No Slowing Down: How TITAN RTX Brings High-Quality Images to Gameplay Design

Icebreaker Interactive creates new levels of realism in graphics using Allegorithmic’s Substance Designer with TITAN RTX.
by Nicole Castro

Creating a video game with realistic graphics and smooth gameplay can be an extraordinary challenge. But with the NVIDIA TITAN RTX, one designer is taking cinematic visuals and player experiences to the next level.

Käy Vriend is the co-owner of Icebreaker Interactive, an indie game studio based in Denmark. He’s working on Escalation 1985, an online first-person shooter game set during the Cold War. For Vriend, it’s important to have realistic details to enhance the player experience, and his own experience as a war veteran plays a big part in building out the game.

“To portray how war feels, you need that level of realism that makes everything palpable,” Vriend explained.

One example is the game’s tank simulator. A player who steps inside it will see an array of buttons. And they’re not just for show — all the buttons are going to be functional. “If you start the tank, you have to start the fans. If you don’t start the fans, you’ll die from carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Vriend. “That’s the attention to detail we’re looking for.”

Getting that level of detail into a game isn’t easy. But Allegorithmic’s Substance Designer and the TITAN RTX GPU helped Vriend speed up the process.

Baking the Details

Substance Designer is a tool for making materials and textures for 3D models. It features bakers to help artists create realistic environments without slowing games down.

In Substance Designer, Vriend uses three bakers that leverage ray tracing: ambient occlusion for local shadowing, bent normal for illumination and reflection, and thickness for subsurface scattering and translucency.

When he receives a 3D model from an artist, Vriend bakes the maps and analyzes them in 3D. From Substance Designer, he bakes all materials to properly run on lower resolution meshes before using Substance Painter to paint on the low-poly mesh. Then he exports the material with the model to Unreal Engine, where all the assets are knitted together to produce beautiful visuals.

TITAN RTX Kicks Things Into High Gear

So what happened when Vriend finally got his hands on the TITAN RTX?

“I was blown away,” he said. “I tried to bake 4K maps, so I hit ‘Start Render’ and I thought it wasn’t responding. But when I looked, the maps were already there. It was instantaneous.”

Without the TITAN RTX, Vriend said that baking one map with local shadowing took around 14 minutes. With RTX, it was done in 16 seconds. Now he’s able to crank up parameters and bake models at a higher quality, check if something is wrong and still have enough time to rebake if needed.

The massive boost in performance speed comes from the GPU’s RT cores, which are designed for performing ray tracing at amazing efficiency. This allows designers to make photorealistic objects, characters and environments at higher resolutions.

“Substance Designer now includes DXR technology in bakers. This gives artists access to extremely fast ray tracing,” said Nicolas Wirrmann, Substance Designer Product Manager at Allegorithmic. “TITAN RTX accelerates the bakers on a massive scale: creators get way more time to iterate at higher qualities and details than before. Designers can work at a fraction of the time it used to take.”

It isn’t just the speed that impressed Vriend — the quality amazed him, too. One specific example is the model of the M16A1 rifle, which is similar to what Vriend used during his military service.

Created in Substance Designer, “it looks exactly as I remember, from the way the spring looks to the details of the magazine release,” said Vriend. “Just from looking at it, I could feel the cold metal on my fingers, like I was holding the rifle again.”

Experience the stunning graphics and gameplay of Escalation 1985 when it’s available for early access on Nov. 9 — the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The game’s full release will be in summer 2020.

Learn More About Material Creation at GTC

Join Allegorithmic at GTC as they demonstrate Substance Alchemist, a tool that allows users to create new materials from pictures, scans or pre-existing materials.

Allegorithmic will also show how GPU-accelerated AI enhances material creation, diving deep into the features that leverage Tensor Cores.