Matt Hoper’s talk.

Beware techies: we discuss art and game design here, not technology. If you want more technical information about mega-textures from a code point of view, this was not the good session (I heard a few programmers at the conference who were a bit disappointed when they realized this).

Once he had introduced his talk, Matt showed us two game trailers. The first one was the now classical Doom 3 trailer. This was the occasion for our host to share some bits of the game design process of Doom 3 with us. First observation: the frontier between game design and art is moving as worlds get more and more detailed. Three years ago, a designer at id was responsible for creating 95% of the game space. According to him, artists were basically reduced to making good-looking textures and models. When you increase the visual fidelity, the role of the artists becomes more prevalent: if you want to get stunning art, you’d better let artist do it – as opposed to game designers. That’s what happened at id Software when they began to work with mega-textures.

Then came the trailer of their upcoming title – Rage. For this game, the design team and the art team worked together. For example, the design team put together the basis of a racetrack level, decideed what part of the world that cannot be touched by the artists yet, and fed the artist with the information. Once they get it, the artists are basically free to do whatever they want to populate the world. So they design textures, redo the modeling of some part of the world (id Tech 5 have may ways to help in this case; more on this later) and so on. As Matt said, they can go crazy about the world. This wouldn’t be possible with the Doom 3 engine – at least, not at the same level. But id Tech 5 allows the artists to draw the world without being limited by details such as the size of textures. They can achieve pixel accuracy without worrying too much on the technical issues. No texture tiling, no visible pattern – every pixel can be modified independently of each other pixel in the scene.

You’d say that this is very good for outdoor scenes (where the idea of a mega-texture feels natural), but what about indoor scenes? Well, the same techology is applied successfully – this is probably the biggest selling point of the technology. And when I say the same technology, I really mean the same technology. You no longer have to deal with different indoor and outdoor behaviors. Everything works the same - everywhere. Matt showed us a few indoor examples – in a sort of before/after presentation. The “before” part is already very good. Then comes the artist and the game editor. The “after” part is then completely outstanding: details everywhere, subtle effects and so on (unfortunately, I don’t have any shot to show you – sorry for the inconvenience).

There are important points here: the first one is that indoor scenes are still built using usual technologies, so artists and game designers don’t have to learn a new way of work. The second point is that if you ever try to change every pixel by hand, you’re going to die before you’ll have finished a single scene. To help, the it5 editor implements stamps that allow you to stamp a texture onto another one, or (using 3D brushes) to stamp the geometry itself. Stamping makes the editor easy to use.

Mega-textures are really big. You can zoom in for a few second before seing any texture detail. id Software made them work on arbitrary geometry and by doing so they managed to create a whole new experience.

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