Decima Engine rendering techniques shown off during Siggraph 2017

At Siggraph 2017, a computer graphics conference held in Los Angeles July 30 – August 3, Giliam de Carpentier (Guerrilla Games) Kohei Ishiyama (Kojima Productions) held a talk titled Decima Engine: Advances in Lighting and AA. During this presentation the two discussed rendering techniques used by the Decima Engine in games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Death Stranding. The official website writes:

The Decima engine was originally developed for the Killzone series, and is now powering Horizon: Zero Dawn as well as Death Stranding (Kojima Productions). In this talk we’ll cover some of the rendering techniques we developed for these titles. Topics include an improved method for approximating spherical area lights by bending the light vector of a single point light, practical realistic atmospheric scattering with height fog, our 2-frame temporal anti-aliasing solution for 1080p, and finally our optimized 2160p checkerboard rendering and ‘tangram’ resolve strategy used on the PS4 Pro.

Giliam de Carpentier (Guerrilla Games)
Kohei Ishiyama (Kojima Productions)

Giliam de Carpentier is a Principal Tech Engineer at Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam. He developed a number of the lighting and post processing techniques for Horizon: Zero Dawn, including its AA, HDR, reworked PBR, and checkerboard rendering. Before joining Guerrilla in 2015, he worked for 8 years at Force Field, developing graphics, AI, physics and back-end systems for many of their multi-platform games.

Kohei Ishiyama is a graphics programmer at Kojima Productions, with 6 years of previous experience as a VFX and physics programmer. On Death Stranding his main focus is on rendering programming, including the areas of physically based rendering as well as lighting. He has a strong passion for physics, and is particularly interested in ways in which the radiative transfer equation can be approximated for use in games.

Below you can find a video demonstrating some of the techniques.

This is a sample scene from the Decima Engine.
We can see an aerial perspective from sunny to cloudy weather with the inclusion of an artistic atmosphere.

So, with this result, we achieve both a realistic aerial perspective and an artistic height fog with a single height fog model.

Those interested in delving deeper into this stuff can download the full presentation slides via the official Siggraph website.

Source: Siggraph Official Website, Kojima Productions Twitter

  • Lex Radu

    So empty here!

  • Daburcor

    This is pretty cool. Decima’s an impressive engine.
    I really can’t wait to see more of this game.

  • I like that they are going for a more clean look. also, judging by this video they are going for a more artistic look, than cinematic realism. I think the engine is not suited for a realistic look so… They need to make some compromises. Anyway, looks cool.

    • Lex Radu

      It looks like how early MGSV GZ GDC 2013 tech, but Konami wanted Photorealisminstead of imersion.

      • MGSV GZ GDC 2013 tech was about cinematic photo realism. GZ in comparison looks like a dirty prison place or dirty place in Cuba. PBR only started it’s way in the indusrty, now everyone is using PBR or other lighting techniques.

        Death Stranding location has more colors. If you look at the wall with bricks at the right, it has more details, it is crisp but it is also clean and the picture in general has more colors in it. Fog is mostly an artistic choice here.

    • Full Options

      Hi Golgari, all is bound to your scene geometry complexity / sparsity. CryEngine, Unreal, RAGE, Decima, Fox etc.. All can be suited for realistic look depending the talent of your graphics programmers to save as much processing as possible.
      If you have more detailed batches / topology the shaders may struggle in processing all the effects below the given frame budget. In other words, you can achieve extremely realistic scenes in all of them, but will still have to apply traditional optimization and manual tweaks everywhere. So the 2 keys relay on your aptitude to redact fast enough shaders that can process heavy geometry batches and also the talent of your technical artists to reduce as much as possible the number of triangles for given areas while keeping realism.
      Those shaders are redacted in either higher level syntax such as GLSL, Cg or HLSL, or directly in the GPU’s assembler which is usually the case for the most advanced and clean programmers, but when your shader is ready to run, it will perform 1:1 the same whatever the engine, because you are, at the end, giving the same program to the same GPU.
      Of course the engine’s architecture can have an impact in some areas such as resources loading / streaming and various scene management, physics or AI considerations, but on a pure rendering quality standpoint, things stay rather uniform, requiring pure linear algebra and optimized modeling talents.

