Saturday, April 07, 2012

Game Developers Conference 2012 - Technical summary

GDC2012 is over, and this year there are a huge number of available presentations. You can download the Game Developer Conference 2012 presentations from the GDC vault, Jare / Iguana has also kept a link collection from GDC 2012. I've looked over all the technical publications available and put together this summary post. (Edit: I've updated this to cover some maths, physics, and graphics material I missed on the first pass - thanks Johan & Eric)

I'll start with graphics.

Louis Bavoil / nVidia and Johan Andersson / DICE have a presentation on "Stable SSAO in Battlefield 3 with Selective Temporal Filtering", ambient occlusion is a well established technique now, but they apply a quick way to use past data and the differences in Z buffer states between frames to intelligently reuse the AO results. They also look at filters and optimising blur functions. Similar to established tricks in the realtime raytracing demoscene.

Eban Cook / Naughty Dog presented "Creating Flood Effects in Uncharted 3", a technical artist look at water effects. Unfortunately realtime fluid simulation wasn't used, instead Houdini was used to pre-generate the game content. An overview of the shaders for water, water particles, froth particles, and lighting is given.
Light probe interpolation

Robert Cupisz / Unity discussed light probes, "Light probe interpolation using tetrahedral tessellations", in terms of choosing the appropriate probe and weights using Delaunay Triangulation / Tetrahedrons and Barycentric Coordinates by dividing scenes into convex hulls. Also covers projecting onto the nearest convex hull, covers it all with a fair bit of maths, this would be of interest to physics / collision detection programmers too. There is a collection of nice links and some sample code at the end.

Matthijs De Smedt / Nixxes covers "Deus Ex is in the Details" using DX11 tech. Covers AA (FXAA DLAA MLAA), SSAO, DOF (Gaussian blur), tessellation and soft-shadows.

Colt McAnlis / Google investigates post-compressing DXT textures in his talk "DXT is not enough", trying to out-do zipped DXT's with delta encoding. More info at this blog post or skip it all and download the DXT CRUNCH compressor here.

Matt Swoboda / Sony & Fairlight delves into Signed Distance Fields, a demoscene hot-topic last year, with the talk "Advanced Procedural Rendering in DirectX 11". Investigates converting polgyon mesh data and particle data into signed distance fields. Takes an in-depth look into a optimised marching cubes implementation for a fluid simulation with smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH), and how to use signed distance fields to do ambient occlusion.
Physically based rendering in realtime 

Yoshiharu Gotanda / tri-Ace research makes a case for physically based rendering with a Blinn-Phong model in the presentation "Practical Physically Based Rendering in Real-time". An indepth look at the BRDF formulation they use.

Wolfgang Engel, Igor Lobanchikov and Timothy Martin / Confetti present "Dynamic Global Illumination from many Lights", just a bunch of pictures, not much information.

Carlos Gonzalez Ochoa / Naughty Dog covers "Water Technology of Uncharted". Covers the shader, animating the normal maps flow, and simulating the ocean water with Gerstner waves, b-spline waves, and wave particles. They go on to look at LOD with "Irregular Geometry Clipmaps" including fixing T joints, and then culling, skylights and underwater fog. Next physics, attaching objects (buoyant), and point queries. Finally, SPU optimization. Quite comprehensive.
Water technology of Uncharted

Ben Hanke / SlantSixGames describes the bone code in "Rigging a Resident Evil". Transforms are described with 9 functions and processed with an optimising compiler, allowing fast retargeting of animations.

Scott Kircher / Volition Inc expands on Inferred Lighting in "Lighting & Simplifying Saints Row: The Third" by looking into lighting for rain, foliage, dynamic decals, and radial ambient occlusion. Then moves on to automated mesh simplification using iterative edge contraction and takes an indepth look at selecting an appropriate error metric.

Nathan Reed / Sucker Punch Productions discusses "Ambient Occlusion Fields and Decals in Infamous 2", going into depth on how to solve the artifacts of this approach.

Marshall Robin / Naughty Dog covers the effects system tools in "Effects Techniques Used in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception".

Niklas Smedberg / Epic Games looks at PowerVR GPU processing pipeline and capabilities in "Bringing AAA graphics to mobile platforms" and provides a number of tricks'n'tips on optimising the performance of the mobile GPU, and highlights the cheap operations. In short: AA (fast), hidden surface removal (fast), alpha test (slow), render targets (slow), texture lookups (slow). Takes a more detailed look at material shaders, god rays, and character shadows. All in all, pretend its ~2002, and you'll be right.

