Key Release: Uncovering Substance Designer 4

Key Release: Uncovering Substance Designer 4
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

February 14th 2014 at 10:20AM

Develop looks at Allegorithmic’s new texture creation tool

With Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now well out the gate, a broad range of tools companies have updated their products to better serve studios empowered by today’s current-gen.

One such tools outfit is texture specialist Allegorithmic, which has recently launched Substance Designer 4, marking a significant update to its popular texture creation tool.

A wealth of new features have been introduced from fresh GPU-accelerated baking to a contemporary noise generator and hundreds of revised editing tools and filters. The most significant improvements, however, are around Substance Designer 4’s new abilities with regards to physically-based rendering and shading, commonly known as PBR, and an efficiency-focused material layering node-based workflow.

GETTING PHYSICAL

Substance Designer 4’s PBR-shading abilities come in the form of an included PBR GLSL shader conceived by Allegorithmic to be applied to a mesh via the tool itself. Such an update better meets the demands of the increasing numbers of developers adopting PBR techniques, which typically mimic the real-world behaviour of light reproduced in-game.

“PBR being physically-based means that rendering techniques give results far closer to what’s really going on out in the real world,” explains Allegorithmic CEO and founder Sebastien Deguy.

“The technique more accurately represents the way light behaves and the way it works when it hits an object. The good thing about PBR is that it does not require many lights in a scene. You can have just one for an environment map that lights the scene, and that’s it. You don’t have to put any more lights in the scene – unless you want to, of course.

“In all situations that means you can now just use one shader for the whole scene. You now have to define the materials in such a way that they react properly to this new rendering technique, but that’s it. It’s great for developers, because it’s simple to set up a scene now, and it’s lit brilliantly.”

Dramatically reducing the shader count is clearly an important leap forward for games studios in general, but consider the plight of the texturing artist, who now has a new discipline to master and myriad map types to work with that, while not all new, may be less than familiar to many.



That’s where Substance Designer 4 steps in, by integrating its own PBR shader to take the onus off of those who would otherwise have to learn the nuances of numerous maps focused on the likes of opacity, ‘metalic-ness’ and roughness. Instead, users can visualise materials directly in the 3D view with Allegorithmic’s embedded PBR shader.

A NODE TO JOY

Meanwhile, Substance Designer 4’s material layering workflow delivers a node-based, non-disruptive interface for those looking to create procedural textures. The workflow was apparently designed with rapid iteration in mind, and importantly, the ability to allow artists to quickly copy and re-use textures.

According to Deguy, Substance Designer 4’s make-up and functionality is the result of the new generation of consoles and PC architecture, and the need to let developers harness their potential.

“The power of new games machines allows developers to use the physically-based rendering techniques, so it will become the norm very quickly,” he says.

“Consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will define a new minimum, and that minimum is PBR-ready. Developers are all coming to the conclusion they will be aiming for that now, and – combined with developers’ needing to produce more art for bigger, more detailed games for other reasons along with PBR – a tool like Substance Designer 4 will become very important. It lets developers work smart.”