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Originally appear on Gamasutra on July 10, 2015.

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Over nine months ago, aback I aboriginal accomplished out to The Astronauts, I, too, didn’t anticipate that there’s abundant to do in cartoon programming on a aggregation that runs the Unreal Engine. But Adrian Chmielarz did, and aftermost November, I concluded up as the eighth affiliate of the pack.

It allegedly won’t appear as a abruptness that I haven’t done any ground-breaking research; thus, I won’t go into abundant detail anecdotic the changes I accept fabricated to advice address The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for the Playstation 4, as they accept mostly been of the able variety: appliance of about accessible tech, bug acclimation and reporting, that affectionate of thing. In general, my job was to abutment the artists.

The bearings we’ve begin ourselves in was somewhat unusual: we had a (still) appealing beginning d that we were to accommodate in addition d engine. And one that is altered in appealing abundant every key aspect: apprehension architecture, lighting model, gameplay scripting engine. Bold architecture and assets were out of the way, but we still had a appealing aing beheld criterion to accommodated in the anatomy of the UE3 adaptation of the game, and abundant to apprentice to acquisition our way about UE4, lest we bear a “remake” that looks worse than the original…

From the cartoon point of view, one of the things that gave TVoEC that eerie, abstracted attending was the changeless all-around illumination, with bendable caliginosity and a lot of ablaze bounce. That agency static, broiled lightmaps. However, UE4 has a deferred renderer, optimized for activating lighting. Add to that UE4’s physically-based apprehension pipeline, and you can allegedly alpha accepting a faculty of alteration of goals. This alteration accepted acutely cogent in the development of the PS4 copy of the game: we were application cipher paths and workflows that about no one abroad acclimated anymore. In added words, we were actual acceptable to appointment issues that went disregarded for a continued time. And so we did.

I adulation UE4. It’s abundant nicer to appointment with than UE3, it feels like abundant added anticipation was put in it, I absolutely abutment the aishment of UnrealScript. But it is still a adolescent agent than UE3, obviously. Best appearance are already in place, but some are yet to come, others are implemented partially. Some were present in Unreal Agent 3, but haven’t fabricated their improvement yet (and may not accomplish it at all, as, again, UE4 goes in a altered administration to UE3), and our artists capital them back, and capital them quickly.

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One such affair were lighting channels. Epic had the affection on their roadmap, but aback was not a absolute date, its addition was my aboriginal assignment. And a awful adorning one it was, as I acquired my aboriginal acumen into abounding of UE4’s layers: I intruded everywhere, from shaders all the way bottomward to abject agent abstracts structures.

Another archetype was the “screen door” aftereffect for LOD transitions, a.k.a. dithered LOD transitions: an aftereffect advised to adumbrate bustling application a symmetric per-pixel dissolution aftereffect (the fading-out LOD discards the pixels that the fading-in LOD displays, and the added way around). At the time it was already implemented for abstract changeless meshes (i.e. foliage), but not for approved ones. And again, it was on the agent roadmap, but we capital it now, so I set out to ample that gap. Eventually, though, Epic has provided their own solution, which I had chip and replaced abundance with.

One missing UE3 affection that I couldn’t absolutely apparatus in a reasonable way was abyss antecedence groups. It allows apprehension primitives as if they had abstracted abyss buffers, which is advantageous to ensure that beginning altar never bisect surrounding geometry. This access cannot be calmly acclimated in deferred rendering, however, aback it would accomplish screen-space resolves difficult. Instead I put calm a clip-space annual that bedfast the beginning altar forth clip-space Z arbor and confused them to the a abridgement plane, authoritative them cede in advanced of aggregate while not alteration their credible admeasurement or shape. Far from absolute (lighting behaves hardly differently), but got the job done.

As I had mentioned before, there is absolutely a alterity amid what our d needs, and what UE4 does best. PBR was — quite decidedly to me, actually — the atomic of our worries. The deferred renderer, on the added hand, gave me some headaches.

In UE4, lightmaps are meant to accommodate aberrant (bounced) lighting only; ambience ablaze antecedent advancement to “static” causes lightmaps afflicted by it to additionally accommodate absolute lighting, but it is an aberrant situation, not the default. Such lights are not alike advised for activating lighting. This agency that they don’t accept specular highlights. None at all. You can allegedly brainstorm how collapsed and arid the d looked because of that.

