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Notes from Digital Dragons, Cracow 2014

Digital Dragons is a growing event that connects game developers, academia and business. This year there are over 800 participants!. I was very happy to see people not only from Poland, but from other European (and even more distant) countries as well.
Digitial Dragons logo
official logo from digitaldragons.pl

Digital Dragons conference is organized was organized in Cracow for the third time. I had no chance to be there in the first two years, but fortunately I managed to appear there this year! See my short info from the first day.

About

The conference is a growing event that connects game developers, academia and business. This year there are over 800 participants!. I was very happy to see people not only from Poland, but from other European (and even more distant) countries as well. For all the people in Cracow's gamedev this is a great chance to meet, find opportunities and simply have fun... all because of the game industry :)

See the intro video at Vimeo

Sessions

Below you can find a quick and subjective summary of the talks I've been at:

Day one:

  • Marek Ziemak, 11 Bit Studio - "Scheduling – black magic used by experience producers to deliver finished games with great metacritic score"
    • Not my topic, but the presentations was done well and even I could understand it.
    • A collection of tips about starting your new game project: Vision Document, Kano Model
    • How to make your game distinguishable from others and not forget about the basics (like save system :))
    • People will kill you if do not provide the solid base and will very appreciate it if you give them something unique.
  • Leszek Godlewski - "One year of porting: post mortem of two Linux/SteamOS launches"
    • The presentation already available here at Slideshare and his website
    • Problems and possible solutions with handling Linux distros and Unreal Engine 3 game.
    • On UT3 you can only use old OpenGL 2.1. For instance this makes shader usage quite complicated and ineffective. Shader linkage is cumbersome: makes loading long and even causes stalls in the rest of application. Separate shader objects would help, but not in this version of the engine.
    • Quite geeky presentation but it was nice to see it.
  • Wojciech Pazdur, The Farm 51 - "Get Even: The real world versus the virtual world - how to make a game about it."
    • Amazing presentation about using 3D scans of environment and various objects in the real game.
    • trailer here and the site
    • 3D scanning is nothing new, but it was not used much in games. Now, as usually, thanks to growing power of the hardware, we can take advantage of it.
    • Taking scans seems to be quite easy (although sometimes dangerous :)). On the other hand the postprocessing and actual placing in the game can be hard.
    • Farm 51 seems to be setting new standards in this area and they gather valuable know-how.
  • Julian Gollop, Indie developer - Gooey blobs and chryssalids-milestones in my 32 year career in gamedevelopment"
    • Story of a 32 year career in game development from a veteran
    • Currently he is developing Chaos Reborn - after a successful KickStarter campaign
  • Michał Madej, Ubisoft Shanghai - "Challenges of designing multiplayer games"
    • Design choices and problems with multiplayer for End War Online
    • Why is match making so difficult and there is no simple solution for that.
    • How to create a "flow" for players.
    • I thought it is a simple problem, but apparently this makes your multiplayer game actually playable.
  • Adrian Chmielarz, The Astronauts - "Holy grail of narrative games or how to to tell a story through gameplay"
    • Another great talk, this time about creating stories in games.
    • Adrian now works on VANISHING OF ETHAN CARTER . The game looks amazing.
    • He believes that games have even more power to tell stories than books and movies.
    • Why core idea is so important and how to build gameplay around it.
    • The trinity: Engagement, Immersion and Presence.
  • Benjamin Glatzel, Deck13 Interactive - "Volumetric lightning for many lights in Lords of the Fallen"
    • Description of the volumetric lighting system used in the game.
    • The game - Lords of the Fallen - made by CI Games and Deck13
    • Slides full of math and little font for shader code :)
    • Old methods like: light shafts as postprocessing or bilboards are not effective and give a lot of artifacts. Developers wanted to find some better solution.
    • basic idea: Raymarch in light space + optimizations + deferred renderer.
    • Optimizations involve rendering in quarter of resolution, interleaved sapling (using 8x8 tiles), upsampling and bilateral filtering. Additionally they implemented temporar reprojection.
    • Performance: around 0.7... 0.85ms + 0.3ms for temporar reprojection (if I heard correctly)
    • Interesting thing: for some effect those light shafts (+3D noise texture) can effectively replace particle effects.
    • Presentation here: bglatzel.movingblocks.net/publications/

Day two:

