Our monthly examination of great games dev middleware

Tools Spotlight: Umbra Software

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Umbra Software is a middleware company that specialises in solutions for extracting visibility and spatial connectivity relations from a 3D scene.

Founded in 2006 as a spin-off company from Hybrid Graphics – now owned by Nvidia – it was created after the Finnish firm shifted its focus to mobile and embedded graphics technology, leaving Umbra to continue the development of middleware for high-end 3D graphics.

The tool, which has been used for games such as Mass Effect 2 and the Dragon Age series, can also perform occlusion culling for camera views, whilst data can be used for content streaming, AI and audio occlusion.

“Traditionally artists would have to do a lot of manual work for annotating the scenes with this type of information, but Umbra does this automatically and very efficiently and it works for all types of 3D worlds regardless of scale and composition method,” says CTO Osto Makinen.

Lead programmer Antti Hatala adds: “Removing the need for manual tagging enables more dynamic artist workflows, such as prototyping in the real runtime environment and iterative tuning of scenes, even late in production.”

They add that the heart of the tool is a method of generating a portals-and-cells graph from arbitrary input geometry by a process of adaptive voxelisation and connectivity based simplification.

The middleware outfit has just released the latest version of the tool, Umbra 3.1, which its creators say will play a part in future projects by companies such as Bungie and Sony Online Entertainment.

Makinen adds: “On top of those, there’s a few triple-A studios that we cannot announce yet that use Umbra’s technology who traditionally build all of their own tech.
“I think that’s what’s been most gratifying for us, being able to convince developers who have super strong technical talent to use our solution.”

Umbra 3.1 includes new features such as incremental bake, which the company claims enables changes to be made to a scene so that only the affected areas visibility information needs to be re-computed.

In future the developers say they are looking to introduce tools that give artists more freedom in content design, and have already begun focusing on making 3D content creation easier, in addition to decreasing the time it takes to render.

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