      The team probably just aim at the most decent realistic result along with the heaviest frame-rate like they used to do with MGS.
      Can’t wait to see more !

      • When I’m talking about the realism, I’m talking just how it looks in the end. If you look at the CryEngine and Unreal, each of them have photorealistic games but they look really different from each other.
        CryEngine games are more vibrant and colorful unlike Unreal Engine games. For some reason UE makes their games more dirty and gritty.

        Different engines make games look different. Fox Engine graphics was built around cinematic photorealism from the very beggining. You can see it at PT too that the look of it is realistic and dark in tone and not really that colorful. Jungles in MGSV:TPP are not that colorful, they are mostly greenish and brownish to make them more real.

        I’m not super-pro at this, but the Decima is very colorful judging by Killzone: Shadow Fall and especially Horizon:Zero Dawn.
        Death Stranding Height Fog video shows a location that is destroyed, but for some reason it looks clean and shiny. It looks great of course.

        • Full Options

          CryEngine and Unreal are very heavy elephants, not always as clean as expected which can lead to big struggles when trying to maintain both a decent frame-rate and decent anti-aliasing.
          Not sure which one is cleaner but remembered a SCEA Devcon 2007 or 2008 course only dedicated on pulling UE3 to 60 fps on PS3, indirectly hinting at the difficulty to improve its rendering pipeline. I think it is due to to the incredibly rich number of features available out-of-box with Unreal, whether for the editor and the engine itself, that makes fast performance rendering efforts a bit more difficult to plan.

          CryEngine is not as well free of some fishy areas (if I may dare), perhaps mainly caused by the various APIs chosen for the tools, perhaps not always optimal with the rest of the engine’s. At least it is the impression I had when testing CryEngine3.

          Engines can of course feel delivering per-engine styles / feelings, but I think there are various factors to consider. First and of course, the game designer’s touch for the overall game atmosphere. Then we have also the technical limitations that can enter the dance but I would say that it would more impact the precision of the rendered geometry, instead of the palette / atmosphere which I guess is more in the artistic hands of the team.

          Regarding Decima, differences between HZD and what Boss decided to share so far on DS, this example is great for our discussion of rendering quality difference across engines. As you said, the rendering looks different and I think one of the reasons could be that Sakamoto & co improved some lighting features (not me saying this, Hermen firmly confirmed that in an interview that happened around the last PSX) along with the very touch of KP and Boss for the palette / atmosphere choice.
          Maybe Decima’s lighting is not yet as clean as Fox’s but it is hard to tell with just that small sample / situation…
          In any cases, this DS sample kind of feel cleaner and / or sharper (dunno) than HZD, which is great ! The palette feels less saturated too, I think this is more a Koji-choice. ;D

    • HoxtoniteIsLoveHoxtoniteIsLife

      Tbh , photorealism never bothered Kojima . Even after Konami forced Kojima to develop the game on last gen consoles for wankers like me , he still managed to create a huge responsive sandbox world even though it was only like 5% of his original concept . For example skull face was supposed to give you a tour of OKB zero but thanks to konami that and millions other features like a vibrant interactive world filled with things to do were cut .All the previous years’ bullshit set aside , since this is an exclusive I have no doubt Kojima is going all in and not forced to make a game(mgs4’s clusterfuck story says hello) and when he does that , expect a rollercoaster ride .

