From a first chat at Intel booth to IDF keynote

Intel works with hundreds of software companies around the world to ensure that their applications run in the best way on Intel platforms. And these developers, who have not started work with Intel, might be interested what kind of opportunities they might have, marketing and engineering, hardware and software. I’d like to tell a story about our collaboration with Russian game developer company Biart.


The Biart is currently located in Moscow, Russia and incorporated in Delaware, US. They recently released two great games, Deep Black: Reloaded and Depth Hunter, which were heavily optimized for Intel ® HD Graphics and Ultrabooks ™, both on graphics performance and power efficiency. As an application engineer, I worked with Biart for three years and this story is based on our collaboration.

Game developers were pretty skeptical about Intel’s claims about the graphics performance and capabilities of its HD Graphic Architecture. Konstantin Popov, CEO of Biart was no exception and when we talked he did not believe that their technology could even work on Intel Graphics. After quick technical talk with him and Biart’s lead programmer, we decided to give it a try and run an early Deep Back alpha build on our notebook, powered by Intel HD Graphics. Our Biart’s colleagues were very surprised when the game started the first time and was running without any visual artifacts, in real-time. It was not fast, running at around 10-15 fps, but it was running! We also did a quick performance analysis with Intel ® GPA, immediately catching the bottleneck and performance problems which were present at the game on the graphics side. Konstantin’s impressions about that first talk:

We indeed felt not very optimistic about that as we knew our weak points. It was the first version of our technology biEngine back in 2009 and there was still much to do in terms of optimisation and development . So I decided to wait till we start using the new version of engine and include in advance and with minor effort render optimization availability while working on the code. Besides, the new engine was a really cross-platform one, which helped to support Intel HD Graphics as a separate platform and do an even more complex optimization.”

After our discussions we decided to work together to ensure the final game worked on Intel Graphics and notebooks. Why? Notebooks are largest share the biggest part of hundreds of millions computers sold every year, and in half of these computers powered by Intel Graphics . There is a potential open market for any software company, including game developers. Later in this story, you will see how this decision impacted sales when then game came on the market.

What did we provided to Biart to help them to optimize the game for Intel platforms? It was important to make sure that the game excelled on Intel’s platform. In 2011, Intel released the 2nd generation Core™ architecture, previously known as Sandy Bridge, with the 2nd generation of Intel HD Graphics architecture, Intel HD Graphics 3000/2000. Biart’s programmers had access to our hardware prior to the release and they were able to test and optimize the game.  We provided a Sandy Bridge SDV (Software Development Vehicle), which is a pre-released, a fully functional prototype PC. Hardware is only half of the computing experience; software is the other half, and Intel has great software tools. These tools help developers to analyze performance in almost every aspect, CPU and multi-threading, graphics, memory. Tools like Intel® Parallel Studio and Intel ® GPA are widely known and used. In fact, Biart used Intel ® GPA extensively, and it helped to improve final game performance by more than 50%. The technical support provided by Intel and their consulting engineers was unparalleled, and helped the game designers to obtain quick analysis and optimizations. Intel’s staff provided efficient training on their tools, answered hardware-specific questions, and provide useful tips and tricks. We connected with Biart engineers to make sure they understood Intel architectures and Intel tools. Intel engineers visited Biart’s office on regular basis and to collaborate on analysis.

When Deep Black, our first project together, was released in Germany, it ran well on Intel HD Graphics based desktop computers and notebooks, providing at least 30 fps at 720p resolution. What optimizations Biart did use to make it possible? Let’s call some technical points.

One of the first adjustments we made was to optimize the level’s geometry to reduce number of draw calls and to reduce driver overhead and unneeded GPU cycles. Using Intel ® GPA Frame Analyzer, we discovered geometry that was rendered in a frame that was not visible (off-screen or fully covered by closest geometry).  Biart engineers optimized their engine’s culling algorithm and reduced average draw call number from 5K+ to 1-1.5K, which is significant optimization. And in the end, it did not reduce the final picture quality at all.

We optimized the multi-resolution rendering as a second step. The Biart engineers found that some of the render-targets could be reduced and intelligently upscaled in the final picture. By doing that, they reduced number of pixels with heavy pixels shaders.

We also implemented shadow generation optimizations and post-processing optimizations.

I’d like to specially point another one important optimization. The goal for all our effort is to improve customer experience and satisfaction when running applications on Intel platforms. The initial impression from installing an application and running it for a first time is very important. That’s why we always ask developers to choose right Out-Of-The-Box settings for Intel platforms. This ensures that the game will begin with the correct resolution and rendering quality settings to provide the best possible experience and comfortable play. Both Biart games detect the HW configuration and set appropriate settings when running on Intel platforms.

Now, how did all these optimizations helped Biart and they affect sales? According to Konstantin , it appears that supporting and optimizing for Intel HD Graphics attracted 20% more customers to their games! This was a key factor in extending our relationship and continuing our collaboration to optimize Biart games for the latest Intel’s invention, Ultrabook ™.

When you start to optimize an application for a mobile platform, you have to consider more than just performance and quality. An important aspect of  the customer experience is the time, which user can spend in the application, when using it, the power efficiency. Biart optimized their engines and games to improve efficiency. We found that the customer experiences were similar when an application rendered the frames at 30 fps maximum when running on the battery. This will save CPU and GPU cycles in part of the game, when it’s possible to run at higher frame-rate. 

How does it affect the battery life? According to our tests, the on-battery play-time increased by almost 30% while running on a 2nd generation Core-based Ultrabook computer. This means there is an additional 30 minutes of gameplay. Biart integrated Intel Laptop Gaming TDK, which lets developers add support for accessing battery information and displaying this information to user.

We briefly talked about technical collaboration. I’d like to also mention co-marketing activities with Intel and Biart.  Biart was one of the most important Intel partners for launching Intel 3rd Generation Core™ platform. Their game, Deep Black, was included in the Launch Pack, which is a set of applications that goes out to all Intel partners when new platform is launched. This Pack greatly increases developer’s visibility and provides opportunities for future projects. 

This spring, at the GDC 2012 conference, Intel and Biart presented set of the series of presentations at the Intel booth, heralding the optimization story and how the two companies were working together to optimize the games for Intel® HD Graphics and Ultrabook™.

 

Biart and Deep Black: Reloaded were featured in series of video interviews which are now posted at Intel Software Network and Visual Source community, Intel’s portals for software developers.

Biart also co-presented with Intel at the Russian Game Developers Conference (KRI 2012) in Moscow.

And finally, on June 2012, at IDF Brazil, Intel VP and General Manager Doug Fisher presented Deep Black: Reloaded during his conference keynote, telling the developers and journalists from around the world how Biart optimized the game for Ultrabooks ™ using Intel ® Graphics Performance Analyzers.

It has been a long and fruitful journey from our first meeting at Intel booth, at Moscow in 2009 to the IDF keynote stage and I’d like to give a final word to Konstantin:

 Cooperation with Intel was very nice in all aspects – regular communication with technical guys, quick testing with detailed reports, professional marketing team, effective utilities. Our development costs have been compensated for with the profit quite quickly thanks to close cooperation with Intel! I am sure there are many success stories ahead! We are watching closely at the mobile gaming trends at the moment and keep on upgrading quality of our technology and current game projects.”

Currently our collaboration continues, and many great projects are in works. And the most important, many people will be enjoying playing Biart’s games on Intel-powered computers, Ultrabook™.  The latest news from Biart could be found at http://www.biart7.com.

For more complete information about compiler optimizations, see our Optimization Notice.