Brad Wardell has seen a fairly illustrious life. On top of developing AI and various mechanics for real time strategy games, Wardell has served as the CEO of Stardock Entertainment. His latest game – Ashes of the Singularity – will look to redefine the RTS genre by embodying a world war at play. This doesn’t mean just hundreds of units but literally thousands of soldiers scurrying about the screen.
GamingBolt had a chance to speak to Wardell about Ashes of the Singularity along with various other topics like DirectX 12, how well the RTS benefits from the API and whether it scales across numerous systems.
"The big thing here is that Nitrous has what you call an Asynchronous Scheduler. In a normal engine, like pretty much every engine that's been released, commands that are going to be sent to your graphics card are serialized."
Kurtis Simpson: At GDC, you guys announced Ashes of the Singularity, which plans to redefine what people think about large strategy games. Can you please share more details about it?
Brad Wardell: The idea behind Ashes of the Singularity is to do a real time strategy game that takes place across the world. So if you think of every RTS you’ve played in the past you’re fighting individual and maybe hundreds of units in the world or even on a single map. What we want to do with Ashes of the Singularity is to have a RTS in which players clearly see that this is a world war, with thousands and thousands of units that are fighting it out on screen.
I realise that some people will worry about controlling all those units and the way we approach that is through this Meta unit concept, which is where individual units can be controlled, if you want to, but it gets a little unmanageable at a certain point. The interface makes it really trivial to combine these units together where they work as an army. Now the player is acting as General commanding armies to go do their thing while the units are taking care of all the grunt work.
Kurtis Simpson: The demo at GDC was extremely impressive with over 5500 units with each of them having their own light source. What can you say about the kind of changes you did in the Nitrous Engine to support this level of rendering?
Brad Wardell: The big thing here is that Nitrous has what you call an Asynchronous Scheduler. In a normal engine, like pretty much every engine that’s been released, commands that are going to be sent to your graphics card are serialized. You send them to the scheduler, it serializes them up, and they go one at a time. What we’ve managed to do with Nitrous is that it’s done in parallel. So it’s Asynchronous, every single core on your CPU can talk to your graphics card at the same time.
If we were running on a single-core machine we wouldn’t be any better, the performance of Ashes…We couldn’t do it. It would be the same as any of the RTS’ that have came out in the past but now a days since we’ require at least a four-core CPU, which most people have. Unless you’re running a laptop some people only have two but pretty much most people have four or more, you get literally four times improvement in performance.
Kurtis Simpson: Is this due to the benefits of DX12?
Brad Wardell: DX12, Mantle and Vulkan make it really practical, so even under DirectX11 we’re doing a lot of crazy stuff with all the cores but the problem with DirectX 11 is that even with our scheduler, DirectX11 still serializes up a lot of our commands so we lose a lot of benefits. Not all of it but you know, a substantial amount, so we have to turn down a lot of our cool effects. But we’re still able to do thousands of units on-screen at once, we just can’t show them at quite the same glory. On DirectX 12 though they get out of our way entirely and we can have complete control of the GPU.
Kurtis Simpson: I see. DirectX12, it looks to bring some really important and really cool things to the table.
Brad Wardell: It’s too bad that Microsoft and others have kind of spent their goodwill with past DirectX releases and now that Microsoft’s releasing something genuinely revolutionary people are like “Ye, ye, we’ve heard this before”. And one of the reasons why I’ve been so vocal about it is this…DirectX 12 really is different than anything we’ve ever seen before.
Kurtis Simpson: Talking more about the game itself the demo was being shown on the game’s smallest map. Does this mean the larger areas of the game will have even more units on the screens?
Brad Wardell: The map we had running at the show had 7700 hundred units. When you get to bigger maps you’re talking 15-20,000 units potentially. The larger maps are designed primarily for people who are playing it with a group of friends. If they’re playing multiplayer that could take place over days or weeks.
Kurtis Simpson: That’s really impressive. From your own testing what’s the maximum number of units you’ve been able to push on-screen at once?