Mickael Gilabert / Ubisoft and Nikolay Stefanov / Massive cover the GI system in Far Cry 3 in "Deferred Radiance Transfer Volumes". Light probes get precomputed directional radiance transfer data from a custom raytracer stored using spherical harmonics. Source code for the relighting system is presented, along with optimisations by using volume textures.

John McDonald / nVidia explains CPU/GPU synching for buffers in "Don’t Throw it all Away: Efficient Buffer Management" and provides advice on buffer creation flags.

Bryan Dudash / nVidia suggests using average normals to overcome tesselation issues in "My Tessellation Has Cracks!".
Mastering DX11 with Unity

Renaldas Zioma / Unity and Simon Green / nVidia present "Mastering DirectX 11 with Unity". Starts by looking into Unity's physically based shaders (Oren-Nayar, Cook-Torrance, and energy conservation, then blurry reflections and combining normal maps). Next up, Catmull-Clark Subdivision, tetrahedra light probes (See Robert Cupisz's talk), HBAO, APEX destruction, Hair simulation with guide hairs, Explosions using signed distance fields with noise and color gradients,and finally velocity buffer motion blur.

Tobias Persson / Bitsquid discusses lighting billboards in "Practical Particle Lighting". Looks at normal generation and per-pixel lighting for billboards (including code snippets), applying shadow maps with a domain shader, and shadow casting

Karl Hillesland / AMD investigates realtime Ptex (per-face texture mapping) in "Ptex and Vector Displacement in AMD Demos", and efficient retrieval from the texture atlas, including all MIPs.

Jay McKee / AMD presents the "Technology Behind AMD’s
Leo Demo". He details some of the code behind the forward rendering of 3000 dynamic light sources using a depth pre-pass, light culling (tile-based compute shader to output light list), and light accumulation with materials phase. Basically moves the light management code from CPU to GPU.
Terrain in Battlefield 3

Mattias Widmark / DICE presents "Terrain in Battlefield 3: A modern, complete and scalable system". Begins with an overview of the features for the terrain system (heightfield based, procedurally generated, spline decals, decoration (tree,rock,grass), destruction, water), and presents their quadtree terrain data structure, paying particular attention to LOD. Next, CPU/GPU performance is investigated, and a clip-map based virtual texture system is presented. The large terrain data set is managed by intelligently streaming data to the required detail ('blurriness'), and co-locating data (heighfield/color/mask lumped together, next to the next level of relevant LOD data), which is also compressed (RLE/DXT1). Nodes are then prioritized based on distance, culling, and updates (e.g. destruction). Finally, mesh generation, stitching and tessellation with displacement on the GPU.

Moving on to physics.

Erin Catto covers "Diablo 3 Ragdolls", including representing ragdoll bones, initialising ragdolls from animations, and interacting kinematic and dynamic objects.

François Antoine / Epic talks about Gears of Wars 3 destruction physics in "Pushing for Large Scale Destruction FX" and suggests using particles for dust and debrie, and simplifying meshes for destruction.

Stephen Frye / EA looks at ragdolls in the presentation "Tackling Physics". Highlights aspects of ragdolls that look unrealistic, and suggests adding joint limits and motorized constraints at joints to simulate muscles. Gives two approaches to solving the control problem, first using external forces, second calculating the appropriate torque from world space.

Graham Rhodes / Applied Research Associates presents "Computational Geometry" where he looks at half-edge data structures for triangulating a polygon, splitting a face, splitting an edge, intersection of an edge and a plane and generating a convex hull.

Richard Tonge / nVidia covers "Solving Rigid Body Contacts" and starts with a gentle introduction to rigid body state space and progressively builds a signal-block-diagram of solving a single contact restraint. Then looks at each block in the diagram and deciphers the physics behind it. He then looks at solving multiple contacts, and explains why you can't apply a linear solver to the problem (contacts break), and presents the LCP, and an alternative approach; sequential impulses. He then gives a whirlwind tour of GPU solvers.

Gino van den Bergen / DTECTA presents "Collision Detection", first covering shapes, then configuration space, distance tests, Seperating Axis Tests, and takes a closer look at the GJK algorithm.

