Saturday, 17 February 2018

Progressing Towards 2018 - Part 4 : Debunking the 'PS2' Ridiculousness.

Hi everyone.

Earlier this week, Canuck Play unveiled Maximum Football 2018. If you haven't watched the announcement video already, you can check out the full 8 minutes here;

The announcement was hosted on our YouTube channel and Facebook page, as well as reposted in other channels. Combined, we had roughly 15,000 views in about 36 hours. Not really the numbers of a new Star Wars movie trailer, but for a small indie project, it tells us that we've caught people's attention. So thanks to everyone that took a look at it.
Along with many aspects of the core game play, Maximum Football 2018 had a complete visual revamp. The difference in visuals from 2017 to 2018 is staggering.

Yet even with the massive improvements, there are still some out there that make the comment - 'looks like a PS2 game'. I shake my head at this because I just don't get it. Maximum Football 2018 looks nothing like a title of that era. But, lets examine that comment for a moment.

From a purely technical standpoint, the PS2 would be simply incapable of rendering even a single frame of last year's title, much less Maximum Football 2018

Not only would it choke to death of the amount of polygons being pushed per second, but it would have no clue how to even process the lighting system. Even something as mundane as Maximum Football's 3D field grass would be impossible on PS2 hardware.

Maximum Football 2018 uses every modern graphics technique available for current hardware;
  • Linear Lighting? Check. - PS2? Gama based lighting only.
  • Vertix Shaders? Check. - PS2? No pixel shader support. Used custom Vector Units to transform vertices's by hand-written micro-code assembly. Extremely hard to write those shaders, they ran extremely slowly and they were almost never used.
  • PBR Texturing? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Ambient Occlusion? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Depth of Field Camera Processing? Check. - PS2? Faked it.
  • 4096 Texture Maps? Check. - PS2? Typical texture size was 512*512 with 1024 max.
  • Reflection Probes? Check. - PS2? Existed, sort of. Very slow and limited to 64*64 textures.
  • Light Probes? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Full HD (1920*1080)? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Hardware Physics System? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Indirect Mesh Instancing? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • GPU Based Skinned Meshes? Check. - PS2? No such thing.
  • Real Time Light Based Soft Shadows? Check - PS2? No such thing.
  • 1.6 Billion Polygon's per second? Check. PS2? only 66 million / second.
  • 60 Frames a Second? Check.- PS2? Yes it was possible, but rarely achieved.
The list of technical abilities that Maximum Football uses is longer than what is above, but that's a short list of things that were not even invented at the time of the PS2.

Player Models
There's also a little bit of cheating going on when it comes to things like Player Models. One that takes the form of something called Level Of Detail (LOD). It's a technique that has been used for a great many years in the game industry, but something that the vast majority of casual observers, and even many hard core gamers, do not understand. The technique allows for switching visual components during certain portions of play given the current situation. When you play other football titles, the player models on the field during regular plays from scrimmage are no more detailed than what Maximum Football 2018 uses. 

However, when the camera zooms in close for replays or cut scenes, or when the studio needs a glamour shot for advertising, the games LOD system automatically swaps out the game play mesh to a much high resolution mesh. This usually happens when frame rate isn't as important. You want 60 frames a second running play from scrimmage, any other time that frame rate can drop to 30, you use high resolution meshes. These are technically 'in game' player models, but they're not the same ones you actually execute a play with.

Maximum Football 2018 does something along the same lines. During plays from scrimmage we use a lower resolution (lower detail) mesh to keep a steady 60 frames a second. Post play events we switch out to the higher resolution version. You can see the differences below;

Along with a higher level of detail on the mesh, Maximum Football 2018 uses PBR textures. PBR stands for Physically Based Rendering (again, nothing like it ever existed on the PS2). PBR textures are made up of multiple layered images. The basic diffuse (colour), along with normal maps for details such as the jersey material, specular maps allow for for each part of the uniform to reflect light differently, occlusion maps provide more depth, detail maps highlight items such as belt buckles and shoe laces. Each of the 6 layers of each uniform is made from a texture that is 4 times larger than the largest texture a PS2 could hold in memory. So there's that.

Lighting in Maximum Football 2018 is also completely different from Canadian Football 2017 (and one that never existed on the PS2). This year's title uses Linear lighting. The technique gives a much broader range of light to dark. (image from Unity documentation).

Along with the improved lighting system, this year's title also uses a better system for casting real time shadows - again, not a system that would have worked on PS2 hardware.

