Following is the final entry of a three-part series focusing on game content that will be featured at SIGGRAPH 2011. This is a conversation between Naty Hoffman (pictured at the right) and ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter Reporter Mariebeth Aquino.
Naty Hoffman is a Technical Director at Activision Studio Central, where he assists Activision's worldwide studios with graphics research and development. He is a co-author of the book Real-Time Rendering, 3rd Edition.
Background details: This year's content features a substantial amount of game development content: game papers, courses, talks (technical, studio, and exhibitor talks), workshops on game development, and technical papers. In addition, game content can be found in the Computer Animation Festival where Real-Time Live! showcases the latest trends and techniques in games. And for those wanting a hands-on experience, the Sandbox provides the ideal environment to test drive the latest in interactive entertainment.
A Conversation with Naty Hoffman, SIGGRAPH 2011 Game Development Community Director
What are your responsibilities as Game Development Community Director?
My responsibility is to engage with the professional game development community, both to encourage them to submit more content for presentation and to facilitate higher industry attendance at the conference.
It must be hard motivating a game development community which has its own big conferences like the GDC, how do you engage them?
It can be challenging, but SIGGRAPH has some unique things to offer compared to industry-specific conferences like GDC, such as the opportunity to interact with top graphics minds not only within the game industry, but outside it as well. SIGGRAPH attendees can see content presented by people from companies like Pixar, ILM, Disney, Digital Domain, Dreamworks, etc., as well as researchers from top academic institutions around the world. In addition, the graphics focus and extremely high quality bar means that for anyone involved with the visual side of game development (such as artists and graphics programmers), the breadth and depth of relevant content at SIGGRAPH is simply unmatched.
This year, I have enjoyed the able assistance of the game development subcommittee; a group of prominent developers who have been advising me and helping me reach out to studios across the world. Other members of the conference committee with game industry ties such as Drew Davidson, Jason Smith, and Chris Williams have also provided invaluable help.
It is important to note that we did not start from scratch; we benefit from the momentum slowly built up over previous years. Each year SIGGRAPH has more content submissions from game developers, more presentations of interest to them, and more awareness in the game development community in general. I hope that within a few years, we will be close to parity with the film production community in terms of content and attendees.
How important are emerging technologies in game development, or rather, are upcoming technologies supported by game studios?
The game industry is highly technology-driven; new technology is constantly being evaluated, and if it fits the needs and constraints of production it is integrated into the engine and/or tools pipeline. A few examples of note include screen-space ambient occlusion, filter-based anti-aliasing, deferred shading, and high-dynamic range image-based (HDRI) lighting. All of these have been covered at SIGGRAPH - one of them (filter-based anti-aliasing) is the topic of a half-day course this year.
Industry and research can often tell different stories (i.e in goals and communication) - is one more important to game development, and one to SIGGRAPH? Or if not, where and how do these two areas intersect?
Game development tends to be focused more on short-term development, but we do keep an eye on longer-term research as well. SIGGRAPH covers both - some programs (such as the Technical Papers) are targeted more at research and some (such as Courses, Talks and The Studio) at current industry practices.
Which upcoming trends in game development do you see having the greatest impact on game production? And are these featured in this year's SIGGRAPH games coverage?
Rendering techniques are always evolving in our industry, both on the PC side (where constantly increasing hardware power enables new techniques) and on the console side (where much ingenuity is needed to squeeze out better visuals ever year from the same hardware). The courses "Advances in Real-Time Rendering in Games" and "Beyond Programmable Shading" cover both sides of this divide; many of the techniques presented are also relevant for emerging platforms such as tablets and mobile phones.
A specific example of technology used to increase visual quality on consoles is the recent rise of new techniques for filter-based anti-aliasing, which (as I previously mentioned) has an entire course devoted to it this year: "Filtering Approaches for Real-Time Anti-Aliasing".
Another important trend is the convergence of techniques between film and games - we have a lot to learn from the film industry and I believe they are interested in learning from us as well. SIGGRAPH has a variety of content addressing this. Some are explicitly targeted at both industries (for example, the courses "Destruction and Dynamics for Film and Game Production" and "Character Rigging, Deformations, and Simulations in Film and Game Production"). Also, content presented by people from one industry is often of interest to the other - I often find interesting content in the film production Talks and Courses, and I hear from my film industry counterparts that they find useful information in the game development content at SIGGRAPH.
As free-to-play, mobile and independent games become more popular (for gamers and developers, alike) is there potential to optimize top notch technology for such games?
Definitely. Mobile platforms in particular are rapidly increasing in power, and as they continue to do so in the future, they will enable unprecedented visual quality on the go. Since the types of games, input devices, and visual styles often differ from games on more traditional platforms, there is also a need for new technology as well as adapting existing methods.
The game development community is expanding. Great ideas and concepts are now emerging from the independent community - without the use of high performance technology. Will SIGGRAPH cover these noteworthy areas as well?
SIGGRAPH welcomes ideas from all areas of game development, not just "blockbuster" console titles. One of the talks this year (in the "Light My Fire" session) is by an independent developer, Q-Games; Frontier Developments - another independent studio - is presenting their game "Kinectimals" in the Real-Time Live! program. I would like to see more submissions from indie developers in future years, especially from some of the smaller teams.
What are some of the highlights of the game development content?
There is so much good game development content this year, it's hard to pick just a few highlights. Many of the courses have great game content, two in particular are "Advances in Real-Time Rendering in Games" (both parts) and "Filtering Approaches for Real-Time Anti-Aliasing". There are also many game development Talks - for example, the entire "Hiding Complexity" Talk session. A few highlights from other Talk sessions: "Rendering the Interactive Dynamic Natural World of the Game: From Dust", "Deferred Shading Technique Using Frostbite in Battlefield 3 and Need for Speed The Run", and "Fluid Dynamics and Lighting Implementation in PixelJunk Shooter 2". The Computer Animation Festival is showcasing a lot of game content as well, most notably "Halo: Reach" and "Portal 2" in the Electronic Theater and "Killzone 3" in the Production Sessions; several other games are featured in the "Commercials, Games, and Music" screening.
Unusually, one of the Technical Papers ("Physics-Inspired Upsampling for Cloth Simulation in Games") was written by game developers; I hope for more such at future SIGGRAPH conferences. This year, there are many game presentations at The Studio which are also well worth attending. Finally, the Real-Time Live!, Sandbox, and SIGGRAPH Dailies! programs are showing several notable game pieces.
Is there content that applies to people both new to the game industry and veterans?
Most of the content is targeted at relatively experienced developers, though beginners who listen carefully should find it interesting as well, and perhaps get some good ideas for areas to study up in! Some of the content should be more approachable for beginners; SIGGRAPH Dailies!, Sandbox, and Real-Time Live! come to mind, as well as the game content at the Computer Animation Festival and The Studio.
What are your “must attend” sessions this year?
I haven't had a chance to work out my schedule yet, but I very much hope to see the Technical Papers Fast Forward, Cory Doctorow's keynote, SIGGRAPH Dailies!, the Electronic Theater, and the "Advances in Real-Time Rendering in Games" course.