One of the most interesting talks at London’s GDC (Games Developers Conference) this week came form one of the lesser known companies called Allegorithmic
, who claim they will be able to reduce texture file sizes in games by up to 70%.
Their new programs, that they hope development artists will soon be using as an industry standard, are called ProFX and MaP Zone 2. Their ambition is to keep the graphical quality of game textures at the same standards as current games, whilst dramatically reducing the amount of data required for the game to work.
The implications of such a technology would be far reaching. As the current trend of digital distribution gains momentum a huge emphasis is being placed on games being made smaller and thus downloadable quicker. Their claim is that the current tool of choice for most games artists, Adobe Photoshop, is not ideally suited to making textures for games.
I was doubtful of this technology; however the company ran a demo that persuaded me otherwise. In the demo they had a bathroom full of beautiful textures, then with the flick of a button the bathroom took a more hellish look – all the while the textures looked the equal of Half Life 2.
The next demo was of a game that is due to come out for the XBOX Live Arcade called ‘Roboblitz
’. Due to the requirement to get the game under 50MB, the developers needed to keep the textures as small in filesize as possible. Using the new texture system the overall size for all the textures was less than 280KB – watching the game (which runs on the Unreal 3 engine) I was amazed.
Confused by the fact that I hadn’t heard about this technology before, I spoke to one of the men behind it directly - Dr Sébastien Deguy. He assured me that there were no catches with his system, that if a game contained 1GB of textures he would be able to reduce that to 300MB and lose no quality. When I asked why everyone wasn’t using the program at the moment he explained it was due to people needing to be retrained in learning a new system. He was optimistic however, that soon all games companies will be using their new texture tools.
So what are the implications for you and I? In terms of traditionally packaged games that come in boxes, there probably won’t be much difference. Dr Deguy argues that if textures are smaller in file size and easier to create, then next-generation companies will be able to create even more textures for the games. We may then see a big leap forward in how richly detailed games are in the future as they triple the variety of textures the game includes.
The biggest impact however will be the benefits this will have to digital distribution. Games with texture quality and diversity matching Half Life 2 may soon be available in minutes of downloading rather than hours – for gamers this can only be a good thing.
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