      • Full Options

        Not sure Konami forced him to go that multiplat..
        In fact he already expressed his problems with ps exclusive titles in the past, but PS3’s MGS4 was stuck because of the very specific hardware… Since he was rather more ruling things before they got mad at him, I think we owe PC and XBox to Kojima in fact. I guess one of the very reasons why he hired Merceron, because of his ease for multiplat through his experience with UBI and SE..
        Was not easy at all though, and maybe Konami was not that patient / wise, even the tech staff was bubbling hot against all those changes… But eh, they ported PES to Fox, so I guess Kojima and friends had the right vibes for rushing to ease of multiplat with a single engine for both MG and PES…

        Don’t let Konami this credit.. I think that’s Boss’s choice to make us play his games on all possible platforms, without wondering if Konami’s board of dirs really understand what’s going on down-stairs.

        • HoxtoniteIsLoveHoxtoniteIsLife

          Noo. It’s a fact mate . Konami wanted the game to be on shitty last gen platforms and that broke the game’s pace and scope as well as Kojima’s vision . Look it up. They wanted more sales

          • Full Options

            Got your point, but I guess Kojima was not opposed to have more kids playing his games, younger ones could not really afford a current gen, their parents do not always agree to acquire latest hardware (unless for themselves ;P).. Kojima should have normally take this in consideration. Really hard to tell if Konami was the problem without more details..
            You are perhaps right, though.

          • Mate, we don’t know about that really. There is no fact that Konami forced Kojima to develop for last gen.

            However, in 2011 Kojima developed Fox Engine that time for PS3/X360 and PC. So there were already plans for these systems and next gen systems were not announced and third party publishers have not received dev kits. Kojima can’t stop the development of the game in the middle of the process.
            So yeah, it was a cross-gen game. A lot of games these years were cross-gen (like GTAV for example.) and it was not Kojima’s or Konami’s fault.

            If the game was developed just for PS4/Xbox One, yeah… They could do much better in many aspects, but the game is fantastic even with the x360/ps3 limitations.

            But now, with Sony’s support we can expect something spectacular but again, there are other issues (new studio was just created with 0 experience + 2nd party engine that requires proprietary development in-house)

          • Full Options

            Yup, 100% correct.. You are right to remind this quite central point, btw.
            Debug kits and reference tools are generally only available to third party studios at console’s launch. Although in the case of Konami, and due to the quite heavy and long story of partnership with Sony, it is possible that at least the final specs leaked somehow, or maybe they could have unofficially their hands on some kits…
            Can definitely happen between that big companies, but I think like you that they got the kits at the same time than other studios or really short before.

            Early version’s are usually virtualized with several computers in order to simulate the specs of the final product. I guess I remember that they were at some point using 8 PCs for emulating the specs of the PS4, but of course all those prototype setups are only available to first party studios a year or two prior to the release.

  • Full Options

    Glad they published the slides, going to check them asap, yummy !
    Thanks for the update !

    • You’re probably the only one here who understands any of it. 😛 Enjoy!

      • Full Options

        Thanks Nyxus but let me re-insure you on that, there are indeed few slides that look quite ok to read for me but I am definitely not sure to understand all this material as fast as you may currently imagine ! :DD

        Areas covered here by top-notch rendering / lighting specialists like that can only be guessed and barely understood if not studying those topics for years if not decade.

        Slides like the ones on this “tangram” texture packing for achieving 2160p checkerboard on PS4 are awesomely brilliant…

        And as usual, those devs are really cool to share their code snippets in the appendix, which saves a lot of time for other devs in trying to implement those approaches on their own.
        Always amazed to see how the gamedev geeky community freely share their gems in those meetings… Definitely not the case in all areas of science, haha…

  • Gatsu

    Looks really cool.
    I knew PythonSelkan was gonna make a video of this lol ;D.

  • Full Options

    Just a reminder that the other Decima presentation in the same session of Andrew Schneider (Guerrilla) regarding Nubis, the volumetric cloudscape system is also available on both Guerrilla’s website and through your link to Siggraph courses.
    No real shots of DS though, but still exposing how Decima is improving its clouds / sky system :

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