Simplygon Automagic 3D Optimization | Behind the Game
You have probably seen Simplygon in action at some point, not that you would have noticed.
Simplygon is a powerful 3D-optimisation tool, designed by the Swedish-based company Donya Labs AB to make high-detail games run smoothly. It has been used for major PS3 games such as Resident Evil: Raccoon City and Dark Souls, and it has even been used by Blizzard.
The team at Donya Labs AB go about their business mostly unnoticed, but along with a diverse number of outsourced companies (such as the likes of Side), they play a valuable role in the development process by saving developers valuable time and money.
In this Behind the Game feature, Martin Ekdal, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, explains what Simplygon is and how it works.
[PS3 Attitude] Most of our readers are unlikely to have heard of Simplygon. Can you explain what you do?
[Martin Ekdal] You are probably right!
First you need to look at how the developer produces the game. A very important aspect in making a great-looking game, while also making it run as smoothly as possible, is optimization. One of the common things you can do for that is something called Level of Detail or “LODing”. This basically means that the further away from the player that an object (an enemy solider, tank, tree, or mountain range) gets, the less details (the nose on a humanoid, rivets on a tank, each individual tiny branch on a tree, etc.) can be seen, and consequently those details can be removed. Removing details makes it easier for the hardware to render the scene and you gain a performance boost. So, close to the player you have highly detailed objects and further away you switch them out for less detailed “stand-in” models. These models are commonly called LODs. Simplygon is specialized software that automatically creates all the LODS that will be in the game.
[PS3A] Why would a developer come to you instead of keeping the work in house?
[ME] Because we are experts and we can help them make the game faster and cheaper. If you calculate the cost of manually producing “LOD” models at four hours per “LOD chain”; the amount of art assets that goes into the finished game at around 1000; and the cost per hour at 25USD, then doing this work manually will take 4,000 hours and cost 100,000 USD. With Simplygon you can do it a fraction of that time and much cheaper. Most games we work with have a lot more objects. Of course, an important aspect of why they come to us is also that Simplygon is really the only piece of tech that can do this at the speed and quality required by developers today.
[PS3A] Where would we have seen your technology in action?
[ME] As it is mostly a very efficient production tool, it is not noticed in the finished game that much. However, Simplygon has been licensed by well-renowned game-industry players such as Blizzard, Capcom, 2K and many more. A lot of our customers are big players in the MMO space and many games that utilize Simplygon (especially console games) has not been released or even announced yet, so I cannot talk about them. However, a couple of console titles we have helped out on are Resident Evil: Raccoon City and Dark Souls.
[PS3A] How many people typically work on a project?
[ME] At our company we are fully focused on our product. We are not project-based ourselves; our staff is committed full-time to developing Simplygon and supporting our customers. Sometimes, we get more deeply involved with a customer’s build pipeline when there are specific issues to address or when a greater deal of integration is necessary.
[PS3A] How has the technology evolved over the years?
[ME] By communicating with our customers and people evaluating Simplygon we continuously improve the product. Over the years we have gone from being able to work only with simpler meshes to more advanced models, now Simplygon handles fully animated characters of any size and complexity and can optimize both geometry and textures as well as animation data. Focus has always been on raising the quality; after all, it is supposed to be indistinguishable from an artist’s manual work. Over the years we have also managed to speed up the process significantly.
[PS3A] What challenges do you face in the light of the next generation of consoles?
[ME] The thing most people might think about would be “OK, now the next-gen consoles will be so powerful and the developers will not need to optimize as much”, and while that might be true to some degree, developers will always want their game to look the best and will try to fill it with as much cool stuff as possible. Hence, there will still be a need for what we do. Working with our customers and partners to see in what directions we should take our development will of course be crucial. They are the experts on game development, we focus on our niche.
[PS3A] What was a favourite project of yours, and why?
[ME] For example, a lot of the guys here were excited when we signed with Blizzard. I mean, we are all gamers and that something you have invented is able to help guys like that out with their game is awesome.