Vector Unit made a name for itself with the critically acclaimed Tegra 3 jetski racing game, Riptide GP. Now the game developer is working with NVIDIA on a sequel that takes advantage of Tegra 4 technology. Matt Small, creative director at Vector Unit, talks about the rapidly evolving mobile gaming space and explains how NVIDIA technology is bringing console-like experiences portable in this exclusive interview about Riptide GP 2.
Can you talk about how you've worked with NVIDIA on your game?
Our relationship with NVIDIA has been close ever since we started working on mobile. For the most part, they help us on the technical side, but they also provide feedback and testing for us as the game moves through development.
What have they provided in terms of tech that has helped with development?
There are two big things they help us with on the technical side. First and foremost, they are great about providing us with hardware to test on, particularly upcoming hardware that isn't readily available on the market. That makes it possible for us to accurately target the capabilities of upcoming systems. The second is that they provide us with technical feedback on our engine as we implement new features. Ralf Knoesel, our Technical Director, is very good at squeezing amazing performance out of modern mobile hardware, but the team at NVIDIA can sometimes suggest additional optimizations that increase performance even more.
How does your game make use of the latest Tegra technology?
One of the biggest additions for Vector Engine 4 (the latest version of our engine, used in Riptide GP 2) is improved lighting and shaders. The most notable effect of this on Tegra 4 is real-time shadows: cliffs and bridges cast shadows on the riders, riders cast shadows on the jet skis, everything casts shadows on the water. It makes a pretty dramatic visual different. We're also making much wider use of advanced shaders, so stuff in the world will look a lot more detailed, even when you get close to them.
How does this impact the gameplay experience across the platforms you’re targeting?
Most of the high-end technical improvements are visual. We're adding a ton of new gameplay elements, but they're available for all platforms. Riptide GP 2 will feature a much deeper career mode, with more different types of race events, more riders on the track, and a full upgrade/customization system for your jet ski. We're also looking at making the stunting system deeper and more fluid.
What are the challenges of developing for Android devices today?
The challenge on Android is always the fragmentation. Some of it is necessary fragmentation -- the market moves so fast, and we try to keep up with the latest technical improvements, so our games have to support the highest end new devices, and still support the older devices with less power as well.
Unfortunately some of the fragmentation is what I'd call unnecessary. Carriers and hardware manufacturers all have their customized versions of the OS, and inconsistencies creep in -- a graphics feature that works fine on one device will cause problems on another. On top of that you have rooted devices with countless roms, all of which introduces the chance of stuff not working.
We do our best to support as wide a range of devices as possible, but for a 3 person studio it's a lot of work.
How does NVIDIA help with this?
They help a lot with testing and QA. And they are very aware of the fragmentation challenges, and they do their best to communicate to their partners the need to consistent standards.
What are your thoughts on what can be done with tablet gaming today?
I started off as a console gamer. For years I played games primarily on consoles like PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and GameCube. Nowadays, I almost exclusively play games on my tablet. I think that's where things are going. Console and PC games still tend to be deeper and often are more interesting and challenging, but that's changing as more players migrate to mobile and demand deeper experiences from mobile game developers. I think you're going to see a lot more games supporting controllers and designs around multiple screens via MHL and wireless TV-out solutions, and the line is going to get more and more blurred between tablets and consoles.
What do you think about Tegra 4 technology and how it compares to Tegra 3?
Tegra 4 is a huge step over Tegra 3. It's a much bigger step up than Tegra 3 was from Tegra 2. For our games the limiting factor has always been graphics performance, and the GPU performance in Tegra 4 is just massive. I'm hoping that it's a sign of things to come across the industry.
What are your thoughts on NVIDIA SHIELD?
SHIELD is super interesting. I think the most interesting aspect of it is the way it connects and brings together multiple devices in your home. Being able to stream your PC games wirelessly through to your TV is really cool, and I love it of course that you can play full blown Tegra 4-powered Android games on the go with a nice screen and a full sized controller. It's a core gamers' device, but I'm a core gamer, so there you go.