A handy development tools guide to creating eye-pleasing visuals
With new consoles, smartphones and tablet devices getting ever-more powerful with each passing year, creating visually stunning vistas and sparkling visuals is becoming increasingly important.
To help dazzle your players, Develop has put together a handy guide of 12 graphics and rendering tools.
These aren't all the graphics and rendering tools of course. So if you've got any other recommendations not listed below, let us know in the comments and we'll add them in to create a more complete list for all your development needs.
Company: Silicon Studio
Platform: Android, iOS, Linux, PS3, PS4, Vita, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Yebis 2 is a post-processing effects tool built by Japanese firm Silicon Studio.
The tech features customisable glare effects, including a high dynamic range rendering pipeline in which developers can adjust visuals in real-time. Other features include depth of field effects, motion blur, post-processing, anti-aliasing and an architecture that supports DirectX 11.
The tool can be used for games on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, Android and PC.
Company: Umbra Software
Platform: iOS, Linux, PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Umbra 3 is a visibility solution used for occlusion culling. The tool features automatic occluder generation and is designed to improve rendering performance and help with the creation of highly detailed game environments.
The tech only renders objects visible to the player, helping improve framerate and the aforementioned extra detail. To date the tool has been used by developers including CD Projekt, Bungie, Remedy and Guerrilla Games.
Platform: Mac, PS3, PS4, Vita, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
SpeedTree is a vegetation modelling and rendering middleware. The tool can be used to create trees and plants and allows developers to control performance aspects including polygon counts, LOD transitions and fill rate.
Developers also have access to the SpeedTree Modeller, a compiler that automatically generates distant billboards and stitches texture maps together into a shared atlas, and users even have access to the full source code with the SDK.
Company: The Foundry
Platform: Linux, Mac, Windows
The latest iteration of 3D content creation software Modo, 801 is built for 3D modelling, animation, sculpting, effects and rendering.
New features include node-based texturing with built-in presets, enhanced dynamics for large scene handling and destruction, improved scattering tools for scene layout and environment creation and new baking and modelling tools. Other additions include Nodal Shading for complex shader building and a rewritten referencing workflow for large scene management.
Platform: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Enlighten is a popular dynamic game lighting tool used in games such as Battlefield 4, The Bureau: XCom Declassified and Quantum Conundrum.
Built by Geomerics, developers can use the middleware to animate lights, emissive material properties and control environment lighting in real-time through a set of controls and sliders.
Unity recently announced the global illumination tech would be integrated into Unity 5.
Platform: PS3, PS4, Wii, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Autodesk’s Beast middleware provides a set of tools for creating realistic lighting. Developers can simulate natural and physically correct lighting effects, colour bounce, soft shadows and high dynamic range lighting.
The tool allows artists to make changes to the geometry, lighting and baking properties of game levels, while the Beast API enables devs to integrate live scene authoring into custom game level editors.
Company: OGRE team
Platform: Linux, Mac, Windows
Ogre 3D (Object-Oriented Graphics Rendering Engine) is an open source, scene-oriented 3D graphics engine written in C++.
Specifically designed as a graphics solution (though it includes opportunities for other features), OGRE is designed to minimise the effort required to render 3D scenes.
The technology automatically deals with common requirements such as render state management, spatial culling and dealing with transparency, as well as features such as multiple shadow rendering techniques, a compositor system designed for full-screen for post-processing effects to be defined easily, and particle systems that include extensible emitters, affectors and renderers.
Substance Designer 4
Platform: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
Substance Designer 4 is the latest iteration of Allegorithmic’s texture creation tool. New features in the update include GPU-accelerated baking, a contemporary noise generator and hundreds of revised editing tools and filters.
The new version allows developers to create maps for physical-based rendering shaders, and virtualise materials directly in the 3D view with the PBR shader, as well as import their own. It also lets developers automatically extract information from the mesh, such as vector graphics UV Atlas, ambient occlusion, curvature and a high-poly / low-poly tangent space normal map.
The texturing tool has native support for Unity, UE4, 3ds Max, Maya, Modo and Fuse.
Power VR Ray Tracing
Company: Imagination Technologies
Platform: Android, iOS, Linux, Windows
Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR Ray Tracing tech is used by developers in rendering to help accurately simulate the transition of light.
The tools can be used to support pre-baked lighting in the form of light maps or light probes by enabling light maps to be baked in near real-time. This implementation of the technology will be integrated into Unity 5, which will be shipped later this year. According to Imagination, this will be the first development platform to ship with in-editor, real-time light map previews based on PowerVR Ray Tracing.
It is also possible to create a hybrid rendering system where an incremental scanline algorithm is used for visibility determination but ray tracing can be added to implement specific effects.
Platform: Windows, Mac
Torque 3D is one of an increasing number of open source game engines that houses its own lighting and rendering tools, among a number of other features.
The built-in rendering system includes per-pixel dynamic lighting, normal and parallax occlusion mapping, reflections, screen space ambient occlusion, a scattersky system for displaying the sun, stars and sky, extensible shaders in GLSL and HLSL, as well as a number of post-processing effects such as depth of field, light rays, lens flare and blurring.
Other features include deferred lighting, vertex and primitive buffers, state blocks and shader buffers. The rendering features are compatible with Windows and Mac OS X.
Company: Fabric Software
The Fabric Engine is a development framework built on a multi-threading core to help make it easier for developers to create high-performance and portable tools to integrate with existing applications, as well as run on their own or within a game engine.
The tech houses the Fabric RTR, which provides a framework to help enable the rapid development of advanced rendering techniques.
Included rendering techniques which can be extended include deferred shading, motion blur and depth of field, shadows and soft shadows, GPU skinning and HDR lighting.
Because of the Fabric Core, the RTR also requires no pre-compiled binaries or C++, and can be modified at all stages.
Autodesk’s 3ds Max software offers a modelling, animation, simulation and rendering solution for games and other entertainment sectors such as film.
The tool features ActiveShade rendering, enabling developers to iterate faster with interactive rendering, accelerated viewport performance, a render pass system to segment scenes for downstream compositing, and other integrated rendering options such as the inclusion of Nvidia’s iray rendering tech.
Game developers can also harness the compositing editor to write together composites in Slate, as well as use a host of other tools to improve modelling, texturing, animation, dynamics and effects.
Got any other recommendations for graphics and rendering tools not listed above? Let us know in the comments below.