SPECIAL FOCUS: We talk to the procedural content firm about new technology unveiled at GDC next week

Allegorithmic unveils Substance

Few companies are looking forward to GDC more than French procedural graphics specialist Allegorithmic.

Having completed a first round of funding, it’s going to make its presence felt with sizeable booth, not to mention a shiny Unreal Tournament 3 mod/tech demo. But what’s getting CEO Sébastien Deguy really enthused is the opportunity to show of the company’s new product, Substance.

“Last year, we had a technology. This year, we’re presenting the new generation of tool,” he says of the difference between procedural texture package ProFX and the completely rewritten Substance.

“Substance offers all the benefits of ProFX, such as small texture file sizes, but we’ve added a feature which
allows you to continuously stream textures into your game.”

It’s a significant addition to the toolkit. Up to this point, ProFX gained traction in the MMOG and XBLA/downloadable game market because of its impressive compression capabilities.

Some clients bought it purely because of the cost savings it could generate by enabling them to ship on a DVD-5 rather than a DVD-9.

Substance’s streaming features will appeal much more widely however. “The limitation on streaming data from a DVD to memory is a key restriction,” argues Deguy. “Some developers are already onto their third generation of Xbox 360 games but the amount of memory and the streaming speed of the DVD hasn’t changed.”

To that degree, a neat touch is that the engine doesn’t impact on graphics as it works on a CPU core (or SPU). So as well as enabling you to increase the resolution of textures and/or free up bandwidth to stream audio, models or animation, the technology also scales almost linearly if, for whatever reason, you wanted to use more SPUs.

In terms of authoring process, Substance uses the same wavelets-based technology as ProFX, so you can handcraft procedural textures as you would normal textures. “This isn’t a click-and-pray product,” Deguy laughs. Integration with 3ds Max, Maya and XSI is on the cards, as well as various shader authoring packages.

And, as if to underline the buoyant nature of the whole procedural art tools market, Deguy is happy to talk commerce too. “We’ve signed more contracts in the past four months than in the past four years,” he says. “I think people really understand that we can help them.”

More information on Substance will be made public at GDC during a sponsored session on Wednesday, February 21st at 12pm.

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