The following is a guest blog post written by Jacques Lebrun, Technical Director at Bioware working on Dragon Age Inquisition. As time goes by, we will try to bring you more input from the developers behind the Frostbite engine, but also from all the teams using it to create great games.
As I write this, the Dragon Age team is only a couple of months away from putting the finishing touches on Inquisition, so it’s appropriate to look back at the long and arduous journey of getting to this point. Shortly after the launch of Dragon Age II, with a new generation of gaming on the horizon, we knew we needed to stretch our ambition and deliver a game well beyond anything BioWare had done before, which meant a major shift in technology and in the way we develop our games.
We started with an independent evaluation of engine technologies. We looked at an upgrade to our own Eclipse engine, at third-party game engines, and at game engines developed within EA, including DICE’s Frostbite. After a three-month evaluation, we chose Frostbite as our preferred technology for BioWare’s next generation of titles. There was no corporate mandate; this was decided unanimously within our studio. The timing was perfect because the Frostbite team was already making plans to break out into an independent engine team.
Many other teams in EA were coming to the same conclusions. We were suddenly part of a growing community of developers able to share ideas, share code, and collaborate on common interests. This will open up all kinds of opportunities for BioWare since we’ve traditionally developed our games in a vacuum. (Until now, every BioWare title has made their own technology assessments, which has prevented us from collaborating on improvements.)
Frostbite gives us best-of-class visuals, far more advanced than anything seen in a BioWare title. We typically focus our technology efforts on improving storytelling and gameplay, so pairing up with a team obsessed with physically accurate rendering was a great fit. We were also impressed by Frostbite’s capabilities for creating massive environments, with powerful terrain generation tools and flexible streaming options.
Frostbite is also highly scalable, letting games optimize quality settings to suit the capabilities of a wide range of hardware. We faced the significant challenge of developing a game that would target the old and new generations of game consoles. We wanted to develop Inquisition for the new consoles first and foremost, and the scalability of the engine let us get as much as we could out of the previous generation while still providing a gameplay experience on par with the new generation’s offerings.
While Frostbite solved one set of problems for us, we were facing with a completely different set in building a story-focused RPG in the engine. It was initially designed for shooters, and we identified a number of additions required to support an RPG.
BioWare games are known for developing its characters and story through cinematics and interactive dialogue. We’ve spent years developing a powerful suite of tools for writing and scripting conversations into a cinematic experience that interacts with a complex plot structure, while feeding into the pipeline for voice-over recording and localization. Many of these tools wouldn’t integrate with the Frostbite tool chain, so we rewrote them for the new framework. It was a massive undertaking we wanted to do only once for all of our future games. Accordingly, we collaborated with the Frostbite animation team to develop engine improvements that would support rapid creation of cinematic content. We also worked with the teams for the next Mass Effect game and the unannounced IP to incorporate the cinematic authoring tools into the workflows for conversation scripting and localization.
Another major undertaking was creating a next-generation RPG combat system. We created new workflows in the Frostbite toolset for visualizing animations with visual effects, sound effects, and gameplay scripts. This visual workflow has allowed our designers to create hundreds of unique spells and abilities along with a wide variety of interesting and challenging enemies. The dragons that you’ll encounter emphasize the complexity that we can now get from our combat systems. These apex predators showcase targetable limbs and a component system that lets designers reconfigure each dragon to take on a unique set of behaviors.
The Frostbite engine is designed to let game teams make modular extensions that other games can then use. Collaborating on common modules means that we could do the tedious work once and leverage it in our future titles. Cinematics and combat are only a fraction of the many additions we needed to make to the engine. If you look at the Venn diagram of everything you put into a fantasy RPG that isn’t in a modern shooter, the list is daunting: character statistics, character customization, melee combat, magical effects, items, crafting. Even a concept as simple as pausing the game during combat represented a difficult problem that hadn’t been solved in Frostbite yet.