Brad Wardell: Oh well, a lot. I actually don’t know, we haven’t really played with it. We’ve only got to the point where the art assets are at a level where they would be comparable to something you would have on screen. Even like six weeks ago, the unit’s art wasn’t sophisticated enough, it was meaningless. Their art was so primitive whereas only in the last few weeks we’ve got to the point where it’s started to get pretty sophisticated, but we’ve easily got it to over 20,000 units without a hiccup. So you’re talking a couple orders of magnitude higher than any other RTS. These are actual individual units with their own guns, their own minds, and their own everything!
Though I should clarify one thing because I’ve read what people are talking about what games they like, games like Total War and Supreme Commander which are outstanding games. But what they’re doing is that their actual numbers of units are far less and they are using instancing which are that they’re really just the same units being mirrored on the screen. Whereas In Ashes of Singularity, these are actual individual units with their own guns, their own minds, and their own everything! It’s not that it’s better or worse, it’s just that it’s different because the hardware capabilities are so much more now.
"One of things are the light sources, we have real light! You know your typical PC game or even a console game might have four or eight light sources. On DirectX11 we'll have four, maybe eight real light sources. But on DirectX 12 we can have thousands of light sources."
Kurtis Simpson: Speaking on hardware, the game clearly scales well across modern CPUs and hardware. But how well does it fair on CPUs from say three to four years ago?
Brad Wardell: Ironically at the Microsoft booth at the show [GDC], it was running on the worst DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 performance you could get, because they’re running on the fastest CPU they could get. And DirectX 12 actually shows up better on a slower machine that has lots of cores, so if you are running on a Intel Core-i5 with say four cores, it would destroy a DirectX 11 machine running on the highest-end hardware you can get.
Kurtis Simpson: So the performance of the same hardware is doubling if not tripling you would say?
Brad Wardell: Every core makes a huge difference. I think most people realise this but it hasn’t really been simplified in such a way that’s put in black and white so to speak. It’s that your video cards for years have been monsters, I think most people realise that for a while the video cards have been quite a bit more powerful than the CPUs themselves. That’s why you get this high end card and it sounds like a there’s a jet engine in your machine.
Kurtis Simpson: So it’s all down to the scaling.
Brad Wardell: Exactly. If I have one core that does let’s say a speed of one, I am still better off with four cores at the speed of four.
Kurtis Simpson: Is Ashes of the Singularity CPU-intensive in anyway, in terms of how well the Nitrous Engine renders the game? Or is it more GPU-bound?
Brad Wardell: Yes, we’ll max out all your cores if we can. We try to do as much as we can regardless if you are running a slow CPU or a fast CPU we try to maximise every core.
Kurtis Simpson: Ashes of the Singularity is going to run on DX12 although not exclusively. What kind of benefits will the DX12 version have over DX11 version more specifically?
Brad Wardell: One of things are the light sources, we have real light! You know your typical PC game or even a console game might have four or eight light sources. On DirectX11 we’ll have four, maybe eight real light sources. But on DirectX 12 we can have thousands of light sources. And that has a very subtle impact on how real the game looks, and I don’t mean real as in real life but you know, even if you watch a CGI movie like Toy Story they don’t look like videogames right. You look at, what’s a recent Pixar movie? You look at it and you know it’s not real because it’s their style but it definitely doesn’t look like a videogame.
Then you look at a video game and you go “There’s something video-gamey about it” and what it is that it’s mostly about how they’re rendered on the screen, about how they’re lit so to speak. How motion and depth-of-field are handled, and what games do although this gets too technical but everything on games these days is done through deferred rendering. Whereas in movies they’re done using what’s called object-space rendering, which is what we’re doing. So on DirectX11 we have to disable some of those effects like some of the true depth-of-field, some of the temporal anti-aliasing, and some of the things that make the world feel a little more…again not realistic as if you think you’re looking out of a window but more tangible.
Kurtis Simpson: More natural-looking would you say?
Brad Wardell: Yeah, I don’t know the right word to describe it, like if you’re watching an animated movie you know, it looks more real even though it’s clearly not.
Kurtis Simpson: Exaggerated-realism.
Brad Wardell: Yes, there’s something more tangible when I’m watching a movie like say even Big Hero 6.
Kurtis Simpson: Perfect example. Ashes of the Singularity, are there any plans to do an open Beta for the game? Furthermore do you have a release window?
