Interview: How ARM is gaining the upper hand in mobile gaming graphics

Interview: How ARM is gaining the upper hand in mobile gaming graphics

UK-based chip designer ARM has set its sights on being number one in the mobile gaming arena, and the company believes that advanced real-time lighting technology will help give it the edge.

ARM believes that graphics, light and lighting effects play a "significant part in the quality of the user experience", which is why it recently snapped up Cambridge-based gaming light specialists Geomerics.

Geomerics’ global illumination technology, called Enlighten, lets developers create advanced effects – from compound reflections to refractions and shadows – bringing more life-like and photo realistic graphics to next-generation games consoles, PCs and now mobile devices.

It has already been shown off in games such as Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, Eve Online, Need for Speed Rivals and Medal of Honour: Warfighter, with many more titles on the way. TechRadar Pro speaks to Dennis Laudick, video president of partner marketing at ARM, to find out what the acquisition means for the future of graphical fidelity.

TechRadar Pro: How did this acquisition come about?

Dennis Laudick: Like most companies, ARM is always on the lookout for advanced and unique technologies which are complementary to our business. Over the last few years, we’ve seen tremendous success with our Mali line of graphics processors.

Within graphics, light and lighting effects play a significant part in the quality of the user experience. That’s part of the reason we’ve been working in partnership with Geomerics for over two years now.

As we looked to further accelerate our graphics products it became apparent that the technology and techniques that Geomerics had developed around lighting and global illumination were quite unique and a natural complement to help move our graphics products forward. Once the technical synergies were fully understood, we could see how well the teams were working together and the rest was fairly academic.

TRP: You’ve touched on ‘global illumination’ briefly, could you expand on what you mean by this and why there is a demand for it?

DL: It’s a term used to describe advanced, photorealistic lighting effects in 3D graphics. Basically, it reproduces many of the secondary lighting effects which are traditionally difficult in computer generated graphics, and also makes images look more realistic. Today’s graphics are typically limited to simple, direct lighting effects.

With Geomerics’ global illumination, effects such as compound reflections, refractions, shadows and other advanced effects become possible, providing the more life-like graphics quality necessary for today’s consoles, PC games – and now for mobile games too. What’s unique to the approaches and techniques developed by Geomerics is that they are incredibly flexible and applicable to today’s consumer electronics platforms.

TRP: So what was Geomerics’ hook, line and sink?

DL: Enlighten technology. Enlighten is the world’s first fully real-time global illumination technology, it’s already revolutionising PC and console gaming in titles such as Battlefield 3 & 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and we look forward to expanding its use in mobile gaming as well as Geomerics’ current markets.

It is the only solution proven to deliver fully dynamic lighting across those platforms and complements our GPU processor solutions for an immersive mobile gaming experience. It does this with a lightweight energy efficient runtime, but equally important Enlighten’s work flow offers significant improvements for graphic artists and game designers – without which it wouldn’t catch on.

Geomerics' Atlas demo

TRP: How does Enlighten compare to ray tracing? Does it compete with IMG’s ray tracing, for example?

DL: As mentioned, lighting plays a big part in the user experience of modern graphics but most modern solutions are limited to direct lighting only. Ray tracing is an interesting underlying technology but, again, it’s just an underlying technology. The real goal is what the user experiences which means the real goal is global illumination and the production of more advanced and complex lighting effects.

There are a number of initiatives underway in the market to try and address this, but we feel the approach taken by Geomerics provides an advanced and highly unique approach which is, importantly, compatible with the semiconductor platforms already being used in mobile market. The Geomerics solution will accelerate the realisation of global illumination, with minimum impact on the battery life of mobile devices, unlike approaches which rely on additional silicon area.

In addition to this, Geomerics’ provides and flexible, highly productive approach which is intuitive to graphics artists.

TRP: How does ARM envision using Geomerics’ technology in smartphone graphics performance?

DL: Geomerics is already seeing significant success in the console/PC gaming space. As I mentioned, its lightweight approach makes it ideal for today’s mobile devices, with minimal impact made on power consumption. When we combine this with ARM’s insight on future mobile platform capabilities, it provides an ideal combination to ensure optimised mobile performance in the future.

TRP: Does this mean Geomerics’ technology will only work on ARM-based products in the future?

DL: Not at all. Advanced lighting technologies such as those being developed by Geomerics offer huge benefits across the entire graphics industry. Geomerics currently supports a wide range of platforms, and will continue to fully support those platforms as well as many more in the future.

TRP: So what does this mean for Geomerics?

DL: Geomerics’ business will carry on as before and will continue to support a wide variety of platforms in the market, whether ARM-based or not. What we have done is empower the Geomerics portfolio with ARM’s graphics capabilities and market reach. This is mutually beneficial allowing ARM to further extend partnerships and ecosystem activities around our rapidly accelerating ‘Mali’ visual computing products, and Geomerics to move into new markets.

We’re very excited to work together as one unit and to see what future collaboration will bring to the fold.

    



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