Refinement, improvement and optimization have been some of the core tenets of Fractured Space and its ongoing development. Whilst it is possible to get tunnel vision and focus on adding new features and changes to the game to improve the core experience, it’s beneficial to not leave behind any aspect which could be worked on to provide some benefit. Our Art team responsible for the ship models have been giving some of our ships a new lick of paint and I got to sit down with Hans, one of our Artists to ask him some questions about the process.
KP: -What is the standard process for optimizing a ship?
HP: Normally this involves either going in and manually reducing the amount of polygons on a piece per piece basis or sometimes a full rebuild from scratch. You want to get the model to a point where you’re using as few polygons as possible to make up the shapes and details necessary without the quality of the model suffering as a result. We’re currently focusing on full rebuilds using a new, heavily texture-based approach to drastically reduce the amount of polygons on the ships while actually improving the look of the ships in most cases.
Aside from polygon counts, it’s also imperative to keep an eye on the material and texture count and cost as those can creep up on you and become a bigger issue than raw poly counts over the course of the project, if you go ham on them.
KP: -What benefits does the player receive from these optimization passes on the ships?
HP: In isolation the effect will be minuscule (you could potentially expect to gain a couple to a few frames on higher end hardware if I’m being optimistic), but as a part of optimising the game as a whole it’ll help us lower the minimum required spec for the game as well as having it run well on a wider range of machines. Since we’re also putting care into visual polish on the ships as we go over and optimize them, players can expect prettier ships by the least even if their performance stays the same.
KP: -How long does it usually take to perform an optimization pass, does this drastically differ depending on the size or manufacturer of the ship?
HP: This can vary quite a lot depending on the ship, how it’s built, when it was built and indeed which manufacturer it is (since they all use slightly different techniques at the moment). A pass could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks if it involves new material or texture work and a full rebuild.
KP: -Is there a particular manufacturer that requires more attention than the others, if so, why?
HP: TDS is the worst culprit at the moment with average polygon and especially material/texture counts being much higher. Zarek is the cheapest (aside from the newly rebuilt TDS Equalizer, Executioner, and Reaper).
KP: -Is there any common factor/aspect across the ships which when optimized provides a substantial benefit?
HP: Finding out ways to condense materials down and doing as much inside the shader in Unreal 4 rather than pure RGB texture driven is a great way to get some big gains. Repeated elements such as engine arrays are great places to squeeze extra triangles out as small gains give exponential returns with heavily repeated elements.
KP: -Did you always plan to go back and optimize or was this made necessary due to changes in Fractured Space as it has evolved?
HP: We’ve always treated the ships as “done but not really ‘done'” as in we’re happy with where they are at the moment but at the same time we know there’s a fair bit of scope for both polish and optimization down the line. Time is always an issue with a team as small as ours.
KP: -Whilst performing a pass, are you ever tempted to make radical changes to the art or design of the ship?
HP: If the original concept art is great (such as the Equalizer) there’s very little need to change anything drastic, though we do redesign elements of internally designed ships (such as the Reaper) to improve on the design.
KP: -Since performing these passes, have you learned any tips or tricks that you can apply to new and future ships that join the roster of Fractured Space?
HP: The ongoing TDS optimization pass has been a treasure trove for developing new techniques for building the ships and I think there’s a fair bit there that’ll make things a little bit faster to build as well as making every new ship drastically cheaper than previous ones.