Wednesday, March 07, 2007

GDC07 - Wednesday

In keeping with last year's tradition, I decided to go ahead and make a blog entry for each day of GDC this year. Today was my first full day of the show and I saw some pretty neat things. Maybe some of this will be interesting or helpful.

I started out the day with breakfast at Mel's Diner. It had a really great 60's atmosphere and good breakfast too. I'm planning to go there tomorrow as well.

My first actual conference event was a talk by Mattias Worch of Factor 5. He spoke on the process of creating normal maps for Lair. One idea that I really like from his talk was the fact that he uses a hand-held scanner to capture height map data. Then he processes that data into brick textures in Photoshop and takes the final refined height map into Zbrush to create a normal map from it. To more closely tie this normal map to the color map that he creates seperately, he takes the blue channel of the normal map and multiplies it in with the color map - and it turns out being kinda like adding ambient occlusion. Neat idea. I wish I had a hand-held scanner. :O)

After that I worked at the Vicious Engine booth for a couple of hours, helping to tell people about my company's game engine. That was fun. I got to talk to all kinds of people about our tools. They're pretty easy to talk about since they're so powerful and since I've been using the engine for the last five years it's not very hard to just start telling people about it. I even got interviewed on camera for a new broadcast. Kinda fun!

Next I attended a talk by Raymond Stewart at Volition about the artist-driven shader tool that he's developing. It was a very technical talk focused mainly on Ray's method for building a single Maxscripted material that handles all of the parameters for all possible shaders, and remembers the parameter settings even if the particular shader no longer calls for that parameter. Pretty fancy. The tool is able to very easily pass on its artist-tuned parameter set to the game engine. Some of the talk was over my head since I haven't created any Maxscripted materials yet, but I was able to see the value of having a tool like that that really manages the shader settings well.

When the talk was over, I went to lunch with Ray and another tech artist at Volition. They talked quite a bit at lunch about the tools that they were developing to ease the process of game creation. I wish that my company had a real tech artist position and that I could spend all of my time developing tools instead of being responsible for generating art assets. I feel like I could make some real contributions to helping smooth out the pipeline hiccups if I could focus on it.

Next I attended a talk on Facial Rigging by Judd Simantov from Naughty Dog. Just like last year, Judd totally blew me away with his ability to create powerful tools. His facial rigging system is based on using a set of bones to drive the face with an occasional morph target thrown in to help achieve difficult shapes. His system allows you to store sets of bone positions so you build up a library of facial poses and then you're able to blend between them to get the animation you're looking for. It's a really powerful system that even has a bit of muscle simulation and procedurally generated jiggle thrown in on top.

My last session of the day was about the environments created for Crytek's Crysis game. Their art is really amazing and the guy presenting the talk did a really nice job of presenting it in an interesting way. It talked a lot about how when you're making a realistic environment, you have to follow real world rules about spacing things out, putting buffer space around buildings and roads, and making things feel lived-in. He also talked a bit about lighting, their breakable object system, and creating terrain. Overall and really interesting presentation.

I ended the day back at the company booth for a final hour of talking about our game engine. Then I got together with several others from Vicious Cycle to go out for Chinese. We went to an excellent restaurant in Chinatown called "The Empress of China." It was a really nice evening.


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