ZAM Interview: The Power of ForgeLight

While at GDC, Scott Hawkes interviewed Planetside 2's Senior Art Director Tramell Ray Isaac and Technical Director Ryan Elam.

Among the rolling hills of San Francisco, GDC returns with its roundtables, speeches, parties and general game related mayhem. As the area around the Moscone center became ever more frenetic today, I sat down with Sony Online Entertainment’s Tramell Ray Isaac, Senior Art Director and Ryan Elam, Technical Director to talk PlanetSide 2 and the engine they designed to make it roar, ForgeLight.

First of all I asked Tramell Ray Isaac what the ForgeLight engine brought to the table to allow him to assert his vision for the design of Auraxis and its combatants.

“I think because we developed ForgeLight along with PlanetSide 2, having that inside ability to guide the way the engine would be developed along with the game has been great for me because they’re making technology that runs and I want it to run and look good at the same time.

It’s been great because I can say “Hey what about this effect, what about this shader?” and they’ll say “Here’s how you could do it,” or “We could write a shader that would do this thing,” so it’s more of a toolbox of things that can be made, not necessarily that ForgeLight has everything now; but it’s the possibility of having everything someday which intrigues me the most as an artist.

We can stay competitive visually and at the same time allow Elam the freedom to run the game at whatever speed he needs to run it at, to have as many people on the screen as we want.

PlanetSide 2 being at the extreme as far as the number of people on the screen it makes every game below that, that much easier and that much better looking. So as long as we can make PlanetSide 2look good everything after that is just gravy.”

I asked Ryan Elam what the most challenging aspect had been in honing ForgeLight to be the engine beneath PlanetSide 2’s sleek exterior?

“The obvious, it’s been the number of people and number of vehicles on the screen at a reasonable frame rate. ForgeLight can run on modern hardware at 120 to 200 frames per second, then we drive it down, we throw on tons and tons of players doing crazy amounts of things, all the vehicles with physics.

You play a typical first person modern shooter and you see two or three vehicles running their physics simulations and we multiply that by 20 or 40 or 80. I’ve personally seen combat with 100 vehicles all running simulations on the client and that’s just a lot of work.

That’s really been the hardest part; it continues to be the hardest part. SOE is famous for being ambitious with our games, for basically trying to lead rather than follow. We all recognize that PlanetSide 2 was very ambitious in trying to get this many players onto the screen. I feel like we’re still working on that, we continue to iterate, to optimize to get more people on the screen, to make them render further out.”

With such ambition and the potential the developers see ForgeLight unleashing, Tramell, just where would the focus go next?

“I think just getting more fantastic with it. First time around, from inception to launch, is more about developing the toolsets, making sure everything runs, making sure we get a good variety of things. Now comes a time where we say “All right, these things worked and these things didn’t; let’s do more of this, let’s experiment with more of these things we know,” and that’s going to allow us to push it a little bit further.

Moving forward one of the things we’re doing visually is going back and improving things we’ve already put out, then everything moving forward should have that level of polish, that much more animation, that much more shader work on top of it, because we already know that these things fit.

It’s not like we’re pushing the engine any harder, we’re just making things we know can look even that much better. We’ve got a lot of room to grow; the way ForgeLight is designed it allows us to be future proof so two years from now it’s going to look even better with systems that are able to run it on ultra.

Very few people are able to run it on ultra, with different frame rates. So I think even moving forward into 2014 and 2015, visually PlanetSide 2 is going to be extremely compelling and even then some because we’ll continue to add and continue to improve those shaders to make things look even more realistic, hopefully willing this guy continues to give us more features that allow us to stay competitive visually.

I think the sky’s the limit. We’re working on a lava continent and a swamp continent at the same time right now. I think Hossin is probably going to come out this year, which gives you a different look.

Every continent that we’ve created so far is completely different than the others visually as well as the design, terrain and how you play that map, so we can continue that theme with Hossin and give a different look and feel as well as a different play experience.”

Next Up: Technical Challenges and ForgeLight's Future on Page 2->

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