Brad Wardell: Yes we’re planning to start going into early-access in the summer, probably somewhere mid-July. One of the things we’ve learned from Off World Trading Company which has got really good responses, is that we’re way better off having these Betas come out when they’re really more mature, but still give them plenty of time for user feedback. You know we don’t want people to get into this and then the game doesn’t even play. We want them to sit down and fully be able to play the game and be able to fully give us feedback on what they don’t like about the game, what they do like about the game, and things they would like to see change and that kind of thing.
"You know when those 5K monitors come out this year and a lot of people aren't even thinking about this yet but here's an easy sell-point right, you're not going to be running high-end games on DirectX11 on 4K or 5K monitors, you just can't do it."
Kurtis Simpson: With DX12 you’ve spoken on the potential of achieving movie-like quality in videogames. How fast do you think DX12 will become the norm when it launches later this year?
Brad Wardell: I think there will be a lot of pressure to get by consumers to get on it because you saw the demo of Ashes, and that’s a Pre-Alpha. Our art team did not want it shown yet because they didn’t think it was pretty enough, and even then it was something people haven’t seen before. So if you can imagine what it’s going to look like when it’s done or when the first games come out using really huge budgets with DirectX12. It’s just such a night and day difference.
Kurtis Simpson: I mean you say the art team wasn’t happy about what was being shown, but was has been shown is really impressive. So when the game comes out and DirectX12 really takes off, when things with the game are finalised it’s going to blow things out off the water.
Brad Wardell: Half of the ships were not textured, there were no trees or any other interesting things on the map and you know the lighting wasn’t in and the shadows. No one had seen a 4K game with thousands of units on-screen at once, DirectX11 couldn’t even attempt that.
Here you would have people walk in and although we were running on Mantle the same applies to DirectX12, there it is, a 4K game. No one had seen a 4K game with thousands of units on-screen at once, DirectX11 couldn’t, DirectX11 couldn’t even attempt that you couldn’t do it.
You know when those 5K monitors come out this year and a lot of people aren’t even thinking about this yet but here’s an easy sell-point right, you’re not going to be running high-end games on DirectX11 on 4K or 5K monitors, you just can’t do it.
Kurtis Simpson: As of right now it would seem like brute-force with graphic cards, I mean that seems to be the only plausible way right now with 4K.
Brad Wardell: Well I mean it is brute-force but you can’t even feed the graphics cards with DirectX11 or 9 fast enough. I could take a ten year old game or a five year old game even and run them at 4K, but if you want to do a modern production game with that sophistication running at 4K, you can’t do that running on DirectX11. There just isn’t the bandwidth between the CPU and the GPU because you’re just having one core talk to the graphics card.
Kurtis Simpson: DirectX11 is like a bottleneck that’s overstayed its welcome.
Brad Wardell: Yes and Microsoft’s pushing hard, Windows 10 is free to everyone who has Windows 7 and based on the Steam hardware survey most of the people have video cards that will upgrade to DirectX12. So it’s not like people have to, I mean the operating system’s free so it’s not like people have to buy new hardware. There’s already going to be a market, it’s not going to be like when Microsoft foolishly made DirectX10 Windows Vista only and then you had to get a new video card and then. They’ve learned their lesson.
Kurtis Simpson: That’s how it would seem. Staying on the topic of DirectX12 according to the majority of our previous interviews with other developers regarding the Xbox One, it seems like it already has a low-level API that’s similar to DX12. Do you think that DirectX12 will improve the Xbox One’s hardware that much given that it’s static, unlike the PC?
Brad Wardell: It won’t have the same impact. There are a couple of things that are important in DirectX1 2 for Xbox One developers though. First of all Xbox performance is completely the result of the eSRAM feature and there isn’t a true or false thing with regards to one using eSRAM. You could use it well or you could use it poorly or somewhere in-between, and their API which is the current DirectX11 extension for the Xbox is really crappy for dealing with the eSRAM. That has resulted in what’s called Resolution Gate.
I’ve never heard Microsoft just come out and, I mean they should just really come out and explain to people why they’re having problems getting games to run at 1080p. But maybe they don’t think their users will understand, basically it has to do with developers aren’t making effective use of the eSRAM API. So in DirectX12 they actually threw it away, they threw away the crappy one in DirectX11 and they’re replacing it with a new one. So that’s pretty huge.