  • Ivan Beily, Marmalade - "Cross-platform, the only way to develop for mobile"
    • Marmelade is quite new to me, but it is actually "old" an framework: started in 1998. Basically it is C++ middle layer that enables you to create multiplatform solution with only one code base.
    • The unique thing is that they do not provide their own set of APIs but implement CRT and Posix layer. That way you can use "fopen" in all the supported platforms! Of course including support for third-party libraries.
    • Another point is that you need to compile to different hardware (arm, x86), but you can use the same binary on different platforms! Marmelade can embed your binary into a Launcher layer. That way user can for instance deploy from Windows to iOS.
    • Marmelade opens for Indie world. It is good to have more such solutions on the market.
    • After the talk there was a discussion about what advantage you get over QT5. Obviously when you start using QT you are bound to their crossplatform API. But with Marmelade you can use existing CRT code only... quite curious.
  • Tomasz Gop, CI Games - "SELL OUT: How to present a game."
    • Wonderful presentation about making presentations :)
    • Tomasz gave some valuable tips on how to present your game (interactively). How to focus on the main part of the game, how to help people connecting the dots... All assuming you believe you have the best game :)
    • He has already make something like 500 to 1000 similar talks. A lot can be learnt from him, I think.
    • In the end, after solving some problems with PC, there was a presentation of Lords of the Fallen.

I waited especially for three programming talks - of course related to graphics dev:

  • Philip Hammer, Deck13 Interactive - "The rendering technology of Lords of the Fallen"
    • Another presentation about Lords of the Fallen. This game got quite a huge promotion.
    • In the first day there was a talk about volumetric light system for the game. This time we could hear about general solution in the engine.
    • The company has their own engine called `Fledge'. Bases on Deferred renderer (they test Tile based deferred techniques at the moment).
    • Currently the engine is capable of all the basic things plus + volumetric lights, deferred particles, transparent shadows. All looks very impressive.
    • PBR will not be implemented in the game because of dev pipeline cost (for the upcoming game only).
    • Interesting thing is that it appears they have more problems with XBoxOne than Ps4. XBox is a bit slower, especially when we consider memory bandwidth. I thought, since the hardware vendor is the same for both consoles (AMD), development will be much easier. Apparently some differences are inevitable.
  • Bartłomiej Wroński, Ubisoft Montreal - "Rendering of Assasin's Creed 4-lightening, materials and atmosphere effects"
    • presentation here at his site
    • Bartek talked about problems and solutions in AC4: game that runs on the current and the next generation of consoles. Basically they needed to push the limits with the current gen and do not use full power of next gen. Game contains sparse areas: large outdoor scenes plus dense cities and lots of water around.
    • The team managed to run their GI solution in around 1ms and use only 1MB of mem on the GPU.
    • Both the offline code (used in tools) and realtime (in game) is totally GPU driven. Additionally when used in tools it needs only several minutes to recalculate the whole GI for the scene.
    • New method used (and invented): Deferred Normalized Irradiance Probes
    • They have amazing SuperSampling SSAO solution.
    • Another effects like: dynamic ripples on the water pools, wet materials, GPU rain drops with screen space collision.
    • All described very well and with lots of demos, videos.
  • Michał Drobot, Ubisoft Montreal - "Low level optimization for AMD GCN GPU architecture"
    • Crazy talk about internals of the GCN architecture!
    • I am waiting for slides from Michal to at least try to understand basic parts on my own :) Already here: michaldrobot.com/publications/
    • GCN is a very important platform for the developers. It is available on PC, XBoxOne and Ps4. That means it will stay for a long time with us. If you make a simple 2D game it will not matter. Although when you want to push the limits the knowledge will be the key factor here.
    • The architecture gives a lot of new possibilities that was possible on x86: full Integer support (playing with bits), IEEE non safe mode for floating point (VOP3). Plus new one: VSkip, unified code for image sampling.
    • Michal showed some amazing tricks that boosted performance in various aspects of the engine.
    • How to remove Geometry Shader and use triangle information in a pixel shader.
    • How to boost your software rasterization code
    • Help with transcendential functions.
    • There was even an advanced version of Carmack Inverse Square Root!.

Sumup

I am definitely thinking about coming to the conference next year! I hope there will be even more people and more amazing talks.

Orginally posted at www.bfilipek.com

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