From the get-go, we didn’t want to simply take the engine and branch off a BioWare version. Instead, we wanted to work with the Frostbite team to keep up with the latest improvements and, at the same time, contribute the improvements we were making. That’s easier said than done while the engine is undergoing major enhancements and we’re making major additions. We needed the discipline to resist design patterns developed from our previous titles and the rigor to carefully review every modification to engine code. Keeping our code in sync with the Frostbite development code required a massive effort, but it paid off in the critical updates we received from the Frostbite team: the majority of the next-generation platform code, continuous improvements to the toolset, and hundreds of cool features, such as terrain that can have caves built into it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition represents BioWare’s first next-generation RPG on the Frostbite engine, and the games we’re developing now will only build on this foundation. Several years ago, we placed a few big bets on moving to the Frostbite engine and changing our development methodologies. It’s exciting to be able to finally soon lay down our hand.
Technical Director, Dragon Age: Inquisition
In this technical presentation from Game Developers Conference 2014, Johan Andersson shows how the Frostbite 3 game engine is using the low-level graphics API Mantle to deliver significantly improved performance in Battlefield 4 on PC and future games from Electronic Arts. He will go through the work of bringing over an advanced existing engine to an entirely new graphics API, the benefits and concrete details of doing low-level rendering on PC and how it fits into the architecture and rendering systems of Frostbite. Advanced optimization techniques and topics such as parallel dispatch, GPU memory management, multi-GPU rendering, async compute & async DMA will be covered as well as sharing experiences of working with Mantle in general.
Developed by EA Tiburon, EA PGA TOUR will be the first sports game to take advantage of the unique technology from Frostbite 3, letting you enjoy golf just the way you like it!
By using Frostbite 3, the developers of EA PGA TOUR are able to create complex, lifelike environments in order to recreate some of the authentic courses for you to play on. These fully rendered environments will let you explore every inch of the varied courses offered, from TPC Sawgrass to fantasy courses such as the Paracel Storm map from Battlefield 4.
Delving further into the actual gameplay side, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR will enable you to stream an entire 18-hole course at once.
Welcome to golf without limits!
Keynote presentation about Mantle, a low-level graphics API, by Johan Andersson at AMD’s Developer Summit 2013 (APU13).
One of this year’s E3 showcase had a special taste for us at Frostbite: it was Bioware showcasing Dragon Age Inquisition, the very first RPG game powered by Frostbite, but also talking about the upcoming Mass Effect game and a mysterious new IP, both developed with the Frostbite Engine.
Bioware’s legacy has always been about giving choices to the players which have an impact on the universe around them. Impact on the world is a key element of Dragon Age: Inquisition that is reinforced by Frostbite providing not only fluid combat, better animations, but also allowing for more interactions between the character and the environment around them, increasing the amount of possibilities offered for the player.
Speaking of possibilities, during E3 we did get receive confirmation that the Mass Effect team is taking into account the players request for new planets to explore, new characters, and so many more new experiences for players to enjoy and immerse themselves in. We did catch a glimpse of a Krogan in their conceptual prototype, and it will be interesting to see what’s next for them. On top of that, a new IP was also mentioned to be in the works over in Bioware Edmonton and was mentioned to be aiming for contemporary storytelling. Oh yes.
Technical talk from the AMD GPU14 Tech Day by Johan Andersson in the Frostbite team at DICE/EA about Battlefield 4 on PC which is the first title that will use ‘Mantle’ – a very high-performance low-level graphics API being in close collaboration by AMD and DICE/EA to get the absolute best performance and experience in Frostbite games on PC.
Picking up from where we left off from last night, there was quite the line up of Frostbite titles showed during the EA Conference. Amongst those are two highly anticipated titles that are currently in production over at DICE here in Stockholm. Two titles that, if you happened to miss yesterday, we will gladly show and tell you more about them.
Let’s begin by discussing a long awaited game in the works that all walks of life have been waiting for after being absent from the public eye for almost 10 years now. That’s right, we’re talking about Star Wars Battlefront! As you might able to tell by the trailer below, the team at DICE are giving this game their all. ‘’We at DICE have the opportunity of a lifetime to make the Star Wars game that as fans, we’ve all dreamt of playing.’’ Is a quote from the Design Director of the game, Niklas Fegraeus that in a single sentence says so much about the passion and dedication that is going in to making this an unforgettable game. Just the intricate early in-engine footage shown during E3 blew so many of us away shows that what was shown during E3 has yet to even scratch the surface of what the Battlefront team at DICE has in store for us. As far as dates go, what we do know is that more is to be revealed during Spring of 2015. Until then, may the force be with them.
