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Upping the Engineering & Rendering Game at Virtuos Labs – Warsaw

Peter Sikachev, Technical Director at Virtuos Labs – Warsaw, explains how the studio approaches game development and its expertise in graphics rendering and optimization, including a deep familiarity with proprietary engines.

Crunch has been dominating the conversation around game development for a while. Even though this feels an inevitability in many studios, it is a reality that Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is looking to avoid.

"One of our guiding principles at Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is continuous planning. For every milestone, we reevaluate the roadmap with the latest project information. That helps us to identify any issues early on and come up with a timely solution. Naturally, this frequent feedback loop allows us to prevent crunch," says Peter Sikachev, the Technical Director who now leads Virtuos Lab – Warsaw.

The studio's focus on graphics rendering, advanced engineering, and research and development capabilities for AAA games, allows it to flourish with experienced engineers and developers at the helm of its projects.

But strategic planning isn’t the only pillar that guides the studio’s vision in game development. Sikachev insists that transparency in any communication channel is vital.

"Everyone who onboards with us – clients, engineers, tech artists – need to understand all of the problems or the proposed solutions in complete detail. There are no stupid questions! If you can't explain anything clearly enough to a stakeholder, it means you don't understand it yourself," he says. And then, there’s the final piece of this puzzle for Virtuos Labs – Warsaw, which is also its most important resource: its people. "We only hire engineers that have solid fundamentals. That has nothing to do with experience: in fact, we have hired quite a few fresh grads recently. We have seen a strong correlation between excellent foundation in computer graphics and performance."

Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is part of the global network of 22 studios under Virtuos, an external developer with a diverse portfolio of AAA titles under its belt. But, as a specialized studio known as Virtuos Labs, Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is dedicated to tackling advanced engineering challenges through best-in-class graphics rendering and optimization technology for developers.

"Our studios such as Virtuos Paris or Black Shamrock in Dublin work on game creation, and engineers may take on remastering and adaptation projects. Virtuos Labs is dedicated to tackling game engineering projects and developing custom solutions for clients," Sikachev elaborates. "By focusing on engineering, our labs have amassed expertise across several domains including rendering, networking, development tools, and optimization. Virtuos Labs works across many proprietary engines that are being used to develop cutting-edge games, as well as Unreal Engine 5 and Unity."

What makes Virtuos Labs – Warsaw so distinct is its industry experts, such as senior technical staff, who draw from their vast and diverse experiences in engineering and rendering, and who have worked on both AAA games and established intellectual properties. For instance, Sikachev contributed to titles such as Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, with more than 12 years of game graphics programming experience.

"I had previously worked at Eidos Montreal and Rockstar Toronto, shipping multiple AAA titles across two generations of consoles and PCs. After 10 years in game development, I moved to People Can Fly, from CD Projekt Red, to take on the challenge of leading a team," says Sikachev. "Now at Virtuos, I can satisfy both ambitions: leading an engineering team and working on exciting IPs."

Currently developing several features for a game in a proprietary engine, Virtuos Labs – Warsaw's expertise in rendering extends to lighting and water rendering, which Sikachev pointed out will "impact large parts of the game". "For instance, we are going the extra mile for area lights versus the existing capsule light implementation, by ensuring energy conservation for all scenarios," says Sikachev.

Then there's developing and refining the system for object interaction from water in games. "This utilizes both pre-simulated rolling shoreline waves from the moving objects in Houdini and physically simulated waves from slow-moving or stationary objects. That allows us to create ultrarealistic seam waves and benefit from a flexible pipeline that lets us tweak the shape of the wave, unlike hand-drawn methods," adds Sikachev.

One advantage of being part of Virtuos' global network of studios is the ability to tap into the resources and skills of other studios, especially when project requirements expand. This is how Virtuos scales its resources for developers looking for co-development support, and how Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is supporting other teams through its expertise as a Virtuos Labs studio.

"We are also helping another Virtuos studio optimize rendering for their project, such as improving shadow performance in Unreal Engine 5 – a topic we will delve into at the 2024 Digital Dragons Conference. In particular, we're working on a solution that avoids the recomputing of sun shadows every frame for a dynamic day/night cycle scenario. Currently, we can speed up the directional shadow pass by a whopping 40 to 70 percent with minimal, if any, visible artifacts," Sikachev explains.

Sikachev also points out that Virtuos Labs – Warsaw could not bolster its engineering services without effective knowledge sharing between studios and teams – and nurturing the best talent in the industry. This is only possible with mid-level and senior engineers freely sharing their learnings within the studio. Upskilling programmes, too, are available in Virtuos.

"More structured learning is made possible by our Central Technology Group (CTG) at Virtuos, which establishes best practices and benchmarks and develops training programs and certifications. CTG could also provide custom training and connect us with external experts on demand," he says. "Besides in-house training, we regularly send our staff to attend external conferences, where they gain wider perspectives that they can share with their teams."

As demand for games and engineering expertise ramps up, Virtuos Labs – Warsaw is poised to tackle the high bar of photorealism that AAA projects increasingly need. "Virtuos Labs – Warsaw's competitive edge is in introducing excellence and expertise in graphics programming and technical art to the Virtuos group. Not only do we have a highly experienced technical leadership, boasting many AAA titles shipped both on Unreal Engine and proprietary engines, but we also have a rigorous interview process, allowing us to only hire the best engineers and technical artists from the talent-rich Eastern European candidate market," says Sikachev. "Before starting any work with a client, our team will schedule an introduction call to listen to your needs, explain our services, and offer a potential timeline for your project. In addition, we will start with a test or a pilot to see how seamlessly we can work together before investing more resources."

If you wish to find out more about co-developing your games with Virtuos, you can contact the studio here.

The Virtuos Team

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