Key Release: Enlighten

Key Release: Enlighten
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

September 5th 2012 at 10:00AM

Develop takes a look at the latest update to the Enlighten illumination tool

What is it? Enlighten
Company: Geomerics
Price: Contact company
www.geomerics.com

[To read all of Develop's Key Release technology profiles, go here]

Just a few years previously, the idea of a lighting technology that could satisfy the wants of both mobile and console teams seemed to many like a pipe dream.
And yet, the industry today has exactly that; a solution scalable to almost every active platform.

Lighting specialist Geomerics is particularly proactive with regularly updating its Develop Award-winning lighting technology Enlighten, but the recent 2.14 release marks an especially significant upgrade to the tool.

The release marks the point where Enlighten can now serve the aforementioned spectrum of games and platforms dominating today’s games industry. The latest version of the tool offers baking technology for teams who only need static lighting, new runtimes for iOS and Android devices, new dynamic features for next generation runtimes, and substantial improvements to authoring and workflow.

A LONG EVOLUTION

“It has been a lengthy process to evolve the product to this point,” reveals Geomerics founder Chris Doran.

“When you start out its easy to think: ‘I have a clever algorithm. All I need to do now is write some code and start selling.’ But you soon realise that game development is far more complex.”

And from Doran’s perspective it is clear that the era when someone can come up with a better algorithm and immediately turn it into a product is now a thing of the past.

“The real challenge in middleware is in taking a solid R&D base and converting that into a product that can be used by all games developers in all engines and all types of games,” he explains.

“That requires serious software engineering effort, and a real focus on what customers require and how they actually use your product. No two customers are using Enlighten the same way, and every game developed using Enlighten has a unique look.”

As a result, Enlighten has evolved into a tool with an ambitious and varied feature set, with its creators focusing on ever-increasing levels of dynamism in the runtime, and constant refinement and improvement of
the workflow.

At its conception the tool was designed to be real-time in the engine from day one, and the assumption was that most developers used their engine as their world editor, so their artists would immediately have access to real-time lighting in authoring.

However, having noted that not every studio works in such away, Doran and his team have today crafted a piece of tech that strives to satisfy both traditionalists and those with a more DCC-oriented workflow.

The latter can now take advantage of a full plug-in to Maya so that they can immediately see their assets lit with Enlighten without leaving Autodesk’s tech.

“This uses the same runtime technology as the game engine, so the artist can be confident that their assets will appear the same in-game as they are in the Enlighten viewport,” says Doran. “For some developers this is a considerable boost to productivity.”

“Authoring and productivity are massively important to us at Geomerics, but the single feature of this release that has generated the most attention is the mobile runtime,” adds Doran.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting to see global illumination running on a tablet any time soon, but that is precisely what we have demonstrated. Enlighten is practical and affordable on today’s mobile devices. And because the runtime is architected to run on the CPU, it does not put any stress on the GPU.”

CPU VERSUS GPU

Harnessing the CPU marks a smart move by Geomerics, and should serve as an enormous benefit to games developers, because the GPU is arguably the most challenging aspect of mobile development.

While mobile GPUs are improving at a staggering rate, developers have a taste for exploiting every available drop of GPU resource, and are as such not keen on middleware that restricts their GPU budget.

“The improvements to authoring will significantly benefit artists,” continues Doran on the matter of updates inherent to 2.14. “The new plug-in to Maya ensures that artists can now work with Enlighten within Maya, so they no longer have to wait to import their assets into the game engine.

“This is a considerable saving as they now can be sure about the final in-game appearance of an asset before they have to commit it. For customers using Enlighten for baking they will also be blown away by the productivity of our tools.

“All lighting updates are fully dynamic, and built on our award-winning runtime technology, so now ‘baking’ means nothing more than saving out some results into textures.”