Simplygon’s co-founder Martin Ekdal on PS4/Xbox One, Unreal Engine 4, DirectX 12 and the ever growing importance of LOD.
Simplygon is a automated tool that allows optimization of Level of Detail across 3D-game content. This results into increased production time and reduced development cost by automatically manual work. GamingBolt got in touch with Simplygon’s co-founder Martin Ekdal to know more about this technology and how it will evolve in the next few years. Check out his response below.
Rashid Sayed: To begin with, what can you tell us about yourself and Simplygon?
Martin Ekdal: Simplygon is the leading solution for automatic optimization of 3D game content, and Level of Detail creation. The company was started in 2006 by UlrikLindahl, martin Ekdal and KoshiHamedi and specializes optimization techniques for 3D.
Rashid Sayed: Can you let us know how Simplygon helps in developing automatic LOD creation and eases off developer time and effort?
Martin Ekdal: Simplygon replaces manual work in production, which saves tons of time (and thereby money) for the developers and publishers that license it. Normally it would take 4-8 hours to hand-optimize a game asset (such as a car) and even longer for characters, as they are usually highly detailed but also has more complex animations. With Simplygon the artists don’t have to waste their time with modifying their work, they can just focus on creating.
"SmartImprove is a computer vision system that is able to “look at” the asset before and after processing, and makes automatic decisions on how to improve the created LOD."
Rashid Sayed: Will it be possible for you to reveal what games are you guys currently working on? If not, can you let us know what is the most wanted feature that developers demand from Simplygon?
Martin Ekdal: It is always difficult to talk about current projects, we are usually bound by all sorts of NDAs. However some of the more recent releases that used Simplygon in production were Bungie’s“Destiny”;Forza 5 by Microsoft; Capcom’s “Dead Rising 3”;Lichdom: Battlemage, from Xaviant; and Insomniac’s “Sunset Overdrive” coming out this month.We are almost exclusively working with high-budget games from very well renowned developers so far.
Rashid Sayed: What can you tell us about SmartImprove? How does it automatically improve LODs?
Martin Ekdal: SmartImprove is a computer vision system that is able to “look at” the asset before and after processing, and makes automatic decisions on how to improve the created LOD. This is basically doing the same as an experienced graphics artist would do when creating LODs, and gives an unprecedented level of quality to the optimization process.
"One of our biggest tasks in this community, it seems, is to actually educate less experienced developers in the importance of optimization and using Level of Detail – and that you can do it automatically with Simplygon."
Rashid Sayed: Can you tell us briefly about the different solutions you offer namely, MaterialLOD, ProxyLOD, BoneLOD and MeshLOD?
Martin Ekdal: Briefly, MeshLOD optimizes the number of triangles in an asset, MaterialLOD reduces draw calls by combining multiple materials into one, ProxyLOD reduces draw call and triangle count by merging multiple objects, and BoneLOD reduces the skeletal complexity, which saves a lot of animation CPU cycles.
Rashid Sayed: Simplygon has integration with Unity. How do you think this will help the indie development scene?
Martin Ekdal: In a way indie development and AAA development are similar. Sure, the bigger projects have more assets, but the need to optimize for performance and platforming porting is big for indeis as well.
One of our biggest tasks in this community, it seems, is to actually educate less experienced developers in the importance of optimization and using Level of Detail – and that you can do it automatically with Simplygon. Seems a lot of times people just make their game smaller or drop stuff altogether, which is sad because it impairs the original creative vision and is often not necessary. With smart tools like Simplygon you can have your cake and eat it!
We have had the Unity integration for some time now but are currently working on a new interface to make this integration easier to work with, as well as introducing a different price model. Keep your eyes peeled! 😉
"As Simplygon is a preprocessing tool, we won’t see any direct benefits from DirectX 12. The indirect benefits are that developers will be able to push more objects, and these objects will need optimization."
Rashid Sayed: DirectX 12 will be launching next year on Xbox One and PC. What kind of potential benefits do you see Simplygon gaining from that?
Martin Ekdal: As Simplygon is a preprocessing tool, we won’t see any direct benefits from DirectX 12. The indirect benefits are that developers will be able to push more objects, and these objects will need optimization. It will change the landscape somewhat, while also adding more difference between the video consoles and PCs, with more need for optimizations on video consoles, as these are already on “budget” grade hardware, compared to high-end PCs.
Rashid Sayed: Tell us about your partnership with Epic Games. Are you guys supporting the Unreal Engine 4?
Martin Ekdal: We have a great relationship with Epic and yes we support the UE4 (as well as UE3). Simplygon is integrated into the engine/editor in such as way that a developer who wants to use Simplygon just needs a license from us, and it will “just work” without any additional integration work. Epic also uses Simplygon for their own games, which is cool.
"We are always making improvements to the system, but nothing so far that is directly related to only PS4 and Xbox One. The biggest “change” (if you can call it that) so far is that developers started using more LOD levels, as the memory increased lots and the processing power is, well, not as increased."
Rashid Sayed: I wanted to shift the focus of the interview to the new consoles i.e. PS4 and Xbox One. With the push in processing power, do you think it’s possible for your tool to create optimized models for Level of Detail without actually reducing the polygon count of 3D meshes?
Martin Ekdal: You can definitely optimize without reducing the tri-count, but you can also reduce the amount of polys in a mesh, without really affecting how it looks. For example, with ProxyLOD, you can create a new mesh that looks like the original but is empty (has no triangles) on the inside. This will essentially give you something that looks the same; but has a lot less overdraw.
Also, there are other ways of optimizing, and often the tri-count might not be the biggest obstacle – even though every machine has limitations on how many polys it can push.We can for example just optimize the materials/textures or, instead of focusing on polygon reduction, merge objects together to reduce the number of draw calls, which a lot of times is a bigger bottleneck.
Rashid Sayed: With the advent of new consoles i.e. PS4 and Xbox One, what kind of changes/modifications have you guys implemented in Simplygon?
Martin Ekdal: We are always making improvements to the system, but nothing so far that is directly related to only PS4 and Xbox One. The biggest “change” (if you can call it that) so far is that developers started using more LOD levels, as the memory increased lots and the processing power is, well, not as increased. This makes it possible to “dial in” the quality/performance ratio better, and is made possible by the automated LOD creation, where manual generation is prohibitively expensive.
Rashid Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we take off?
Martin Ekdal: Everyone in the Simplygon team love to be a part of this great industry and do what we can to make the lives easier for developers. In the end it is all about getting great games out to the players.