They also released a new tool, it’s this optimization tool that will actually algorithmically try to come up with an optimization for the developer. So instead of the developer trying to hand set-up what uses eSRAM, they have their own app to try and do as much of it for them as they can. Third, DirectX11 still serializes stuff from the developer to the GPU. It is low-level but the fact is as low-level as it, it’s still serializing a lot of GPU calls. So it won’t be anywhere near…you won’t get the benefit on Xbox One that you’re getting on the PC.
It’s completely different but you are going to get a substantial benefit. The part I think that users will care about is that it should address the resolution stuff for most people. That’s what I think is the most glaring thing that people are upset about. But it won’t do anything magically. The developers still have to use it, it’s not like your old games will magically be faster.
"Now maybe in Unity or Unreal, one of the other guys will write their engines in such a way so that they make the most use of it, but that's going to take time. Whereas if they use something like Vulkan, it's not as low-level as their API, but Vulkan has the advantage that it's really easy to write for it."
Kurtis Simpson: So a lot of it is all on the developers and how they use it.
Brad Wardell: I mean that’s the thing I like about being able to make a prediction, is that something that’s on a visual medium like this is that we’ll be able to revisit this discussion a year from now and it will be pretty obvious. You’ll see the games that run on DirectX 12 and you’ll be able to compare them with games that run on DirectX11 on the Xbox One and you’ll be like ‘Oh, yeah there’s quite a difference’.
Kurtis Simpson: With games such as Ryse: Son of Rome which looked pretty impressive when the Xbox One first launched over a year ago, it’s pretty difficult to imagine how much more the games will improve, given it looks that good already.
Brad Wardell: With the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One they’re not even remotely scratching the surface for what people can do and there’s still…I mean on the PlayStation 4 and their low-level API, they’re all still very…they’re like written for last-gen but updated for this gen. I wouldn’t say they’re completely native yet, I mean they are native but you know these words all get misused, but this gen’s graphics are still very far behind where they’re going to be.
Kurtis Simpson: That’s something for people to look forward too then.
Brad Wardell: Yeah they’re not even scratching the surface.
Kurtis Simpson: With the public perception of Xbox One and since the announcement of DirectX12 and its impact on the Xbox One, Microsoft has seemed pretty silent. They appear to have taken a silent approach as to how DirectX12 will affect the Xbox One. What are your thoughts on this as to why they’re so silent? Whereas other people and developers such as you have been quite outspoken about its benefits and what kind of impact it’s going to have.
Brad Wardell: With the Xbox One we’re being pretty speculative right because there isn’t a game that’s using DirectX 12 on the console at this point in time, so I can’t even do a side by side comparison. Whereas on the PC we have Ashes of the Singularity. It is a game that’s been optimized for DirectX 11 and updated for DirectX 12, and you can run them side by side on the same hardware and get a 70% boost on DirectX 12 over DirectX 11.
So it’s pretty easy for me to say yes you’ll get a huge impact on PC, but on the console it’s all a theory. They have nothing, they don’t even know. I mean I’ve talked to the development team there on this subject for a while and it basically boils down to, we don’t know how much of an effect it will have because so much of it is in the hands of the developer.
Kurtis Simpson: Right I see. One of the interesting features of DX12 which was showcased at GDC was ExecuteIndirect which allows multiple draw calls with a single API call. Do you see the developers using this functionality to improve performance on the Xbox One?
Brad Wardell: That I couldn’t say. I mean you could argue that comes in to the bundles feature. My guys at Oxide they’re not too keen on bundles themselves. So I don’t know, I don’t feel comfortable to say yes or no on that. I’m not familiar with that enough to speak on it.
Kurtis Simpson: Okay that’s perfectly fine. Not too long ago you tweeted that PS4 owners will have something to look forward as well. As far as a lot of people know, Sony is pretty secretive regarding their API technology. What kind of information could you share regarding the PS4’s API and how rapidly it will progress in the upcoming months?
Brad Wardell: What I was referencing at the time was Vulkan. We’re part of the Khronos Group and now it depends who you talk to at Sony and this gets in to a debate. Sony has a very low-level API already for the PlayStation 4. The problem I have with it is that if you want to make use for it you’re writing some very specific code just for the PlayStation 4. And in the real world people don’t do that right. I write code generally to be as cross-platform as I can.
