GBR had a chance to sit down with the founder and CEO of Allegorithmic and discuss their upcoming product focus and his thoughts on the direction technology is heading.
Based in Clermont-Ferrand, France, Allegorithmic was founded by Sebastien Deguy in 2003. Allegorithmic initially focused on providing advanced texture authoring middleware and software which is used for creating very light, streamable and dynamic (animated, parametric) textures.
GBR: Over the past few years, Allegorithmic has truly become the industry standard for creating ‘smart’ textures for games. Can you give us a brief overview on your products?
Substance is the hat name for all our family of products. It is a whole ecosystem of products revolving around the concept of “Smart Textures” or “Substances.” We call them “smart” because we build them in a hybrid, parametric way, making them dynamic and lean (very light compared to bitmap textures), leading to new and advanced graphic effects and visual experience as well as lighter, more easily distributed games.
The Substance product line consists of 4 main products:
- Substance Designer. The authoring tool allows users to create smart textures.
- Substance Database. A collection of pre canned smart textures.
- Substance Air. The middleware component of the Substance ecosystem, allowing game designers to fully exploit smart textures in their games.
- Substance Redux. An automatic compression solution that can save up to 50% of any bitmap texture’s size.
GBR: Allegorithmic seems to have developed a strong partnership with Unity, can you tell us a bit more about this relationship and the benefits it provides to Unity customers?
We are indeed very proud of our partnership with Unity. The Unity guys are fantastic and working with them is not only a great opportunity for my company, but also a great pleasure.
The central idea to this partnership is that we have licensed our run-time engine (Substance Engine, which is part of Substance Air) to Unity, for it to be integrated by default into both Unity Engine (especially the Webplayer) and Unity Editor.
What it brings to the Unity community is the ability to utilize smart textures natively in their productions, helping them make games that are substantially smaller than regular games. This helps them reach players across the Web more easily and efficiently. It also lets them produce unique and intense visuals, which would not of been possible without the dynamic aspects of the substances.
Basically, Unity users get to use Substance Air on all their games for the price of one of our authoring tools (starting at USD $150) instead of the price of our middleware solution Substance Air (USD $40K dollars per game, per platform)… I guess this speaks for itself.
GBR: Your technology is also included in Autodesk’s Maya and 3ds Max, is this a full version of Substance or just a sample of tools and content?
Our run-time engine, Substance Engine, is now embedded natively in 3ds Max 2012 and Maya 2012. It is the full version of the engine and 3ds Max and Maya users also get a free library of about a hundred of smart textures (which actually encompasses thousands of textures if you play with the parameters of the substances). If they want to go one step further and create their own Smart Textures, they have to purchase Substance Designer (USD $350 for the Lite version, USD $990 for the full version) or Bitmap2Material (USD $150).
Here again, the opportunity for 3ds Max and Maya users is great because they can simply get access to a library of Smart Textures that they can customize. And for game developers using Unity, they can now enjoy the ability to use substances in their whole pipeline, from the DCC tool to the game engine.
GBR: Do you have plans to license your technology to other software packages?
Yes. We are definitely working on additional partnerships opportunities. Our objective is to make Smart Textures widely available to a large community as soon as possible.
GBR: With more developers entering the mobile market, there must be a significant need for Allegorithmic’s technology; can you fill us in on Allegorithmic’s current plans for this market?
You’re right about the demand. The mobile industry is urgently seeking our technology to be available on major mobile devices and operating systems, and we are actively working on this port.
I can not give you a precise release date yet that Substance Engine will be available on mobile (iOS and Android especially) device. What I can point out though, is that we already have been working very closely with SoC manufacturers like NVIDIA to produce demos exploiting an alpha version of our engine on mobile devices. We have, for instance, produced the “Windmill Demo” for NVIDIA Tegra 3 (Kal-El) for the latest Computex, last May in Taiwan. You can check it out here:
GBR: With all this progress for the past couple of years, what are you most excited about for the year ahead, both in terms of Allegorithmic’s products as well as the industry as a whole?
I won’t be very original here, but I think “mobile” will definitely be the key word for Allegorithmic, as well as one of the major trends for the industry in the coming year. The graphics and the increase in computing power available on these devices is growing at an incredible pace and soon, I believe they will become one of, if not the main, gaming and computing devices for a very large community.
With all of the smart texturing technologies we have developed since 2003, we have definitely been ahead of the need for this type of solution. It definitely seems as if the market’s need for lightweight and dynamic textures is growing a lot; this is especially true for mobile devices where the distribution constraints are put in light because the device itself can play advanced visual content that weigh Gigabytes of data.
We believe that Allegorithmic, as a company, is clearly well positioned to address this new and growing need.
GBR: Allegorithmic now has a content store, why did you decide to develop the content in addition to the software line?
We decided to develop the content line for a variety of reasons. The main reason was simply client and customer demand for Smart Textures. We were asked by clients and customers repeatedly to produce a variety of smart textures that would allow them to save time as they transitioned from the old bitmap world to the Smart Textures world.
Over the years, we developed a plethora of Smart Textures to satisfy this need, which we incorporated into a library and content store last year.
Finally, we found that the community would like to have the opportunity to use smart textures without having to learn a new set of tools in hand with a new creation paradigm.
In the end, it is a good way to help gaining critical mass and bring life to the Substance ecosystem.
GBR: What do you think has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?
I’m not sure how many people know this but Allegorithmic’s technology was born from my research at the University of Auvergne in France. It might sound stupid but I would say that our greatest accomplishment is taking Allegorithmic from its humble startup roots in the heart of France and building it into a company that is now in partnership with industry leaders such as Autodesk, Unity, Dassault Systèmes, NVidia, Intel, Qualcomm and others.
This in itself is quite an accomplishment and I’m very proud of how far we have come, while not losing our passion for what we are doing and especially why we are doing it. We love computer graphics and games and believe creators deserve the right tools to flesh out their visions.
We create creator’s tools and are still doing it with the same passion.
GBR: How do you see hardware platforms evolving now that there is advanced graphics performance available on mobile devices?
While GPUs are driving next gen HPC configurations I believe, I actually have seen CPU performance evolve faster than GPU performance on mobile devices so far (although I agree that it’s quite good already). I don’t see this trend changing with the newer, more multi-core architectures that are bound to come to the market sooner, rather than later.
ARM-based solutions and new form factors (tablets, in particular) will then have a chance to be used more widely, especially when Windows 8 is made available.
I tend to believe that at some point, Intel’s Larabee-like architectures, at least with CPU-accessible hardware texture samplers, will make a comeback. Hybrid CPU/GPU approaches for computing will actually be easier to achieve on mobile thanks to their intrinsic architecture (CPU and GPU very close to each other, sharing memory, etc.). This will lead to incredible performance, right in your pocket!
Obviously, when it comes to gaming, mobile is definitely opening up new opportunities for game developers.
We might also see actually pure terminal-like mobile devices, benefiting from cloud-based apps. This approach will face potential infrastructure and business model issues but it seems to me like a very advantageous solution for many applications. Maybe not games in the first place, but who knows.
In the end, I would say that “time will tell,” but this is clearly one of the most exciting times when it comes to computing, whether for personal or professional. The mobile world is definitely the next frontier!