The content revolution to come
The way we build games is changing, with new technologies and tools that make it way easier to create and scale content.
My first job in games was as a freelancing artist back in the mid-90s. In case you’re too young to remember, this was right in the shift between 2D and 3D games.
Shifting from 2D to 3D required us to re-think game making and to re-learn our crafts. It forced us to overhaul our tech and our workflows from scratch. And there was plenty of denial and resistance going around.
At Embark we’re convinced that game development is facing a similar shift in the coming years as we did back then.
But this time around it won’t be a single technological leap — like the shift from 2D to 3D graphics — that will change our industry. Instead, we’re seeing a combination of technical developments, in fields like proceduralism and machine learning.
All this means that the way we create content is about to change radically.
Better gaming hardware has allowed games to become much larger, more pretty, and more intricate over the past decades. But the way we create games hasn’t kept up. Games have become way more complex to build, but the tools and workflows we apply aren’t that different from what we used back in the late 90s.
So as game makers, we end up spending more and more time in production, simply executing, leaving little time for creative thinking, iteration, and experimentation. For AAA games — that have increased in size and complexity the most — this means lots of people spending thousands of hours on the manual, tedious and repetitive work needed to just build game content.
It’s something I’ve seen and been part of myself over the years — how mindless pixel-pushing has become an increasingly intrusive part of artists’ work.
But there are better ways to do things. We’re beginning to take the first steps into a new era where intelligent tools can understand our intentions as creators and relieve us from the most tedious development tasks.
In time, this will take us to a place where manual labor gets reduced to a minimum, and artists can finally focus on the big picture — an era where you don’t need years of education and experience to master complicated creation tools. A future where anyone with an idea can build games and create amazing experiences.
Why would you spend time meticulously polishing a rock texture, when there are tools that can automate this for you? Why rent a big mocap studio for animations, when you can create animations with no manual input at all using machine learning?
These intelligent tools will make it easier to create and scale content creation and free up time to let game makers focus on creating great game experiences. And maybe most importantly, they’re going to force us to adopt a new mindset.
I was part of starting Embark Studios for this very reason. As a studio, we believe that with new technology, better tools, and a fresh mindset you won’t have to understand shaders, polygons, or how to optimize performance to create great games. In short, we believe in a future where only your imagination limits your creativity.
As we’re now working on our first games, we’re focusing on removing as many manual tasks from our own workflows as possible. And we are already seeing some pretty remarkable efficiency improvements.
For instance, we have completely revamped our photogrammetry workflow to create high-fidelity environments. Photogrammetry can produce amazing results but has traditionally been time-consuming and requires a lot of manual work. To make photogrammetry viable for a team of our size, we have developed a one-click tool that fully automates this process, turning high-res scan data into finished in-game assets with the click of a button.
This allows us to create game-ready photogrammetry assets in minutes, where it used to take days.
We have also overturned the way we build hard-surface assets, like that shotgun in the video below.
This asset was completed in less than two days by utilizing our internal toolset that automatically creates game ready assets from simple input geometry.
All texture mapping, high-quality details, surface definition, baking, and content import and setup happens with a single click, turning what used to take weeks into something we’re able to create in less than a couple of days.
As we keep building our first games, our team will be sharing more specific detail on how these tools were made and what they do. We’ll start with a post from my colleague Darko Pracic about our one-click photogrammetry tool.
We’re also going to describe to you our automated and non-destructive character creation workflow, where we apply proceduralism to create in-game characters. And our machine learning team will describe to you how we’re applying machine learning in practice, to learn physically-based creatures how to walk instead of animating movement.
In short, we want to let you in on how better tools, and applying proceduralism and machine learning is changing everything we do at Embark — and to be honest, completely has changed my own view on content creation.!
So follow us and stay tuned here on our blog, or on our social channels for more to come.