Eduardo Fantini, our Graphics Engineering Manager, tells us about the challenges and necessary skills for someone who works in the graphics engineering industry for mobile gaming.
Anyone who sees any game from Wildlife Studios, be it Zooba, Suspects, or Tennis Clash, running in such a wide variety of smartphones with that unmistakable look, has no idea of the effort made by engineering for it to happen. The professionals behind the technology that improves visual quality, creating the unique graphics experience for players worldwide, are called “graphics engineers” – a team where Eduardo Fantini plays a crucial part.
Driven by his interest in the second console generation, such as Atari 2600, Fantini is a self-taught low-level programmer and hardware developer. He started his career at 16 years old in the electronics industry, where he built a 10-year legacy. After going through courses like Computer Sciences and Marketing Strategy, his third course – Digital Games Development -, is where he saw himself in the place that he always dreamed of being and, just like that, begin a new career focused on creating incredible experiences for players.
With 16 years of experience in this industry, Fantini dedicated himself to the development of mobile and console games, products aimed at education, game therapy, and entertainment, while also being part of academia, as a professor and course coordinator at Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (PUC Minas). He has also worked as a researcher in fields like Artificial Intelligence, Visual Computing, and Digital Games, all of the topics he discussed in his Master’s Degree thesis in Computer Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
For six years and a half, he committed to sharing his acquired knowledge so new talents could have the same opportunity to fulfill their dreams of working in this industry. Today, his former students work on several companies worldwide – and some of them, even, at Wildlife Studios.
Being in love with game development and technology innovation, Fantini works for the company since March 2020, managing the entire Graphics Engineering and Tech Performance teams. Among his missions, there’s the development of world-class, multidisciplinary teams capable of delivering the best possible visual experience in our games within a large variety of smartphones. To achieve this level of excellence, he believes that it is necessary to adopt a cooperative management model that encourages the research and development of new techniques and technologies.
In our interview below, he tells us a bit of the main challenges for the Graphics Engineering industry and the essential skills for someone interested in creating a career in this field.
What is the Graphics Engineering team mission at Wildlife?
Fantini: We are the ambassadors of the graphics quality of our games, working on research and development of tools, techniques, and rendering pipelines that inspire and bring to reality the visual concepts imagined by the artists. We transform these concepts into an amazing experience for our players, adapting results to the limitations of a smartphone. We work alongside other teams, such as art, software engineering, product, data science, automation, marketing, and several others, improving processes, planning, training, features, and tools, as well as sharing knowledge on good development practices that allows us to improve the computer graphics performance.
Could you share a few examples of what you do on your job?
Fantini: Sure thing! Last year, we developed a new function for one of our games, which consisted of dynamic visibility inside the geometry of an environment, also known as “Zooba’s Bush System”. It is one of the most exciting and strategic functionalities in the game. We all have hidden inside bushes when playing Zooba to catch our opponents surprisedly or to get a breather from the action.
While still in 2020, we needed to think of an Audience system for Tennis Clash. In mobile game development, it’s usual for us to balance out memory usage and processing. For this specific case, we needed to free CPU load with a GPU animation management system and an automatic level of detail to work with the capacity of each device. This way, we were able to insert crowds on the benches of the game, cheering on plays made by our athletes.
We’ve recently released Suspects: Mystery Mansion, a social game with several exciting interaction modes that takes place in a two-dimension environment. The more functionalities we want to implement within a game, the more optimized our systems need to be. Thus, we created a 2D rendering pipeline for this project, with several techniques specifically designed to execute a more efficient form on smartphones. Not to mention the visual, which looks lovely.
We are also responsible for developing our projects’ master shaders, which are highly optimized codes for the GPU (graphics processing unit), integrated among themselves. In the hands of artists, these are powerful resources that allow them to create scenery environments, unique, stylized characters, impressive visual effects, and the continuous generation of terrain and vegetation for open environments. We develop other types of tools aimed at increasing productivity and enabling the artists’ creative pipeline.
We are working on custom render pipelines and specific techniques for several games under development within the company.
And, to make all of this happen, what are the main fields of study for one to work Graphics Engineering?
Fantini: The first step is to understand that, over most cases, computer graphics deal with vast volumes of data and high degrees of complexity, executing at interactive speeds. Starting from that, the need for several disciplines becomes obvious.
The most important one, without a doubt, is Math. It enables you to comprehend all from classical computer graphics techniques to modern-day scientific articles in the field.
Dominating programming is crucial and entails a deep comprehension of all the characteristics and limitations of every programming language out there. Besides, each problem brings several ways towards its solution and, through the analysis of complex algorithms and data structures, it’s possible to choose the best-suited one. It is important to remember that mobile games are real-time applications. In other words, code processing and screen refresh rate are executed between 30 and 60 times per second to ensure complete immersion for the players. That’s quite the challenge.
It is also necessary to be proficient in at least one of the main graphics APIs (application programming interfaces), such as OpenGL, DirectX, Metal, or Vulkan. They are a set of routines and patterns accessible through pre-determined functions. Game engines use these interfaces to render the elements you see on the screen.
Having some knowledge regarding hardware and understanding its components, details, and limitations also help to develop different techniques. And to know if we are on the right path, some tools monitor performance on every frame generated and, with it, identify possible application bottlenecks.
Finally, understanding the jobs executed by other teams inside the game development process also helps with efficiency in communication and the excellent execution of every activity.
Where and how someone who’s studying today can acquire this knowledge? Is it possible to gain experience even before joining this industry?
Fantini: The simplest way is to acquire basic knowledge on graduation courses in exact sciences, such as engineering as a whole, computing, digital game development, physics, or math. However, it is also necessary to do much studying on your own. There are several books, articles, keynotes, and congresses available.
Also, it is essential to highlight that comprehending theory is just a part of the necessary skillset. In other words, using that knowledge in a practical setting, even with personal projects, will help people to better prepare for their first job opportunity. And to develop your comprehension and communication skills regarding the many profiles that work on game development, there’s nothing better than taking part in Game Jams.
What are the main differentials within the Graphics Engineering Team at Wildlife?
Fantini: Several initiatives stimulate our creativity and allow us to grow continuously, such as our multidisciplinary research and development program called “Studio in a Cornell Box”, which involves Graphics Engineering and Art teams every two weeks. We study state of the art on several techniques, adapting and optimizing them for application within a smartphone. Two examples of these are our research on ray tracing and marching cubes.
Not only that, but once every quarter, Wildlife promotes hackathons, our interdisciplinary marathons for developing game prototypes, which may enter the company’s production pipeline.
We have several game titles in various stages of development, each one with its unique art style, which brings us different demands and challenges throughout the year.
Currently, our team has 13 people – graphics engineers and technical artists – and 70% of them have senior or superior levels. Each one brings specific expertise within the Graphics Engineering field, which allows us to exchange knowledge continuously and have a powerful team capable of answering any demand. Another essential point to comment on is how our studio’s directors inspire, trust, and support us every day.
We still have some challenges ahead, such as inspire and attract new talents and expand our diversity. We want to get closer and closer to graduate students and show them that there are opportunities to fulfill their dreams of working in such a fascinating industry.