Next up we tid bits of news regarding the second half the bundle of awesome DICE has to offer. 7 years ago we were introduced to Mirror’s Edge, but more importantly the main protagonist: Faith. We were introduced to one of the most fluid and graceful implementations of parkour so far in the gaming world, the physics alone were impressive enough. But even past that, the stunning yet minimalistic design of the game was a topic adored by many. Now, during the EA Conference at E3 2014, our faith was restored once again when more news regarding the next installment of the game arose (awful pun intended). This news entails the actual team behind Mirror’s Edge discussing the new possibilities, as well as a deeper understanding of who Faith is and her purpose behind her actions. All of these topics are touched upon while also providing a run through a conceptual prototype of the new game. When we will receive more news about the game is currently unclear, but until then you can always check out the official Mirror’s Edge page to keep yourselves up to date.
This is just a taste of what is to come with these upcoming titles, and as we are with every game using the Frostbite engine, we too look forward to seeing more and eventually covering more around the tech behind these epic creations. How do the physics behind the hair particles on Faiths head during movement work? How are the teams using the Frostbite engine to amplify the power of the force in various environments? Stay tuned for more cool stuff.
High-level overview of some of the things we in have done and learned while implementing our asset pipelines for Frostbite. The talk focuses mainly on the architecture, design and implementation techniques used for some of the more core components involved in the build process.
It’s been a great first day of E3, and we have seen lots of titles to look forward to!
We’re proud to be working together with Visceral games to bring you Battlefield Hardline. From grappling hooks to zip lines, Battlefield Hardline is guaranteed to bring the fight to a whole other level by enabling players to immerse themselves in a different type of battlefield.
By giving players the opportunity to choose between living a life of crime or lawfulness, we are thrilled to keep you guys up to date as more details surface regarding this exciting new title, and hope to see you all during the closed beta which you can find here.
Stay tuned for more information on these awesome future titles powered by Frostbite!
In this master thesis report, a scheme for adaptive hardware tessellation is presented. The scheme uses an offline processing approach where a height map is analyzed in terms of curvature and the result is stored in a resource called density map. This density map is then bound as a resource to the hardware tessellation stage and used to bias the tessellation factor for a given edge. The scheme is implemented inside Frostbite 2 engine by DICE and produces good results while making the heightfield rendering more efficient.
The performance gain can be used to increase the rendering detail, allowing for better visual appearance for the terrain mesh. The scheme is currently implemented for hardware tessellation but could also be used for software terrain mesh generation. The implemention works satisfactory and produces good results with a reasonable speed.
Star Wars: Battlefront will be legendary.
Battlefront is in development now at DICE in Stockholm using familiar Frostbite technology.
It’s in good hands.
Need for Speed: Rivals is the fastest Frostbite title in development at EA! Ghost Games brings a fresh perspective to this fan favorite and we’re sure it has something to do with their incredible mixture of talent. The studio’s creative and technical leadership includes experienced DICE, Criterion, and feature film artists and programmers. Watch the gameplay trailer below to see how this team has evolved Need for Speed!
More about how rivalry gameplay mechanisms impact the experience can be found at http://www.needforspeed.com/rivals.
With the highest-quality video options, Battlefield 3 renders its Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion SSAO using the Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion HBAO algorithm. For performance reasons, the HBAO is rendered in half resolution using half-resolution input depths. The HBAO is then blurred in full resolution using a depth-aware blur. The main issue with such low-resolution SSAO rendering is that it produces objectionable flickering for thin objects such as alpha-tested foliage when the camera and/or the geometry are moving. After a brief recap of the original HBAO pipeline, this talk describes a novel temporal filtering algorithm that fixed the HBAO flickering problem in Battlefield 3 with a 1-2 performance hit in 1920×1200 on PC DX10 or DX11. The talk includes algorithm and implementation details on the temporal filtering part, as well as generic optimizations for SSAO blur pixel shaders. This is a joint work between Louis Bavoil NVIDIA and Johan Andersson DICE.