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Tips and Tricks of the Trade

More efficient multi-platform game design

By Andrew Grant

Gamers are more segmented than ever, and indie game developers and designers need to build games that are multi-platform in an effort to maximize reach. However, developing multiple versions of games for consoles, PCs, mobile devices and now virtual reality can be expensive and delay your ship date.

Artists can make their lives easier by streamlining asset creation for maximum efficiency and by using readily available tools that enable a quick design cycle. Artists can create assets that work on a variety of platforms from the start. Knowing your platforms is critical to the design process. High performance platforms such as consoles and PCs can handle high-definition graphics and effects whereas games on mobile platforms and virtual reality have much more limited graphics choices. Since most indie designers don’t have the resources of a big studio like Ubisoft or King, they often need to fall back on the lowest common denominator to support the development of multi-platform titles. Fortunately, there are some tricks of the trade to keep in mind that allow you to design across platforms without losing too much quality.

Efficiency and Consistency is Key

Stick to low polygon models. Even if you aren’t working on a low-poly-style game (which are all the rage now) make sure most assets are low-poly from the beginning of the design process. This will help streamline production and make multi-platform design more efficient by avoiding the need to rework models.

Another trick is to pack your textures efficiently. For example, instead of separate greyscale textures for roughness, metalness, and opacity you can pack your roughness map into the alpha channel of your model while combining the metallic map into the green channel and emissive intensity into the blue channel. Packing your textures can ensure that you keep your memory footprint down and use the best compression algorithm for their purpose.

You should also be economical with shading and shadowing, using these elements sparingly to ensure details look good on all platforms.

Make Sure You Have the Right Tools

A robust profiling tool gives you stats about how an asset would run on a specific system—such as breaking down how long each step of the rendering process takes—giving you insight into what might be slowing it down without having to load and launch the entire game engine. You can create a character, view how it would load on multiple platforms and make tweaks accordingly that optimize performance across the board. You can also use profiling tools to help with debugging. I was once working on a multi-platform game and was having trouble getting it to work on iOS. I was able to use a profiler to make a sequence of minor changes, viewing the asset in iOS between each edit to see if the bug had been resolved. Reloading the game after each change would have taken hours. Instead, I was able to diagnose and resolve the bug in a few minutes.

Along those same lines, a level of detail (LOD) generation pipeline can help you quickly and easily create optimized versions of your assets. Instead of hand modeling LODs from scratch, these tools can automatically do it for you so you can concentrate more on quality.

“Reloading the game after each change would have taken hours. Instead, I was able to diagnose and resolve the bug in a few minutes.”

In a Nutshell

Not everyone has the resources to build multiple versions of games to hit all the desired platforms. Remember to use the tools available to you as in indie game developer to create assets that will work across all platforms.

Andrew Grant is a product manager at Autodesk for the Stingray game engine. He’s worked on video games for more than 15 years, starting his career as a low polygon character artist at Monolith.

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