Feature Story | 15-Feb-2024

Computing realistic fluid dynamics for gaming applications

King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

The gaming industry is arguably one of the most important and innovative sectors of today’s technology industry. Driven by increasingly popular mobile gaming, it is now more valuable than the film and music industries combined, and apparently worth over USD 300 billion according to Accenture.


KSA is the Next Big Thing in Gaming


The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 includes well-designed initiatives such as the National Gaming and E-Sports Strategy to strengthen the gaming sector, aiming to become home to 250 gaming companies and studios and to create 39,000 jobs within the industry contributing SAR 50 billion to GDP by 2030.


Physics is Key and Fluid Phenomena at the Core


Physics simulation are of key importance to generate realistic 3D gaming experiences on the screen, and in virtual or augmented reality applications. “Fluid simulations are essential in video game cinematics as they allow for the generation of several phenomena ranging from fire, smoke, and turbulent wind effects to water flow and splashes”,  explaines Chris Allen from Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard, the market leader of the computer and video games sector in terms of sales.


Fluid Dynamics at CSG


KAUST’s Computational Sciences Group (CSG) headed by Dominik L. Michels, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, has a comprehensive track record on developing cutting-edge algorithms for accurate and efficient fluid dynamics covering a wide range of applications in science, engineering, and entertainment. Among others, state-of-the-art solutions for the simulation of magnetic fluids, ocean waves, ecoclimates, wildfires, cloud formations and complex weather effects have been devised by the CSG group and its collaborators.


Of particular importance to the gaming industry is CSG’s Unsmoothed Aggregation Algebraic MultiGrid (UAAMG) solver for large-scale fluid simulations. It has been developed together with CSG alumni Han Shao and Libo Huang as part of PhD studies with Professor Michels. Today, both alumni are working at the Shanghai-based game development and animation studio miHoYo aiming to create a virtual world for one billion people in 2030.


Open Source and Proprietary Use


UAAMG has been published open-source. It can be used with SideFX’s Houdini, the leading procedural software for film special effets and game asset creation, and enjoys great popularity by designers and developers these days. The fact that UAAMG has been released under the MPL 2.0 license has been crutial for its success bejond the scientific community.


Michels comments: “MPL 2.0 is considered a so-called weak copyleft license which means that modified or copied source code files must remain under the MPL, but may be used together with proprietary code for a program. This qualifies the UAAMG codebase for further developments within the academic and open-source communities, but also allows its use in proprietary applications.”


Among others, Activision Blizzard is utilizing UAAMG. In particular, Chris Allen points out UAAMG’s potential to “accelerate the workflow of cinematic VFX artists due to the elegant and robust pressure projection methodology” and further shows great enthusiasm for the “highly efficient OpenVDB-based implementation of the microsolvers”.

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