Stadiums and Environments
Maximum Football 2018 increased the the polygon count of our game environments by upwards of 11 times. For example, the Vancouver stadiums level of detail rose from around 2,100 polygons to over 23,000 - for just the building. The typical stadium polygon level for a (then) AAA PS2 title was about 1,500. You can see more on the specifics of the stadiums further down this blog.

We even went so far as to more than quadruple the level of detail for the player bench area.

During the PS2 era, sports stadium spectators were generally created using seating row length billboard textures. So you would have a texture that included the 25 to 30 people sitting in that one row, and that texture would be repeated countless times on the various 2D billboards that made up all the spectators. Late in the life of the system, these spectators eventually became animated by the use of a shader to swap the textures on the billboards. But they were still non-camera facing billboards, if the game camera found itself in a weird angle to the spectators, they would vanish.

Canadian Football 2017 used 2D billboards as well, but each spectator was a separate mesh with an animated texture. As well, each spectator faced the camera. Meaning it was impossible for the camera to get into a position where the spectator would not be rendered. So, while it used an older technique, it was still several steps up from the old PS2 method.

For Maximum Football 2018, we're now processing upwards of 45,000 (depending on the stadium) fully 3D and fully animated spectators - complete with their own individual 3D seat. And we're maintaining 60 Frames a Second on the PS4, PS4 Pro, XBox One X, and PC.

The Maximum Football 3D spectators took 1 person about 3 weeks to build and implement. This included designing the basic system on paper, developing simple prototypes to test methods and validate concepts, to creating the basic spectator mesh, creating animations, texturing, creating the seat, and finally working out the kinks. At that point the existing spectator system was ripped out of the game and this new one put in its place.

What was done in 3 weeks, other studios have had the luxury of months to build in the first place, and several game iterations to perfect over years

What does this all mean?
Okay then, so if Maximum Football 2018 has all the tools of 'those other guys' why do the graphics still look a bit behind? The answer to that is very simple - time.

Canuck Play is a very small team: 2 full time employees, 2 people working on an as-needed contract basis, and a student intern working 8 hours a week. Relative to other studios, we're beyond minuscule. And yet the scope of the project is the same as a team of 40.

Compare that to those other guys with about 40 people working on core game play. Another 30 or so working on the custom rendering engine used by the core game team. Another 20 working on customised tools. Another 20 building and managing the online feature set. They have a dedicated staff that does nothing but work on environmental effects such as rain and snow. They have a staff on the animation team that do nothing but fix foot placement in the game. Not to mention the massive marketing and licensing teams, and let's not forget the legion of QA testers.

Simply put, while large studios can spend 20 man hours working on a single stadium spectator t-shirt texture, we can only spend about 1 hour before we have to move on to the next thing. They have the luxury of spending 3 man weeks on a single stadium, we get 3 days.

At the end of the day it's not about the tech, it's about human resources. We are using the same technology (painting with broad strokes), but when you have the luxury of a multi-million dollar license from a mult-Billion dollar licensor and corporate sponsors falling over themselves to work with you, you can afford to have those sorts of resources.

Canuck Play is producing a non-licensed title with no corporate sponsorship, and so with that, I would put our visuals up against anyones.

So how do we fix that?
Well, the answer is provided by the problem. Canuck Play is always on the hunt for corporate sponsors and business partners. We would love to speak to individuals or companies that are as passionate about what we're trying to achieve as we are and can help us with the resources we need to accomplish it.

Thanks again for taking the time this rather lengthy edition of The Sidelines, and showing your interest in what we're doing with Maximum Football.



  1. Sorry David, but from a strict eye test, games like NFL 2K3/4/5 for PS2 look better and Max FB has a long way to go to reach that level:

    Max FB may have a ton of technical advantages under the hood, but none of that matters if when the eye test is applied the older game's visuals are more appealing.

    That said, I realize it's an indie game and resources are tough, but at this point a main concern should be animations and AI, I wouldn't even let graphics be a topic until the income of the game is up and steady. It took Axis a few iterations to get the visuals to where they are now, so I don't think anyone is expecting Max FB to get to that level overnight.

  2. No Sorry. There's nothing in that image you provided that looks better than what Maximum Football is currently offering. There are not even any shadows on the field, which is a low resolution texture. It's not even 3D grass... something that has been standard in all sports titles for something like 10 years. And why is #35's arm dislocated? Why are all the spectators unanimated billboards?

    So no, the image you provided simply does not look as good as what we have in the game now.