Now maybe in Unity or Unreal, one of the other guys will write their engines in such a way so that they make the most use of it, but that’s going to take time. Whereas if they use something like Vulkan, it’s not as low-level as their API, but Vulkan has the advantage that it’s really easy to write for it. So you’re more likely to get developers to code to that and get more games on to Sony then you would otherwise.
"Yes, because DirectX12 is such a game changer for everyone. So first of all everyone's going to use that for Xbox One. What will be interesting to see with Vulkan is that every hardware vendor is going to support DirectX12. Now the question will be how quickly Nvidia and Intel will support Vulkan and at what level."
Kurtis Simpson: Right. So as everyone more or less knows the PS4 has better hardware than the Xbox One due to its GDDR5 Ram architecture. Having said that do you think the DDR3 in the Xbox One is somewhat compensated enough by its fast eSRAM?
Brad Wardell: That depends on who you talk to. In my personal opinion the eSRAM does not quite make up for it but it makes it really close. The real problem is that the Xbox One only has 12 what you would call cores on their GPU and I think the PlayStation 4 has around 18. The hardware on the PlayStation 4 in my opinion is better than the hardware on the Xbox One.
So you end up in an impractical manner with games that are going to be of a similar capability. I’d rather write for Windows, as an example I’d rather write for Windows than Micro Controller (laughs) or something where I have to know things that are a little less standard or a little more arcane. Of course what’s arcane is always a matter of where you’re sitting though. As a Windows developer I find the Xbox One more familiar to me, whereas if you’re a Linux developer you might find the PlayStation 4 a little more familiar. That’s just an example.
Kurtis Simpson: Speaking more on the eSRAM itself, it’s considered to be the major cause behind the resolution gate on the Xbox One. Do you think DX12 can help remedy the resolution issue for the Xbox One?
Brad Wardell: Yeah, it should do, because in DirectX11 it’s really a pain to make good use of the eSRAM. Whereas supposedly in DirectX12 and this is all theory, I haven’t used it myself but the new API is supposed to make it a lot easier to optimize your use of the eSRAM memory.
Kurtis Simpson: Okay because it sounds like, when you think about it now it sounds like it was built specifically DX12 and not DX11.
Brad Wardell: The API is there for me to use as a tool for the piece of hardware. And the one that was in DirectX11 was not easy, it was a very trial and error process to make use of the eSRAM. In DirectX12 they’ve tried to make it easier to make use with and the easier it is to use, the more likely you’re going to get developers who optimize for it correctly.
Kurtis Simpson: Right, well switching topics just briefly over to Mantle and Vulkan. Many people are claiming that Mantle is dead in the water now due to Vulkan. What are your thoughts to this? Do you think Mantle’s dead and that Vulkan and DX12 are the next big thing? Or is there more to Mantle still being adopted?
Brad Wardell: Vulkan, literally is a derivative of Mantle. So in terms of whether AMD will long-term continue a separately commanded Mantle API is something that remains to be seen. I think they’re certainly going to continue for the near-term, we’re going to continue to support it. The thing is if I’m writing for Vulkan, I’m also writing for Mantle effectively. I think there’s a lot of confusion on that, I don’t think people realise where Vulkan came from. I think they imagine “Oh! It’s OpenGL” but has a different architecture.
Kurtis Simpson: Do you think Sony may drop its own custom API and switch completely to Mantle for the PS4 in response to DirectX 12 on Xbox One?
Brad Wardell: No, because their low-level API is still lower level than Mantle and Vulkan. So what I’m hoping is that they will support Vulkan.
Kurtis Simpson: So there’s no real benefits would you say? And that’s its best they stick with their own custom API?
Brad Wardell: Let’s say I write a game for the Steam Box and the PlayStation 4 supports Vulkan, the Steam Box supports Vulkan. It wouldn’t be that much more work for me to have my game work on the PlayStation 4. Whereas right now if I want to develop the game for the PlayStation 4, I have to learn their special custom API, that has shader languages that are different than what I’m used to, and I’m pretty sure that I have to send stuff in text instead of binary form.
I hate OpenGL (laughs). They’re old, their current one is just archaic. I don’t want to have to learn that, my brain is already full of OS2 and Linux crap, I don’t want to learn yet another short-term API. If I can just learn Vulkan then I can get to a lot of platforms, I don’t want to have to learn Sony’s special API, even if I would gain a few frames-per-second in doing so.