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I’ve “fixed” that by abacus a forward, affected Phong specular highlight to emissive lighting. I still feel cool begrimed because of it. It violates the activity attention assumption and uses a non-PBR specular distribution, but the artists were blessed with it.

Now, the alone botheration that remained was that this affected specular was not shadowed… This in about-face was anchored by abounding added per-texel agency in the lightmaps, anecdotic how abundant ablaze in a accustomed lightmap texel was contributed by direct, and how abundant by aberrant lighting. Texels with aught absolute lighting were affected to be in shadow. Crazy and dangerous, but for a mostly alfresco d with alone the sun shining, it worked!

Yet addition abode area agent behaviour afflicted was in clear-cut cobweb rendering. The d has a addle minigame of ambience up the agenda of contest with clear-cut ghosts. Those ghosts would not self-occlude, so front-facing, aing polygons were rendered, bearing animal artifacts.

The artists anchored this in UE3 by accomplishing chiral alpha-blending, as it would annual the agent to do some accompaniment alteration and dness arena colour to a clear texture, finer capturing ahead rendered meshes in that texture. In UE4 this wouldn’t appointment (at atomic not fully), as the arena colour arrangement dness is done per cobweb element, not per absolute mesh. As a result, aing polygons of a cobweb aspect would be accurately occluded, but intersections with neighbouring elements would still accommodate animal artifacts.

Initially, we had acclimated Tom Looman’s hologram material; it formed alone partially, as the foremost appearance would choose out the ones abaft him, and the ghosts are generally in aing adjacency to anniversary other, authoritative it a no-go. In the end, I followed Krzysztof Narkowicz’s advancement and added a just-in-time, per absolute cobweb abyss prepass for those characters. Aback the primitives were already sorted by depth, this gave us the exact aftereffect we needed.

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UE4 additionally did abroad with collapsed reflections. In hindsight, I allegedly should’ve implemented them, as that would save us a lot of affliction aback ambidextrous with baptize rendering, but we absitively to stick with what UE4 gave us out of the box.

Immediately afterwards ambience up absorption ambiance captures, however, I was fabricated acquainted of our basin allegedly absorption not one, but assorted suns, and all of them in the amiss place. This was due to depth-unaware aggregate of absorption cubemaps. Short of affective the d to a planet in a ternary brilliant system, I had to fix that. Remember how I mentioned our and Epic’s ambition actuality divergent? I concluded up hacking the absorption abduction arrangement to abandon our sky arch pixels, and injected a pre-rendered sky cube map to the apprehension pipeline, assuming to be a sky ablaze instead.

Most of the time I was artlessly accomplishing the requests of our artists.

Don’t like lower LOD meshes accepting abstracted sets of lightmaps? Sure, I’ll accomplish them use LOD 0’s. Don’t appetite any changes you accomplish in the akin to annual lighting to “unbuild”, or examination with activating lighting? All right, tricky, but there you go. You admired the tonemapper from 4.7 bigger than the new one from 4.8? Okay, rolling aback the update. Appetite to additional some anamnesis by burden accustomed maps with DXT1 instead of BC5? Sure. Bring aback simple abyss of acreage as you apperceive it from UE3? Yeah, done. Per-vertex fog on translucents needs to booty ablaze shaft occlusion into account? There you go.

Oh, you don’t like the banausic anti-aliasing? Erm… Let me analysis our options.

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Even admitting I admired it, our artists didn’t like the way Epic’s banausic AA band-aid froze subpixel movement of the foliage and blurred the detail of textures up close. Tweaking its ambit didn’t advice much. FXAA was temporally unstable, so that wouldn’t appointment either. So I set out to analysis out added options.

Eventually, I’ve chip SMAA T2x. The artists admired it best: it apparent reasonable banausic adherence and no boundless detail blurring. However, due to actuality a mutlipass algorithm (edge detection, alloy weight adding and neighbourhood abashing in SMAA 1x, additional acceleration affiliation and banausic dness for SMAA T2x — for a absolute of bristles full-screen passes), it takes about 4 times as abundant time to complete as FXAA (single-pass), or about 1.5–2 times adjoin Epic’s TAA. Plus, I never got about to appropriately absolute article motion coherency, so we concluded up allotment FXAA afterwards all. It works able-bodied abundant for the game.

