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Optimization in Games

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One of my favorite sub-subjects of a Calculus course I took once was "Optimization."

 

What it basically means is to "use the least amount of resources to get the largest outcome."

 

Ever since, I have learned how to do things the hard way to gain experience, and then I optimize. In other words, I break things down to the most basic components and then I optimize from there. 

 

Here is my philosophy on drawing shapes:

 

"A square is a circle with 4 sides. An equilateral triangle is a circle with 3 sides. An octagon is a circle with 8 sides."

 

Some of my favorite shapes are the tetrahedron, the icosahedron and the octahedron. I love Geodesic domes.  

 

I see a lot of optimization in games. Modelers optimize their models, and programmers optimize their code. Producers optimize their resources. The financial team optimizes their spending. 

 

It is in our nature to optimize, because we live in a world where resources can be scarce. 

 

Question: What are some techniques you use to optimize, whether it be your models or your code or your game budget? I could use some tips in all areas. 

 

The reason I posted this in game design, because I am talking about the design of the game from programming to modeling. For instance, you don't make a sphere that has a million polygons, you make an octahedron, subdivide it once and adjust the smoothing groups. 

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Most important thing when doing optimisation is to take the time to measure accurately. Makes me so annoyed when people optimise without measuring first, so they have no idea if the optimisation has a real world effect.

 

I'm coming from an engineering perspective, but the same would apply to any other form of optimisation. Harder perhaps with game design, and although analytics help, you have to be particularly careful when interpreting your measurements.

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I'd never intentionally include anything that won't be useful during the actual development, but it's not always avoidable and it's a total waste.

 

Everything devised during the initial design stage ends up getting done, or halfway done. Things get thrown out and you find what the best parts were and it's revised.

 

A pre-development step is time consuming, it would include all research you should ever need to create the prototype design. The purpose is to establish goals and avoid a bloated initial design, fewer ideas are thrown out (this could be anywhere between one and a zillion ideas).

 

Although I presented the steps backwards from problem to solution, this is loosely related to the Systems Development Life Cycle, which some programmers might know about:  Planning, analysis, design, implementation, maintenance, and this repeats.

 

A bad practice is to jump right to the design step, and then go back to analysis and planning, only to redesign.

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I'm not sure if this is the right place for this thread, but anyway...

 

I try to balance between two perspectives:

  • Don't optimise too early, you just make complex code that may have bugs and not improve performance.
  • Don't do things the stupidest way possible just to fulfil the above.

So for example, I will tend to use standard techniques like object pooling by default because it usually yields a benefit, but I keep in mind that on the odd occasion it could hurt performance by using too much memory on low performance devices.

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What benefit is there to thinking about an octagon as a circle with 8 sides?

 

It matters more when thinking about optimization. If I wanted to give something the appearance of a sphere, but the sphere were somewhere in the background, and I really didn't need it to be high-poly, I could take an octahedron and subdivide it once and change the smoothing groups. This saves memory when rendering. There are a lot of things one could do in post-processing as well. 

 

I see a lot of optimization in level design. I think GTA is the best example of optimization in ever aspect of the design of the game. I have also seen optimization in the programming of the game assets. 

 

I think both the programming and artistic side both go into the design of the game, so that is why I posted here. The programmers are trying to keep things running smoothly and quickly, but if they are trying to make up memory lost because someone wanted to put a million-poly sphere in the background that is hardly noticeable, then that would be a bad thing. 

 

Say for instance the level designer keeps subdividing a sphere over and over til the point that when you run the game, it crashes automatically from the high poly count. So first one might assume there is a problem in the code, but further investigation would reveal that high poly sphere. I think the design of the code should match the design of the game

 

I have to see both sides at the same time, because right now, I am doing the modeling, UV-unwrapping, texturing, rigging, animation, programming, etc myself. My code style will change based on what I am creating. So optimization and a speedy workflow are important to me, and at least for me, they go hand in hand. 

 

BTW, good advice, and it does help! Thanks. 

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I've noticed if you go on gamer forums (not something I normally do I hasten to add, but did recently due to some problems with a game) that the latest technical sounding term they are all using is optimised.

 

"This game is badly optimised - it runs slow on my system"

"Why do I need to upgrade my graphics card - can't the studio just optimise better"

 

And so on. Much as frob says, its become misunderstood as some kind of panacea among people without any actual technical understanding and they think it is a "thing". Suspect this is the case in this thread as well.

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Someone just made a post about how to make a character rig with only 5 bones. They also use the optimize word in it. This is the type of stuff I am thinking about, but not just in the rigging area:

http://www.gamedev.net/page/resources/_/technical/graphics-programming-and-theory/5-bone-fully-rigged-humanoid-character-r3583

Yes frob, those "plans to reduce..." Are all under the umbrella of optimization- getting the most something.

Those are the plans I am talking about, like in the post above. The article talks about optimizing a rig. I have seen some pretty complicated rigs, usually for main characters, but for NPCs, you don't need so many bones. They use LOD for character modeling. Low poly for things in the background.

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That article uses the word "optimise" in context. The context of how to reduce the bone count on a rig.

The question "what sort of methods do you use to reduce a rig bone count" is meaningful. It doesn't even need the word optimise.

The question "what sort of techniques do you use to optimise games" is not.

Citing articles that use the word "optimise" does not strengthen the meaningfulness of this question I am afraid. If you are interested in specific contexts then specific questions will get a far better response.

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Funny you should mention optimization, I recently saw a talk by Doris Chen from MSDN on optimizing code. Here are the slides:

 

http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/27262164#

 

A couple of things of note:

1. This is JavaScript-specific (but it would be interesting if someone knowledgeable in many coding languages could chime in on how much might apply to others).

2. This specifically optimizes speed and processor use/battery life. File-size was not tested.

3. As mentioned, this is specifically coding optimization, and not design optimization.

4. FYI in case anyone was wondering why the heck Microsoft cares about JavaScript, apparently the code is easily portable to Windows 8 apps (almost a straight copy/paste).

Edited by Nightgaunt

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