Jim Van Verth / Insomniac gives a nice introduction to Navier Stokes in "Fluid Techniques", breaking down the terms for external forces, viscocity, advection and pressure visually. Then looks at three major representations for fluids, grid, particle and surface (wave) based.

Takahiro Harada / AMD examines how heterogeneous compute architectures can achieve large scale dynamic simulations in "Toward A Large Scale Simulation". Begins with an overview of GPU architecture, and GPU rigid body simulation in three key phases: broad-phase, narrow-phase and constraint solving for a system of 128,000 particles and 12,000 convex bodies. He presents a design for overcoming data transfer and minimising synchronisation points whilst dividing the workload between CPU and GPU.

Erwin Coumans / AMD investigates destructive physics in the aptly titled "Destruction". He begins with generating voroni diagrams for shattering geometry and boolean operations, and moves into generating collision shapes with convex decomposition and tetrahedralization. Then moves on to realtime approaches with real-time booleans and breakable constraints and finite element

Looking at AI.

Bobby Anguelov / IO Interactive, Gabriel Leblanc / Eidos-Montréal and Shawn Harris / Big Huge Games present "Animation-Driven Locomotion For Smoother Navigation". They start with the standard motion graphs and transitioning/blending between animation cycles. Then take an indepth look at footstep planning (IK, Foot sliding) and come up with a system for deciding where steps should be taken to fulfil the navigation goal. They then investigate modifying navigation paths to better fit the animation cycles, and finish by looking into collision avoidance.

Daniel Brewer / Digital Extremes looks at agent perception, reaction, combat chatter, buddy systems and collision avoidance using velocity space Optimal Reciprocal Collision Avoidance in "Building Better Baddies".

Brian Magerko / Georgia Tech covers "How to Teach Game AI from Scratch" including competitions (Mario AI, Google Ants, Poker AI, Starcraft AI).

Dave Mark / Intrinsic and Kevin Dill / Lockheed Martin investigate some examples (snipers, guards) of Utility-Based AI in "Embracing The Dark Art of Mathematical Modeling in Game AI".

Kasper Fauerby / IO Interactive explains "Crowds in Hitman:Absolution" including cell maps, boids, animation and PS3 implementation details. The crowd AI uses a state machine with steering behaviours (pending walk, walk, panic), and behaviour 'zones' with information from the navigation system to select behaviours. Near-optimal Character Animation with Continuous Control was used for animation.

Elan Ruskin / Valve looks at empowering writers and dialog in TF2, Left4Dead, etc, in "Rule Databases for Contextual Dialog and Game Logic". Begins with player triggered lines (extended by environment, memory etc.) and avoiding fill-in-the-blank dialog by using databases. Rules, queries, responses and writers tools are examined next, and ties things off with database query optimisations.

Mike Robbins / Gas Powered Games examines "Neural Networks in Supreme Commander 2", with 34 inputs and 15 output actions and a single hidden layer (98 neurons), with a fitness function composed from 17 inputs trained to control combat platoons.

Ben Sunshine-Hill / Havok investigates LOD for AI in "Perceptually Driven Simulation", and makes a case for using probability of noticing a difference instead of distance as a LOD measure, and presents a market-based "LOD trader" for selecting the appropriate LOD given the constraints on hand.

Moving along to programming and math.

Adisak Pochanayon / Netherrealm covers debugging and timing issues in "Runtime CPU Spike Detection using Manual and Compiler-Automated Instrumentation". First up, manual instrumentation and wrapper functions, Then detours, and automated instrumentation (compiler flags) with an indepth look at the 360. Finally, profiling with threshold functions.

Pete Isensee / Microsoft details how rvalue in C++11 (T&&) can eliminate temporaries in "Faster C++: Move Construction and Perfect Forwarding".

Scott Selfon / Microsoft reviews audio compression technologies in "The State of Ady0 Cmprshn", starting with time-domain compression with PCM (raw, A-Law, U-Law, ADPCM), then frequency-domain compression and discusses the artifacts generated by both, then evaluates the performance of different codecs.

Robin Green / Microsoft and Manny Ko / Dreamworks present "Frames, Quadratures and Global Illumination: New Math for Games". Beings with a review of spherical harmonics, Haar wavelets, and Radial basis functions. Builds up to 'Spherical Needlet' wavelets, by exploring different basis functions ('frames')

Gino van den Bergen / DTECTA presents dual-numbers in "Math for Game Programmers: Dual Numbers", beginning with a look at complex numbers. Automatic differentiation with dual numbers is then described, with code, and examined in curve tangents, directed line geometry (triangle/ray intersections, plucker coordinates, angles), and rigid body transforms/skinning (dual quaternions).