Kurtis Simpson: One of the reasons why DirectX has been able to stay relevant all these years is that Microsoft has invested in the API’s research and development. Having said that, with Vulkan do you think they’ll still be able to sustain that level with DX12?
Brad Wardell: Yes, because DirectX12 is such a game changer for everyone. So first of all everyone’s going to use that for Xbox One. What will be interesting to see with Vulkan is that every hardware vendor is going to support DirectX12. Now the question will be how quickly Nvidia and Intel will support Vulkan and at what level. What we’re going to see is that in the next few years we’re going to see a lot of benchmarking wars.
Because you’re going to see a lot of games coming out with both Vulkan and DirectX12 support, it’s going to be a lot like the old days. You load up Quake and you can play in OpenGL (laugh) and DirectX, and then there will be demos and benchmarks you can look up to.
"Every time I see screenshots of Ashes, I wince. Because it's harder to take a screenshot of something in movement like that because everything's a little blurred. We are going to have to come up with a screenshot-mode. It’s easy with a normal game because every frame is a discreet frame."
Kurtis Simpson: Most definitely. Moving back to the Xbox One, Microsoft have made bold claims about using the Cloud with the Xbox One. Do you think it’s a possibility that the console’s processing power can be increased especially with DX12?
Brad Wardell: That is a…yes and a no. I don’t want to weasel out on that because there are specific cases where yes you can. Microsoft just needs to make a case. I don’t want it to be my job to make the case, but let me give you a few examples of where it would come in to play, since to my knowledge Microsoft has not actually put out any examples.
Procedurally Generated Terrain is one of the most expensive things that you could do. You do not need to do it in real-time but it takes a heck of a lot of CPU power. Let’s give you an example, let’s say I’m playing a role playing game and I want a really sophisticated, we’re talking next Elder Scrolls game. This is obviously not, I have no idea what they’re doing but it’s just an example of a game that might use something like this. And I want to have incredibly sophisticated terrain that is going to support rivers and streams, forests and mountains, and I want it to be very detailed.
Now I don’t need to procedurally generate all that stuff on the fly, and you’re going to need to have to procedurally generate it. With that amount of detail you can’t have some map editor guy with some art tools, making stuff like you used to. You’re going to procedurally generate it to give it that level of detail. Your machine is not going to be powerful enough, certainly not the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4 or even most PCs.
They’re not powerful enough to generate that sort of thing easily to that detail. You could put that in the Cloud, and the results of that procedural generation will be sent back over to your Xbox One, so you could get these amazing scenes without any loading screens. Remember the old days we used to have “Loading next area of the game”? This sort of thing could prevent that kind of stuff.
Kurtis Simpson: I’m rather sceptical of the Cloud myself. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have shown much since the Xbox One’s launch.
Brad Wardell: Microsoft needs to make the case for it, I mean that’s the thing they blew with the Kinect. I could tell you how it could be used, how I would use it if I were Microsoft and I had the money. But I’m not Microsoft and I don’t have the money to do something that sophisticated.
But I can tell you like in Ashes of the Singularity, our terrain in that game is procedurally generated. We we’re able to do that by having the GPU procedurally generate the terrain, otherwise it would take hours (laughs). But it sure would be handy if I had Microsoft’s resources to toss all that procedural generation in to the cloud.
Kurtis Simpson: Most definitely. With Ashes of the singularity only being announced for the PC will it be coming to the consoles?
Brad Wardell: We don’t know, I don’t want to do any sacrifices on the game itself to support other platforms. We’ve seen strategy games try to do that in the past and they end up kind of gimped. We are looking at porting Nitrous Engine to the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One in the future.
Kurtis Simpson: Just to wrap things up on DirectX12. Do you think the graphics difference between the PS4 and Xbox One will become trivial, as DX12 is adopted by more developers as time goes on?
Brad Wardell: Yeah. I mean to the people who are really hardcore they’re always going to find a difference in it, to the average person they’re not going to notice a difference. That’s why when I see these people battling on Twitter about, even as is, I understand the differences but I can’t really tell much difference between the two.
