GDC 2015 Preview

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Platform(s) Previewed PS4 XboxOne PC PS3 Xbox360 iOS/Android/App Development
Next week commences one of the highlights of my year and I am sure many of you with the Games Developers Conference kicking off. Here we get to learn about the blood, sweat, tears and brains behind some of the biggest, most impressive games that have launched or yet to. Secrets behind the techniques of these games how they improve maximise and share the knowledge is not only a commendable side of the industry but also one of its most interesting and intriguing.

In preparation for a bunch of videos/articles I will cover on this over the next few weeks along with my upcoming Head 2 Heads. I wanted to just inform you on only a very small selection of attendees here that are confirmed to give us a glimpse behind the engines that power these games.

With proceedings kicking off on March 2nd and running until Friday the 6th it will be awash with information over-load so the possibility of me bringing, condensing & informing all of that is nigh on impossible instead I will bring sections of talks and as much relevant information as possible from the teams at the conference. I am sorry to say I am unable to attend myself but access to a lot of the information from these is available online.

Kicking the show off on Monday is a DirectX 12 talk on Visual Effects from AMD and Nvidia (I know in the same room as well!). With this being aimed at Graphics Programmers in the industry this will certainly be full of in-depth Tech detail aimed at explaining the benefits of GPU programming along with the CPU overhead reduction that DX12 will bring to PC and XboxOne. With the full suite of DX12 benefits and certainly hardware features still a little fuzzy these talks along with more over the week will help focus this information so that we finally get a clear idea on the entire package. Along with this Nvidia, AMD and Microsoft have their own separate talks on what Dx12 will bring overall and to each Hardware platform.

AMD will have a talk covering its GCN technology that operates in its range of Discreet PC GPU’s and APU’s along with powering both big consoles. Here they will talk about the benefits the ACE manager that its latest Hawaii R9 cards & consoles bring with multiple job management for asynchronous compute work, DMA to reduce bottlenecks along with empowering developers with new techniques, it will also come with live demos. VR talk from AMD also leads to the thought that Project Morpheus which will also have its own talk here has had some input from AMD on the project with real world AAA examples given. Tiled deferred rendering get a talk from them along with Forward+ rendering that powered both Forza Horizon 2 AND most recently the sumptuous The Order 1886 with this engine offering up the best of both deferred and forward rendering that remove the limit of dynamic lights in games, this should be a cracker. Also of interest is AMD advance on its great TressFX tech that was revealed in the Tomb Raider reboot and updated in the console Definitive edition, now they are moving up to level 3.0 that will most likely be in use in Rise of the Tomb Raider and the new Deus Ex games from Eidos where they will talk about the use of it in the game to power hair, fur within the rendering pipeline including a Maya plugin. Should be great along with seeing some info the new Deus Ex Universe projects.

Nvidia have a few talks like AMD that will cover its GameWorks black Box PC library that adds some features to games like FarCry4, Watchdogs, and Batman etc. It will also have a talk on its latest Maxwell architecture of cards and what features they bring to games. Along with this it also has more talks on its Shield mobile device along with its new push for GPU improved VR Direct tech that will help power Oculus Rift and any other VR device even using SLI, a talk on its PhysX powered fluid simulation along with it view on tiled resource use and ray-traced shadows in addition to a talk on Nvidia’s plan on a dynamic GI solution with its VXGI technology. Lots of info to come from team green at the event.

Unity (not the Ubisoft game but the popular cross-platform game engine) will be present with a talk on its adoption of the soon to be paradigm PBR rendering shift along with its DX12 process, Global Illumination with real-time Probes leveraging GPU resource for computation.

With Phil Spencer having a talk on the future of gaming across the windows Ecosystem, which will cover both PC and XboxOne. With the cross-launch and play DX12 powered Fable Legends also being announced as a F2P title this will also get a session on it and the tech that powers the PC to Console playing field that should be very interesting indeed. There are many talks on Windows 10 and Dx12 from various sections so expect this entire veil to soon be lifted when the week is out.

But DX12 is not the only High Level game API making its presence known at GDC with glNext having its own moment in the spotlight with Frostbite coding brain Johan Andersson from EA along with Valve who will use glnext for is SteamOS and will include other Dev’s from within the industry. GlNext is a direct competitor for DX12 and aims to deliver the same or more performance improvements that DX12 will bring. With onstage demos of its use, improvement most likely against DX12 it is an API that could expand very well dependant on its showing here and could also influence parts of what Sony do with its own API on PS4 GNM along with its higher level wrapper GNMX, it should be a good week for insight into where things are headed.

Also in attendance is Alistair Brown talking about the crowd funded Star Citizen and more specifically the single player companion Squadron 42. This will gain us some insight in the techniques behind a (as yet DX11-12 cross over) PC game. The information will centre on the rendering tech in the game from volumetric lighting for gases, smoke trails including gas-clouds that expand for miles within the world. It will also give us some information on the games damage and shield system which handles the impact and damage from various weapons. All in it should be an insightful look at a game that has still not had too much public showing as yet, looking forward to it.

Insomniac Games also have a few talks with a great one talking about adopting SIMD use in its Sunset Overdrive game and how they handwrote parts of the engine to squeeze performance out of the engine with tips and tricks learnt on SSE, AVX.

Ready At Dawn are also present fresh from the launch of The Order 1886 and showing of another of its ground breaking innovations on their hand built engine Animation. With the game using the exact same assets in cinematics as gameplay they needed a better way to blend motion from each. Here they will talk about the advances they made in Real-time animation that add to the Pre-rendered look of the game as much as the visuals, check out more of the game here and this is a talk I hope will shed more light on such an impressive start for RaD in the AAA space.

Oculus Rift AKA Facebook are also here to demonstrate the hardware and the SDK needed to make games on the soon to be released VR tech expect a good set of demo’s here and some developers names attached to games that will come. As yet I am not sure if Tech Lead and programming legend John Carmack is present but hopefully he will get some air time. Sony will also have a session dedicated to its push into VR with the Morpheus on PS4 and update where they are with Developers.

But this is only the tip of what it on at GDC, Sony WWS have a talk on Motion Capture and how it is taking over the gaming world along with talks on the PS4 SDK and Debugging and optimization tools for the platform in addition to a Unity section on getting smaller teams making games on PS4. The needs of great story development are covered from MP as seen in AC:Unity to single player encompassing stories like The Order 1886. From Virtual Texturing used in FarCry 4 which was needed to deliver a seamless open-world at high quality texels to the fast iteration and compiling of its code across hundreds of concurrent users it really has a talk for everything, even AC Unity gets a update on its physics system along with its novel GPU driven draw submission system for Unity dense city and characters. Sound design in games including delivering dynamic music, driven by player action in Indie games. To 3rd party middle-ware solution in Quantum Break with Umbra that performs Shadow caster culling, 3D path finding and audio propagation among others that helped power Advanced Warfare, Rime and The Witcher 3.

Naughty dog also are in attendance with Lead programmer Christian Gyrling that brought the Built for PS3 ND engine over to the PS4 with the impressive TLOU 1080/60 port in less than 12 months and now being used to create the latest adventure of Nathan Drake. Christian is well versed in Multi-Threaded hardware and here he will cover the Fibre based job system they used to get the 60fps from TLOU and it still the target for Uncharted 4, this should be a great talk.

Overall there is something for everyone no matter what platform, game or discipline of coding, design or tech you are interested in, even animating woman is now no longer too hard thanks to GDC. Please come back next week as I will get the latest news, information that comes out of the show at only the level you can get here.