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FOX engine brings Kojima Productions one step closer to photo-reality

FOX engine brings Kojima Productions one step closer to photo-reality

March 27, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

March 27, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Programming, Art, Production, GDC

At the Game Developers Conference today, Kojima Productions revealed Metal Gear Solid 5, showed off its photorealistic FOX engine, and confirmed his company is recruiting for a brand-new game development office in Los Angeles.

The previously-teased Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes comprise Metal Gear Solid 5, Hideo Kojima announced today, choosing the comingling of both snippets to kick off an extensive showcase of Kojima Productions' proprietary tech.

"The advancement of technology and hardware is used as a ladder to make the impossible possible," Kojima says. Four years have passed since he last discussed his goals at GDC, in a talk where he similarly described tech advancement as a series of escalating goals. Now, he says, "I believe we have built that ladder we call the FOX engine."

The asset creators can essentially render photorealistic images using linear space lighting, and then correct shaders by comparing them to real photos. The FOX engine creates 3D character models by using PhotoScan on photo-real sculptures, with the help of special effects makeup and Softimage.

Textures are generated from the original photos, so they match the 3D model. They can be generated automatically from the reference image by PhotoScan, applied and then hand-tweaked by the artist afterward.

The result is incredibly detailed wireframes that are faithful to the original model; it's almost impossible to differentiate the photographs shown in the presentation from images of models rendered in the engine.

Photorealism and lifelike light behavior are major area of emphasis; deferred rendering's employed to support a high number of lights and give 3D objects and characters a consistent look.

The engine presentation, which included CG art director Hideki Sasaki, tech director Junji Tago, and lighting artist Masayuki Suzuki, often focused on how the team translates physical objects and images into the engine and makes hand edits to make them even more plausible -- while using tools like Marvelous Designer 2 for the game's cloth assets in order to save "enormous" time for modelers.

Sasaki says that rather than simply imitating reality, technology offers us the opportunity to understand our environment more, and prompts artists to develop an intimate acquaintance with the way light, physics and shadows work in the real world.

"The more technology evolves, the more we have to understand our surroundings," he says. "It's important to understand the physical world; to reproduce the real world, we need to study the real world."

This makes the eye of a visual artist more essential than ever: "Simply reproducing reality would only be a traced image," he adds. "You really need an artist's eye."

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