Wednesday, March 25, 2009

GDC 2009 Wednesday

Today was my first full day at GDC, and it was great!

I started off the morning at the keynote given by Satoru Iwata from Nintendo. After annoucing the obligatory numbers - DS has sold over 100 million units and Wii has sold 50 million units, and all market growth in the last 2 years has been driven by Nintendo - Iwata San moved on to discuss the idea of the Death Spiral vs. the Upward Spiral. The Death Spiral is a pattern that many developers get trapped in over the long run. Finacial pressures lead devs to put less time into developing their games. This causes the quality of there project to go down because they were more interested in shipping on a certain date than making a good game. Once the game is shipped, it sells poorly and so they start all over again with financial pressure. This cycle continues until the dev goes under. Instead of following this cycle, Iwata San says that Nintendo follows an upward spiral under the direction of Shigeru Miyamoto. This upward spiral begins with Miyamoto being on the constant look-out for fresh ideas, which often come from the hobbies he enjoys - gardening, spending time with the new puppy, etc. Miyamoto looks for experiences that make people happy and tries to figure out what it is about the experience that produces the enjoyment so that it can be reproduced in a game. When developing games, Miyamoto does a lot of very small prototypes that have nothing extra at all - just the core concept. The teams that create these prototypes consist of two or three memebers. They often work on these small prototypes for up to a year, searching for that small bit of fun. Once they've got something that's fun to play, the main production phase begins. It generally goes pretty smooth since the core mechanics have already been worked out and the game is already fun.

Iwata also showed off several new games that are being developed for Nintendo platforms including Rock and Roll Climber - a game that uses the Wii Fit balace board to control a rock climbing character, several Final Fantasy games, Moving Memo - a game that lets the player create an animation using flip-book style tools, and a couple of others. The keynote ended with a trailer for a new Zelda game for the DS that will be called "Zelda - Spirit Tracks."

My next session was on Morpheme - the node-based animation blend tree and state machine system. This session was great for me since I use Morpheme every day. Simon Mack, the CTO of NaturalMotion showed off the physics capabilities of the new version of Morpheme. I was especially impressed by the node that allows the tree to pick the animation that is closest to the characters current position and play that. This allows a rag doll character to get up from a random pose. Very cool idea! I also enjoyed the blending of hard and soft response to a character's collision with the environment.

My next session covered some really good methods for improving the overall look of next-gen games. The speaker covered three main points - lighting and ambient occlusion, surface detail, and graphics production tools. A lot of the talk was devoted to ambient occlusion. The speaker discussed baking the AO into the textures, generating it in the object shaders, and adding it to the scene as a post process effect. He showed that it can make a significant impact on the realism of the game. On the topic of surfaces, he talked about using detail textures or detail normal maps, and also using large scale textures. His main point here was that surfaces should look interesting when seen at all distances and all angles. For his final point, he discussed tools for generating graphics. To his credit, he said that technology has brought us to the point where the quality of the game art is now mainly determined by the talent of the artists - not the engine programmers. He said that programmers should always use their own tools to make sure that they're useful, and allow artists to do interation as fast as possible.

After a tasty lunch, I attended the Tech Artists Round Table hosted by Jeff Hanna from Volition. The tech artists discussed lots of topics ranging from what the role of the tech artist is, to what to teach students that want to become tech artists. We talked about when a tool should be scripted vs coded in C++. It was great to attend this session and meet up with several friends and make a few new ones.

My final session for the day was on AI pathfinding and the animation system. The goal was to get the two systems working together well so that the AI could make effective use of both the animation system and the path finding system to create great movement. The speakers first showed off a simple animation system that blends between walking, running, and turning. Then they discussed the process that they used to generate paths that the AI could use. When creating the paths, the system took into account the limitations of the animation system - so it was away of movement speeds, turn radius, etc. Knowing this information allowed the system to generate paths that worked well with the animation - producing quality arcs in the paths, etc.

Today has been great! I'm looking forward to dinner tonight was some old friends from Vicious Cycle and then another great day tomorrow.


Blogger ubirajara said...

Excuse me, but I don't speak english. Seu site sobre textura está muito bom. Eu vi a parede lateral de um prédio, de cerca de 10 andares, todo coberto de textura de folhas, imitando "hera" (uma plantinha que se agarra aos muros) e estava justamente procurando dicas sobre textura de folhas. Parabéns.

January 28, 2011 2:16 PM  

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