Games: Silicon Dreams Soccer


Developer: Silicon Dreams
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Street Price: TBA
Genre: Sports

Silicon Dreams Studio is one of the better-known sports game developers in the world. The UK-based developer created the Michael Owen’s World League Soccer franchise and the Sega Worldwide Soccer series. Most recently, the UEFA Champions League officially licensed its brand to Take Two Interactive, who commissioned Silicon Dreams to develop UEFA Champions League Season 2001/2002 and recreate reality at a level never seen before.

For their latest European football game, Silicon Dreams has chucked out the old code and rewritten the game engine from the ground up. Focusing on the higher polygon capabilities of the NVIDIA® GeForce3™ Titanium series of graphics processing units (GPUs), UEFA 2002’s playing environments are now built from over 40,000 polygons, with elevation maps being used to create three dimensional grass, and real-time lighting illuminating everything from the mow patterns in the pitch to the stitching on the ball.

The results are spectacular. Players look more true to life than ever, pushing the boundaries of PC graphics. The new version of the football engine uses a 29-bone- skinned skeleton animation for the players, who are now are now built from 8,000 polygons, and are fully per pixel bump mapped for added realism, with shader operations also being used for specular bump maps. The players also feature facial and body morphing using vertex shaders, allowing for more detailed faces and more realistic player models with accurate elbow, knee, and ankle animations.

David Rutter, Silicon Dreams’ lead programmer, gave us the lowdown on what it takes to make a game that’s “as real as it gets.”

You’ve written an entirely new game engine to power Silicon Dream’s next generation of games. What are the titles that will use this new engine?
Rutter: The new engine will power UEFA Champions League 2002, as well as two brand new LEGO games. What’s nice about the new engine is that it’s extremely versatile, allowing us to implement the photo realistic graphics that make UEFA experience so engaging, and still do the more cartoony effects that the LEGO titles use.

Has it been difficult developing an engine that takes full advantage of the latest technologies offered in Microsoft® DirectX® 8.0 and programmable graphics processors?
Rutter: It’s been easy to write individual effects, but difficult to design an integrated engine, with fallback for older cards. In order to muster the same kind of detail from a lower-powered system, the engine automatically falls back to simpler lighting calculations and slightly lower polygon counts; the incidental graphical touches are removed based on the type of PC the game is running on. The game attempts to make the best use of the hardware available to it, be it the brute force of a 1GHz CPU, the fixed function pipeline acceleration of the original GeForce™ and GeForce2™, or the vertex and pixel shaders of a GeForce3.

What have you been able to do with the GeForce3’s pixel and vertex shaders that you couldn’t do before?
Rutter: We have been able to scale the top range content far easier than in the past. The pixel shaders have allowed for more realistic lighting effects on the football players, and the vertex shaders mean we don't have to worry about the CPU shouldering the burden of doing all the extra calculations to allow us to use the latest lighting models.

It was all pretty easy to implement since the GeForce3’s vertex shaders are almost a straight replacement to the older CPU-based transformation pipeline, and the pixel shaders are much easier to code for, since they are a far simpler programming model than the old multi-pass texture set-up.

The detail of the player models in UEFA Champions League 2002 is astounding. What exactly are you doing to make them look so true-to-life?
Rutter: There are several things that make the players look more lifelike. Far more polygons are used in UEFA 2002 compared to past games, and more bones are used for the animation. Also, the game engine is capable of a lot more real-time modification to the basic animations, allowing moves to blend together more realistically.

Is the realism also due to motion capture, or did you find that hand crafting each animation to be a bigger payoff?
Rutter: We used a combination of both. The moves are all motion captured, but we now also adapt the moves on the fly. For example, when a player is about to turn the physics engine applies a rotation to the body so the player leans into the move based on how fast he is moving.

Do you think your next engine will be capable of making the casual observer believe that he's seeing live football footage?
Rutter: It depends on what you mean by the casual observer. If you see some of UEFA 2002’s cut scenes playing on a monitor or TV at a distance, you would need to look twice to see if it’s really a video game. The next engine will be a big step forward again, but we’re still some way off looking like real TV footage up close.

With so much of the graphics engine being handed off to the GPU, did you find you had extra CPU cycles to play with to improve the player’s AI?
Rutter: By raising the basic PC requirements and programming for GPUs such as the GeForce3, we could spend far more CPU cycles on the players AI, both from an individual player’s point of view as well as overall team tactics.

The game’s AI takes into consideration a number of different attributes when deciding on what tactics to use. The current score line will make a big difference with teams bringing on extra defenders if the player scores early in the game, and bringing on attackers if they are only a couple of goals down and are nearing the end of the match for a big push. The AI also factors in other things such as the type of match―league, cup, two-legged knockout―to figure out the appropriate tactics.

What’s next realistically? Modeled football fans?
Rutter: We already have some 3D models of people in the crowd sections, such as stewards and cameramen. The crowd itself was created from a simple render of 3D models of a group of people, but it won’t be long before the crowd itself is entirely 3D.

Click images to enlarge

Silicon Dreams Soccer Screenshot 1
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