Friday, July 28, 2006

PS3Land Interviews Fantasy Lab.

Fantasy Lab is one of the newest next gen development studios bringing to life an engine with the power of Global Illumination and amazing displaced subdivision surfaces technologies for the PS3. Recently had a chance to talk with Michael Bunnell, the President of Fantasy Lab. Here is what we discussed: PS3Land: How long has Fantasy Lab been around? Fantasy Lab was founded about a year ago. PS3Land: How long has the Fantasy Engine been in the works? The Fantasy Engine was begun when the company was founded a year ago. PS3Land: What will the Fantasy Engine include? Anything new that has not been seen in any other game engine besides Global Illumination? I think our combination of subdivision surfaces with displacement mapping is unique. It lets us render very complex geometry in a realistic way from any viewpoint. Computer graphics is about creating an illusion. If you see an object up close and it is obvious that it is rendered with normal-mapped polygons then you lose the illusion. Thereafter the viewer knows that the object is just some normal-mapped polygons and it no longer seems as real. PS3Land: I hear you currently have a PS3 title in the works. Now I understand releasing details on the title are strict, but will it be PS3 exclusive or are there any details you are allowed to provide? Yes, we are working on a PS3 title, but we are not providing any more information other than it will have an “E” rating. PS3Land: Global Illumination, what is it? Global Illumination is a method of lighting geometry in computer graphics in which the light that reaches a surface is calculated using both direct light from light sources and indirect reflecting off other surfaces. The result is more realistic and natural looking images. Global illumination complex to compute since light can come from any surface in the virtual world, and any surface can occlude (block) light. PS3Land: What makes Global Illumination any better than the shading techniques developers are using for todays games? Are there any noticable differences? The most noticeable difference between global illumination renders and typical lighting techniques used for games is the diffuse inter-reflections. It allows for soft, natural-looking lighting that makes images look realistic and objects really “pop” no matter what materials are rendered. As I see it there are three alternatives to global illumination.One approach is to use point and directional lights only and ignore inter-reflections. The result is harsh, unnatural lighting as in the Doom 3 engine. Another approach is to use lots of area lights. This is the approach taken by Pixar in many of there earlier films and Dreamworks in the movie Shrek. The results can look very good as long as the area lights are properly shadowed. However, it requires placing a lot of lights, and area lights take a lot more computation power to use than point lights, so this technique is not used for real-time applications. Dreamworks added a bounce of indirect lighting in Shrek 2 so they did not need to place so many lights. New films, like Monster House, are using full global illumination. A third approach is environment lighting, using environment maps or spherical harmonic lighting. Environment lighting is a natural choice for real-time rendering since its predecessor, environment mapping, has been used for years to render shiny materials in real-time. However, diffuse materials need self-shadowing or they look flat and seem to glow in all the wrong places (like in the Jimmy Neutron TV show). Calculating the shadowing (and ideally, diffuse inter-reflections) requires basically the same amount of work as global illumination and is often computed using the same techniques. Therefore, environment lighting is typically only used for real-time applications if radiance transfer information is pre-computed, which is only practical for static scenes. Another problem with environment lighting is that it is only correct at a single point. It takes a lot of environment maps rendered at different locations (or groups of spherical harmonic coefficients computed from different locations) to properly render objects in a complex scene or game level. Note that all the environment lighting information needs to be re-computed each frame for dynamic environments. PS3Land: How will the PS3 be able to handle something like GI? We are well aware that conventional methods for computing global illumination can take hours for typical scenes, even on hardware as powerful as the PS3. However, our technique is extremely efficient and ideal for running on parallel computing hardware. The PS3 is plenty powerful enough to render complex scenes in real-time with global illumination using our technique. PS3Land: Any personal comments about the Cell processor or RSX graphics Card? I love the Cell processor. The SPUs are ideal for running our global illumination code, which can also run on the RSX. Having both Cell and RSX gives us a lot of power and flexibility. PS3Land: Will Fantasy Lab license the Fantasy Engine or Global illumination technology to other game studios or perhaps Sony to use as a middleware program in their line up of dev tools? We would love to offer our global illumination technology as middleware on the PS3. We are actively looking into that. PS3Land: In relation to #8, to what extent will the global illumination go on the PS3 hardware? Would something like a high end PC or perhaps the Xbox 360 run GI? I can say that the PS3 is the very attractive to us, because it is the most powerful hardware that the target audience for our game is likely to own. PS3Land: Any other words you would like to add whether its about your company or the Fantasy Engine or GI or PS3? We are very excited about the combination of the PlayStation 3 and our rendering technology. Our artists are able to create game characters and environments that match, and even exceed, their vision of what the character should look like. What we have shown so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Just wait until you see our game!


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