Key Release: Simplygon

Key Release: Simplygon
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

April 11th 2013 at 9:45AM

Develop takes a look at Donya Labs' updated tool-chain middleware

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

What is it? Simplygon 5 is the latest tool-chain middleware for automatic optimisation of 3D game content and ‘level of detail’
Company: Donya Labs
www.simplygon.com

Part of the secret to the success of the long running series of Simplygon tools is the technology’s specialisation.

Put simply, Simplygon is a software solution that automatically optimises 3D data, all the time focusing on high quality output. The tech, created buy Swedish outfit Donya Labs, is typically used for creating ‘level of detail’ – or LODs – for games. But it is also designed to allow for optimising assets in titles that don’t use LODs, ‘crunching’ models from high-polygon forms into
game-ready assets, and for porting game assets to lower-end platforms.

And now Simplygon 5 is here, designed to better simplify the optimisation process.

“We basically want Simplygon to do the job that graphics artists hate to do,” explains Donya Labs CTO Ulrik Lindahl of the new version. “A lot of our new ideas come from talking to artists at game studios to find out how to improve their daily work by removing tedious and time-consuming tasks like manual LOD creation.”

PLATFORM JUMPING

Conversing with those developers made one thing clear; embracing an increasingly multiplatform world is a key challenge for games makers, meaning Lindahl and his team have placed an emphasis on developing Simplygon 5 to best serve as many destination platforms as possible.

Today there exists a far broader variety of machines on which studios want to run the same content, and that means even more effort is needed in easing the work life of graphic artists. And there’s also the none-too-small matter of the dawn of the new generation to consider.

In that context, Simplygon 5 can be used to target all manner of devices, from high-end PCs to mobiles, with a level of automation the team behind the tech believe is previously unseen.

There’s also been a significant effort by Donya Labs in bettering the quality of the meshes optimised by the tool, again with a view to support the increasingly multiplatform games development landscape.

“One important thing we have been focusing on is improving the quality of the resulting optimised meshes even further,” elaborates Lindahl.

“Because of that, we have invested a lot of time in making the system ‘self-aware’ – you can insert a Skynet joke here – in that it is able to actually see the result of the processing, and make a decision if the result is good enough. If it deems the quality subpar, it can make improvements automatically, and feed that into a second run. The point, of course, is to make the optimisation process as automatic as possible, with as little artist involvement as possible.”

It’s an upgrade that will certainly lessen the load for studios hoping to see their game across mobile, console and other devices, and a substantial boon for Simplygon users.

THE FIFTH’S ELEMENTS

Beyond the improvements to the core Simplygon offering, the fifth full update to the middleware also includes numerous enhancements to the tech’s SDK, including several upgrades to its plug-ins and GUI.

“The GUI now has multiple comparison modes, where you can compare the LODs to the original, and we have also added possibilities to mark vital areas that are extra important to keep,” says Lindahl. “These semi-automatic edit modes work very well with the fully automated visioning systems to make even higher quality optimised meshes.”

Furthermore, while Simplygon 5 and its SDK are designed to serve the largest studios and high-budget projects, Donya Labs is constantly working on making the tool available for more projects and to wider audiences. A collaboration with Epic Games, for example, has been established through the studio’s Integrated Partners Program, meaning UDK users already have access to Simplygon 4 for free.

“We definitely plan to continue this with Simplygon 5 and UE4, to really be able to cater to the needs of smaller studios,” states Lindahl. “We are also working on new ways to deliver Simplygon. Our goal is to make it an option for everyone – from high-budgets all the way down to smaller teams and indies.”

A range of Simplygon licensing options are available, from per-game versions tailored for different models, such as MMOs or mobile titles, to a special deal for prototyping. Elsewhere a non-gaming licence exists. For those interested in embracing Simplygon for the first time, a 30-day free evaluation trial is available via the company’s website or through sales@simplygon.com.

This feature was originally published in Develop #136, March 2013