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Thought Leaders: Steve Pitzel

By Stu Horvath

Here at DIG, we’re interested in innovation in all its forms. Within the gaming space, innovation often begins with insight and inspiration from a single person, be they a game developer, an engineer, a sociologist or anything else within the industry. That’s why we’re tracking down these thought leaders: to give you a sneak peek of the digital arts future through their eyes.

In this installment, we sit down with Steve Pitzel, a technology evangelist from Intel. Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this website. Here, Pitzel discusses his thoughts on the future of the industry and tells us what he thinks is on the horizon.

DIG: Tell us a bit about what you do and your history in the game industry.

Steve Pitzel: As far as animation and modeling goes, I started on the feature animation side of the world as a Softimage and MAYA instructor for the film studios. Due to the low budgets of games and the relatively low power of game consoles and PCs at that time, there was quite a disparity between film and game animation and the tools animators used.


After a stint as a lead animator for Pacific Title Mirage, I became a senior artist for Mattel on interactive animation for the Internet. I basically went from a world where there were few limits on geometry, textures and character-rig complexity to one of the most Spartan animation environments I can imagine. When I first got to Mattel, I remember building a character model and being told I could only use 200 polygons. I said, “What, for the nose?” As it turned out, I could only use 200 polys for the entire scene -- and all the textures had to fit into one 256 by 256 pixel square.

It was an eye-opening -- if not shocking -- change, but it taught me to be very, very compact and precise … for a while anyway. Of course, once I started working more on developing Web communities and animated mostly to keep on top of new techniques and software, I reverted back to my old, sloppy self.

DIG: Where do you see the videogame industry at large going in the near future? How about the far future?

S.P.: The videogame industry is going every which way at once due to the proliferation of hardware and a seemingly endless need for gameplay at every end of the power spectrum.

Now there are consoles, laptops and desktops that could have put my old workstations to shame, as well as low-power, ultra-mobile handheld devices. At the high end, you could see a 3D game that looks and feels very much like a cinematic experience; at the low end, you see games based on 2D Flash animation. Truthfully, as the low-power devices become increasingly sophisticated, I think the only quality limit will be whatever the human eye can tolerate on a very small device.

And I haven’t even said anything about audio. Game audio guys like Tommy Tallarico,

Jack Wall, Shawn Clement and Justin Lassen are giving games cinematic scores, and even audio on low-power devices is driving upwards. As all of the devices become more powerful, you’ll likely see more ambient sounds modeled in real time by the chips themselves.

DIG: What kind of technical innovation do you see spurring that on?

S.P.: Shrinking chip footprints that allow multiple cores and faster processing. The general sophistication of hardware and software at both the high and low ends obviously changes gameplay. But the game creation pipelines themselves are changing.

New workstations with HD graphics integrated onto the chips are giving PC game developers a chance to finally work with something they’ve really never had before -- a completely unified production pipeline from concept all the way through gameplay. In other words, they no longer have to waste time root-causing visual glitches that happen between art development and engine since their graphics chipset can essentially be the same at both ends and everywhere in between. That should allow them to spend even more time on cool environments, characters and even better gameplay.

DIG: The last two years has led to an increased interest in casual and social gaming. What kind of impact do you see that having on the industry? Do you think we’ll ever make hardcore gamers out of that market?

S.P.: It’s widening the possibilities. In some ways, folks are relearning the need for compactness again on the low-power side and learning tools like Flash.

As far as hardcore gamers on casual games go, I’d say that’s already happening in middle school! Kids have been playing and chatting over what I’d likely classify as casual games for a while already.

Copyright (c) 2011 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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