Kurtis Simpson: Earlier on we were talking about the movie-like qualities, the differences between games and movies and such. I recall you in an interview with TIC podcast (The Inner Circle), and you were speaking on rendering a scene from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
Brad Wardell: Right and we’re doing that right now. Ashes of the Singularity as is, in its Alpha, is running more sophisticated scenes that would you’ve seen in The Phantom Menace. I mean let me give you an example, did you watch that final battle of the Gungans versus the Battle Droid? Those explosions don’t even cast light. I mean their explosions are basically glorified cartoons.
Because you knew even at the time it was CGI you just couldn’t explain why and because it didn’t have real light sources, and we’re able to do that right now on today’s hardware, you know on a much smaller budget and on a Pre-Alpha. What will have to happen is that you’re going to have stop these 3D-engines doing this deferred-rendering stuff and move to an object-space model, setup. Basically the way CGI does stuff.
Kurtis Simpson: Yeah, watching that scene now and thinking on the topics you’ve just mentioned, all that stuff becomes a lot clearer and stands out as such. But back then when you first see it, it really is impressive and you say you’re able to do something that’s more sophisticated in Ashes of the Singularity. It’s massive step-up even though it was all those years back.
Brad Wardell: And you know what’s ironic? Every time I see screenshots of Ashes, I wince. Because it’s harder to take a screenshot of something in movement like that because everything’s a little blurred. We are going to have to come up with a screenshot-mode. It’s easy with a normal game because every frame is a discreet frame. Where as in Ashes because things move with temporal anti-aliasing it’s always a little blurred as it’s actually moving. You know it’s like taking a snap-shot off a movie.
"I don't know my skeptical side says it's a fad but we have an Oculus Rift, we've played around with it and if they can just nail down some of the visual experience issues, we should be able to be done in time. I think there's going to be types of games for it, I don't want to play a current style game with it."
Kurtis Simpson: Yeah it would appear that it’s best seen in motion. Just to end this on an off-topic question, what are your thoughts on Virtual Reality and Valve’s VR headset? Do you think it’s going to be widely adopted?
Brad Wardell: I’m pretty excited about it! It doesn’t really apply to our type of game so I don’t know as a developer, I’m not sure on how I would use it yet, but as a player I’m very excited for it. I’m hoping…I would love to see them do Half-Life 3 for it, that’ll get me to buy it.
Kurtis Simpson: Is it confirmed? Is that Half-Life3 confirmed?
Brad Wardell: Oh no (laughs) I would have no idea. I mean that’s the dream right? If we could make it true by just by saying that then I would absolutely say, yes.
Kurtis Simpson: Well I’m taking that as a confirmation and it’s going on Twitter very soon. So VR, it’s not going to be fad would you say? It’s not going to be 3D. Do you think it could replace people’s TV screens?
Brad Wardell: I don’t know my skeptical side says it’s a fad but we have an Oculus Rift, we’ve played around with it and if they can just nail down some of the visual experience issues, we should be able to be done in time. I think there’s going to be types of games for it, I don’t want to play a current style game with it. I can see someone making a new type of game that we can’t currently think of, but someone will make it. It just needs a Killer-App, the question is whether someone will make a Killer-App.
Kurtis Simpson: That’s what it seems to boil down as people have been looking at primarily for first-person-horrors and first-person-shooter. But first-person-shooters specifically don’t seem to be an ideal match due to the control scheme and the headset. You’re not actually moving anywhere so it seems to contradict it.
Brad Wardell: I’m not sure. I’m not creative enough to think on how they’ll do that. The thing that makes Valve’s VR very interesting to me is the fact that it does recognize, it does track real-world space. So you could be walking around and if you do come up to a real-world object it will kind of show up in your virtual world.
Which is potentially interacting with your real world and interacting with the actual game itself. I can’t think of examples yet. It’s kind of like Kinect, the question is whether VR will end up like it. Not so much like 3D but as much as Kinect, where you go “Oh! It just needs a Killer-App but what is it I don’t know!”
Kurtis Simpson: Hopefully not. Kinect seemed like one big lie; although it had potential it died.
Brad Wardell: Yea, they sacrificed a lot for the Kinect. You’d think they’ll have Killer-App that shipped with the Xbox One.
Kurtis Simpson: Thanks so much Brad it’s been great talking to you on DirectX12 and Ashes of the Singularity. I’m really looking forward to it.
Brad Wardell: It’s great talking to you also and thank you.