Jim Van Verth / Insomniac explains rotation formats in "Understanding Rotations", including angle (2d) Euler angles, Axis-angle, Matrix (2d/3d), complex (2d) and Quaternion (3d). Interpolation is considered for each case (including slerp).

Eric Lengyel / Terathon presents exterior (Grassmann) algebra in "Fundamentals of Grassmann Algebra". This includes the wedge product, bivectors, trivectors and multivectors. Moves on to cross product transforms, dual-basis 'anti-vectors', regressive 'antiwedge' product, and demonstrates how these can be used in homogeneous and plucker coordinate systems. This leads on to basic intersections (line, plane, point) and distances (point plane, two lines) and finally ray-triangle intersection using bivectors to avoid barycentric coordinates.

Squirrel Eiserloh / TrueThought presents "Interpolation and Splines". Takes us back to basics by looking at averaging and blending, and moves onto interpolation. Begins with quadratic and cubic Bézier curves, then moves into splines and discusses continuity. Cubic Hermite splines are up next, and how to convert between Bézier and Hermite, then Catmull-Rom splines and finishes with the more general Caridnal splines.

John O’Brien / Insomniac covers "Math for Gameplay / AI". Starts with object intersection tests (sphere-sphere, sphere-plane, AABB-AABB, AABB-ray, capsules-capsule, capsule-ray) and projecting onto a plane in a gun turrent AI example. Next up, Bayes' Theorem and conditional probability, followed by fuzzy logic.

The Web up next

Corey Clark and Daniel Montgomery present "Building a Multi-threaded Web-Based Game Engine" covering both client side (WebGL, WebSockets, etc) and server side (NodeJS, Hosting, etc).

Michael Weilbacher / Microsoft looks at server issues in "Dedicated Servers in Gears of War 3".

Michael Goddard "Developing a Javascript Game Engine"
using component based architecture. Takes an indepth look at events/promises and loading content.

Mike Dailly / YoYo investigates packing textures and command list execution for improving performance in "The Voodoo Art of Dynamic WebGL".

Marc O’Morain / Swrve takes a look at a number of issues (including iOS multitouch) in "Building Browser Based Games Using HTML5".

And rounding up everything else

Caruso Daniel explains the "Forza Motorsport Pipeline". Importing assets into the game.

GuayvJean-Francois investigates sound diffraction and absorption in "Real-time sound propagation".

Mike Lewis presents the challenges of multithreading for MMOs "Managing the Masses".

Sean Ahern looks at building better game engine tools in "It stinks and I don't like it"

Clara Fernández-Vara, Jesper Juul, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin make a case that "Game Education Needs Game History"

Chris Jurney presents his idea "Motion Blobs", a fast and crude kinect data "gesture" system, essentially an extension of the typical 2D approach to 3D. Steps are to calculate motion via background subtraction, filtering (open/close), labeling, and then correlation.

Alexander Lucas explains automated testing at Bioware in "The Automation Trap And How Bioware Engineers Quality"

Alex Mejia looks at camera movement in "Saints Row : The Third real time capture tools".

Scott Philips presents "Designing Over the Top SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD Postmortem", and highlights the importance of pre-visualization and playtesting.

Ron Pieket / Insomniac looks at eliminating downtime in "Developing Imperfect Software" via a 'Structured Binary' approach to building engine data by taking advantage of a Data Definition Language.

Benson Russell takes a look at Naughty Dog's approach to polish in "The last 10, going from good to awesome", in essence longer alpha and beta tests.

Luke Muscat takes a look at the lessons learnt while updating Fruit Ninja in "Iterating Design And Fighting Fires: Updating Fruit Ninja And Jetpack Joyride"

Tatyana Dyshlova talks about managing 300+ artists working on 500 car models in "Racing to the Finish"

Quite a collection this year, but overall seems to be less exciting content than previous years. For graphics, it seems that signed distance fields and physically based rendering is the new theme, AI is still playing catchup and character animation cycles are still a hot topic, following that theme, physics is also looking at characters and ragdolls, with destruction being the hot topic, and the web is focusing on WebGL.

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