Introduction & New Technologies in GameWorks SDK 3.1
NVIDIA has just made its GameWorks SDK 3.1 official, and with it, the company has continued its expansion of its middleware. GameWorks SDK 3.1 provides new PhysX tools and three new GPU-based features that have already been featured in three large games in the last couple of months.
NVIDIA has used some of the new features from GameWorks 3.1 in games like Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and The Division. We'll go into those details soon, but for now, let's talk about just how far NVIDIA GameWorks' reach is, and how many developers are using it.
There are over 175,000 registered developers using GameWorks now, with hundreds of titles released. NVIDIA notes that 300 world-class engineers are "at the intersection of art and science". GameWorks allows for visual and physical simulation, with IDE-integrated and standalone debuggers, profilers, and utilities.
You might not know what GameWorks is, but to most - it's invisible. Virtually all of the big developers use it, from Valve to Ubisoft, and Activision to Epic Games. GameWorks has powered some of the biggest games of all time, including Fallout 4 and Grand Theft Auto V.
Continuous, and Near Unlimited Innovation
NVIDIA has expanded its GameWorks initiative with SDK 3.1, but what technologies are we looking at? We have technologies like the new VXAO (Voxel Accelerated Ambient Occlusion), FleX (position-based constrained particle dynamics), HairWorks (similar to AMD's TressFX technology), HBAO+ (Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion), and so much more.
The company truly hasn't stopped, and GameWorks 3.1 is here to prove that.
New Technologies, including Light and Shadow
GameWorks SDK 3.1 adds new lighting and shadow technologies with volumetric lighting, voxel accelerated ambient occlusion, and high fidelity shadows.
Looking at volumetric lighting, it creates much more realistic lighting in a game with the volumetric lighting offered on GeForce video cards looking absolutely beautiful - if the game supports it, that is. In something like Fallout 4, volumetric lighting goes a very long way to making the entire scene look more realistic.
NVIDIA goes to great lengths to make GameWorks the best it can be, offering physically scattered light into GameWorks 3.1. What this does is harness the atmosphere of microparticles that reflect or refract passing rays, for ultra-realistic lighting.
VXAO might just sound like four letters that don't mean much, but it's the highest quality ambient occlusion solution available to PC gamers, and it looks great in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The world-space algorithm provides better image quality, smoother response to camera motion, finer details, and greater accuracy than screen-space solutions. VXAO works on both DX11 and DX12, too.
The difference between screen-space AO channel and VXAO is massive, with the perfect comparison below.
SSAO vs. VXAO
NVIDIA provided some screenshots of Rise of the Tomb Raider, comparing SSAO against VXAO so that you can see the difference. It's subtle, but it really adds to the scene overall. Check out these screenshots:
Starting with no AO, the scene looks okay - but only because it's the first screenshot and this is establishing a baseline. Next, we'll take a look at SSAO.
With SSAO enabled in Rise of the Tomb Raider, the shadowing on both the characters looks vastly improved.
Finally, with VXAO enabled, we can see it's decent jump from SSAO - the shadows are much darker and more detailed. You can see that the shadows underneath the character laying on the snow are definitely more pronounced.
Shadows & The Future of GameWorks
Shadows are important, too
I still remember the days of turning shadows off in games because of the performance hit, but now we're mostly past those days and have entered an era of super realistic shadows. GameWorks 3.1 ushers in high fidelity shadows courtesy of HFTS.
Normal shadows look good for the most part, but they're hard - the shadows projected make it look like the light source is right behind the tree.
But, this isn't realistic. The shadows should be softer the further away the shadow extends, which is something HFTS does.
HTFS provides much software shadows the further the light source is away, with NVIDIA using The Division as a great example of stellar HFTS use.
The future of GameWorks, NVIDIA teases through to March 2017
Don't you love it? NVIDIA has just unveiled GameWorks 3.1, but we're already expecting big things in June, September, December and even March 2017.
In June, we can expect 3.1 updates with additional goods released to GitHub. In September, NVIDIA will unveil GameWorks 3.2, and in December, there will be updates for GameWorks 3.2 released. Fast forwarding to March 2017, NVIDIA tells us to "stay tuned", and yes - yes we will.
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