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  • Syndicate: Exclusive tech interview - Amazing to play Syndicate on six monitors

    Syndicate from EA/Starbreeze is set to start in February. PC Games Hardware had the chance to talk to Otto Kivling, Technical Director at developer Starbreeze. He shared a lot of exclusive information about the technical capabilities of Syndicate.

    Otto Kivling, Technical Director at developer Starbreeze, gives us a lot of insight information on the engine used in the upcoming shooter Syndicate.

    PCGH: As far as we are informed the technical base of Syndicate will be your in house technology the Starbreeze Engine. About two years ago, the Engine was the technical base of Riddick - Assault on Dark Athena. Have you improved, updated or modified the Engine for Syndicate? If yes, which modifications were necessary and what are the reasons for reprogramming the engine?

    Starbreeze: Yes, we are still using in house technology for Syndicate. Indeed, one of the reasons EA signed Starbreeze to work on Syndicate was our mature and competitive technology. We continually challenge ourselves and so almost every area of the engine has been improved under-the-hood, to deliver the Syndicate vision. From integrating a global illumination solution (Beast) for more realistic lighting, a new physics solver allowing more physical interaction, an improved networking layer, and an optimized character pipeline to not only deliver more characters, but also improving on the great performance we had in Dark Athena.

    One area that we have been very careful with is the AI. We are very proud of the AI in our games technology and the experience it delivers to the player, and so we have made incremental improvements - better path finding, improved perception system and better integration with our animation system. This is one of the areas we are most proud of in Syndicate - it really does present the player with a challenge. We also developed technology to do full 3d facescan of actors and added that to our content pipeline so the time from scan to in-game was around 1-2 hours.

    Some of the thing we've done:
    - Better AI
    - More active AI's on screen at the same time
    - Adding civilians that didn't need full AI simulation.
    - Improved network layer to handle four player coop
    - Extended and wrote a new streaming system to cut down on loading times.
    - Optimized postprocessing pipeline
    - New DX9 renderer

    PCGH: A trademark of the Starbreeze-Engine has been the support for Open-GL. Does the technology utilized in Syndicate still support the API or have you modified the renderer to support Microsoft's DirectX only? If this is the case, why was support for Open-GL dropped?

    Starbreeze: We have been using OpenGL internally for development, but we have also added DirectX support too. One of the reasons we added DirectX was the time and effort we had to spend supporting OpenGL when we shipped Riddick - Assault on Dark Athena. It was very painful and took far too long. It's just a fact that DirectX is now mature and has greater support from the hardware vendors and EA than OpenGL. We will only release a DirectX version of the game as this has had the most QA time devoted to it, so gamers will get a great experience. But the OpenGL renderer is still in there and will not be supported.

    PCGH: Syndicate will be developed for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Will the title be developed as a pure cross platform product or do you try to optimize the base technology for each single platform, especially for the special hardware each platform has to offer?

    Starbreeze: We try to keep the majority of the engine cross platform, but we invest a lot of resources to make use of the special hardware every platform has to offer. There are of course platform dependencies in low level systems (I/O, rendering, etc). For example for the PS3 we make use of the SPU's to run cloth simulation, parts of the physics and part of the DartVision code. A fair amount of time has been spent to utilize and optimize for the different hardware as best as we can. That is why we can run Syndicate in 720p without upscaling. When it comes to PC - you can just have more of everything. A PC graphics card today has 4GiB graphics memory alone while a console has a total of 512MiB for both graphics and system memory. PC development has one drawback though - it is tough to support all the different computer setups gamers have, but the tremendously good support and help from Intel, AMD and nVidia have helped us make optimizations for their respective platform.

    PCGH: Will there be noticeable differences between the Console and PC version of Syndicate as far as technology and visuals are concerned? What special effects, graphics and technical features can only be rendered/processed by the PCs very powerful video card/hardware?

    Starbreeze: We have aimed to have the same visual experience for all platforms, but as a gamers PC today is so powerful we can run at higher resolutions and faster frame rates than the consoles. We also use higher resolution textures everywhere; higher quality audio and the post processing effects that we use extensively are higher quality too. Time has also been spent on supporting AMD Eyefinity. It is an amazing experience playing Syndicate on 6 monitors.

    PCGH: A visual trademark of the renderer utilized in Riddick - Assault on Dark Athena was the heavy use of post-process-effect like Motion Blur, Depth of Field, Bloom (HDR) and even Ambient Occlusion. Can we besides these Post-Effect expect new rendering technologies that debut with the new/revised version of the engine? Are there any visual that are very special compared to other Games of the genre?

    Starbreeze: We still use post-processing extensively in Syndicate, but as you would expect, everything has been revised to suit the visual style. We don't like doing comparisons between ourselves and other games in the genre when creating technology, but rather focus on the technology that needs to be created to enhance the visuals and game experience; the three have to work hand-in-hand. We've tweaked the post-processing to suit the Syndicate world and added new effects to give a unique visual style. As John Lasseter from Pixar says "Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology".

    PCGH: When benchmarking Riddick - Assault on Dark Athena we found out that the technology you used back them only scaled well with two processor core. Where you aware of it when deciding to use the Starbreeze-Engine for Syndicate? Have you tried as a consequence of this to further optimize your technology for Multicore CPUs? Will the engine scale now well with four or even more cores? If yes, up to how many cores could be supported and can you give some detail about the thread structure? Do you use a scheduler to parallelize the engine code?

    Starbreeze: We were aware of the limitation, and have made improvements to the engine to take advantage of more hardware cores for Syndicate. We have found, as was the case on Riddick - Assault on Dark Athena, that we are mostly GPU bound, and so most of our efforts have gone into optimizing and maximizing for the GPU.

    PCGH: Will the PC version of Syndicate be shipped with support for DX10/DX11?

    Starbreeze: We aren't shipping with DX10/11 support. When we first added support for DirectX, we evaluated both DX9 and DX10, but weren't convinced that DX10 offered much more than DX9. We have considered adding support for DX11, which is a great API, but to really take advantage of DX11 we believe we would have to fundamentally re-architect large areas of our engine, and this was too risky; instead we focused our resources on ensuring the experience we deliver on DX9 is as good as it can be. Look out for future Starbreeze titles supporting DX11 though.

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Syndicate from EA/Starbreeze is set to start in February. PC Games Hardware had the chance to talk to Otto Kivling, Technical Director at developer Starbreeze. He shared a lot of exclusive information about the technical capabilities of Syndicate.
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