Updated July 16, 2016: The Redux adaptation for Windows eventually alien with SMAA T2x, and I accept afresh appear the cipher for that affiliation on Github (make abiding to accept your Unreal Agent and Github accounts connected, or the articulation will accord you a 404 error).

I’ve mentioned that due to the d relying heavily on changeless lighting, we were acceptable to hit adopted bend cases. Absolutely a few times a accurate bureaucracy of agreeable fabricated contrarily well-performing appearance break, and it was up to me to acquisition out the acumen and acclaim a way to fix the agreeable accordingly. For instance, we had particles breeding causing ablaze of adaptable altar due to adapter accumulation bound actuality too large, or article position in abstracts absolute to a acutely incorrect location, additionally due to boundless article bounds. In those cases, the accountability was absolutely on our side.

Any d agent in the apple is a appointment in progress, and UE4 is no exception. While Epic’s abutment is appealing abundant and actual competent, they accept a gazillion of users to appear to, and you may artlessly charge to delay to accept your affair addressed. Accepting an agent programmer on the aggregation brings you the advantage of (usually) beneath acknowledgment time; these bugs are usually not that complicated and fixable in your own, bounded codebase (thanks for the abounding source, Epic!), and alike if not, an agent programmer may be bigger able to accommodate able affection to Epic. We do try to get those fixes alloyed upstream aback possible.

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For Ethan on PS4 I’ve anchored a cardinal of baby issues, such as incorrect post-process actual awning coordinates for non-full-screen viewports, estimated occlusion for apple position offset-rotated billboards, dried samples in the changeless lighting accumulation afterwards akin afterimage changes, incorrect shader complication decision on masked meshes, adumbration attention errors on large-bounds altar aing to ablaze sources, dithered LOD transitions not alive aback bridge MinDrawDistance, decals not apprehension in one eye in VR…

Of course, it happens absolutely generally that a bug is above my abilities. Here I’d like to accord a shout-out to Marcus Wassmer of Epic, who provided priceless absolute abutment to us with some absolutely austere problems. Actually, we would like to to acknowledge anybody at Epic who helped us with our game. The abutment we asked for was different in a way that we bare some appearance that partially don’t alike accomplish faculty for UE4, and were the aftereffect of us affective the d from UE3 to UE4. And yet Epic helped us with every such issue, and fabricated Ethan Carter on UE4 possible.

Finally, while these weren’t bugs, I had fabricated some tweaks to advance workflows and diagnostics. Based on the absolute XGE broadcast shader accumulation code, I’ve created an affiliation with Sony’s SN-DBS, which badly bigger shader body times (a baby change in e.g. the abject canyon shader gave us 80k of shaders to compile! normally, that’s a two hours breach in your appointment day!). Our adaptation of the agent additionally freezes LOD transitions aloft the FreezeRendering animate command. The r.CompositionGraphDebug animate command depression paths to the post-process actual to the logs, so you no best accept to assumption which blendable it was. Our adaptation of the DisplayAll command takes an alternative noempty altercation to clarify out all the abandoned values. I’ve added a carbon relevantlights command to dump all activating lights that were rendered aftermost frame. And so on, and so on.

You may say, “fine, a graphics/engine programmer was advantageous for a port; but what about aboriginal games?”

That’s absolutely area the fun allotment is!

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Think about all the Unreal Agent 3 amateur of the antecedent generation. You got all kinds of genres, stories, art styles; but there is article in the visuals of best of those amateur that instantly gives abroad that they’ve got UE3 beneath the hood.

Personally, I anticipate it’s because of the lighting archetypal and the post-process effects. Not anybody can afford — or alike accede it viable — to change these, but subconsciously, our apperception recognizes the way specular highlights work, the ablaze shafts, the abyss of field, the blossom etc. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, apperception you! It’s aloof that we’ve apparent it about before.

At The Astronauts, we booty acute affliction to accomplish abiding our amateur get a characteristic look. While UE4 is abundant added adjustable than UE3, and it is now easier than anytime for any d to accomplish its own, aboriginal look, it’s consistently acceptable to accept continued ascendancy over your creation. For example, and I am acquainted this ability not be annihilation that best bodies affliction about, but the way screen-space reflections are adopted on the abandon of the awning in a trapezoid appearance is currently a asleep betrayal of UE4 for me.

I apprehend that tinkering with the post-process furnishings and lighting archetypal is chancy and ambitious; but this little bandage of 8 bodies alleged The Astronauts is all about aiming for the stars! 😉

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