Home Defence, Training & Simulation How a gamer’s passion grew to provide outstanding visuals for training and simulations

How a gamer’s passion grew to provide outstanding visuals for training and simulations

Vigilante founder and CEO, Chris Torchia never expected to be working in the defence space, developing the visuals for the intensive simulation training programs used by defence specialists all over the globe. Vigilante, or what would eventually become Vigilante,  was a private passion and only ever expected to be a hobby.

Fast forward ten years and Vigilante now produce precise and visually unparalleled content for the simulation industry. Last year Chris was even able to leave behind a full-time employed position in the industry  to focus full-time on creating “all things visual for serious games.

It’s incredibly exciting and powerful stuff, all being made possible with the help of top-tier GPU optimised Novatech hardware.

But how did the company grow from a side pursuit, between hobbyist gamers and self-described ‘modding bandits’, into a thriving and industry-leading company in just ten years? We spoke with Chris to find out.

We spoke to Chris Torchia about the unconventional path he took to build Vigilante

Chris Torchia - CEO at Vigilante

An introduction to the modding bandits

A decade ago while Chris worked in biotech, he and his friends were spending a lot of time gaming and learning how to code out of a house they shared in Buffalo, New York.

I started Vigilante as a little side business and built up a small team that was learning how to tinker with games,” he explains. “I found them online, saw the quality of their work and thought we could be getting paid for this!

So, Chris and his team of ‘modding bandits’ started to promote their services to companies that were developing products for both games and simulation training. They managed to capture the attention of Bohemia Interactive Simulations.

Bohemia was one of our earliest clients. We started working on a game called Arma 2 and then moved over to Arma 3. Then I was offered a job to work on DayZ as art director – that’s a game that ended up being quite a big deal, to say the least.

The success of DayZ catapulted Chris and the Vigilante team into the stratosphere and allowed them to grow their business.. Chris had to make a choice between being employed or being the employer.  

At some point, it was obvious that I needed to take my company more seriously and move it beyond the disorganised modding team it had always been. So, last year we decided to take it more seriously. I met my business partner Tom Roller, who came from more of a video game background, and we went full-time. Haven’t looked back since!

Of course, going from the security of having a full-time job to steering your own ship with no safety nets is always going to be daunting (particularly in 2020) but Chris decided it was time to be responsible for his own success. He also admits, however, that “we were mitigating as many of the risks as we could and because we already had a pretty significant client base and it happened around that time demand for our services was increasing, it was a very soft landing, fortunately.

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VIGILANTE - Military Visualization

Vigilante and all things visual

So, what is it that Vigilante actually does? Well, if you ask Chris directly he’ll tell you that they “do all things visual” when it comes to simulation programming. That means three teams experienced in the production of games, film and animation. These teams are scattered across Europe with one in Prague, one in Barcelona and one in Budapest, with the central ‘hub’ being the office in Prague. 

These teams work together to, in Chris’ own words “handle any visual need from the creation of 3d models to terrains, animations for vehicles, avatars and cinematics. So if companies are interested in doing visualisations of their products or commercials to promote what they're doing, we can do all of that too as well as the actual simulation.

Their clients range from the more entertainment side of the gaming industry (they’ve been working with Capcom on the Devil May Cry series recently as an example) to the more ‘serious’ side, as highlighted by their work with Microsoft on Flight Simulator 2020. This leads to an interesting situation where the team “simultaneously work on alien monsters from another planet while also creating high-fidelity virtual reality spec training content.” 

Of course, with such eclectic challenges, it helps to keep a very well-rounded team. The eclectic skill set of their team also allows them to bring in insights and experience from outside of the defence industry. And sometimes, it’s the external opinions that produce the most innovative results.

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Outsourced and co-developed futures

The real-time rendering industry is in a state of flux right now, with companies preferring to work with more flexible, agile third-party teams over in-house teams that might be hard at work for a few months out of a year and then twiddling their thumbs for the rest of it. As Chris explains: “It's very costly to grow teams and then cut them after the project is finished and they’re no longer required. Instead, you can contract that work to third parties, which is something people might have traditionally been sheepish about because they felt it was a risky move.

But the way that technology has shifted and the way the decision-makers are thinking about solving these problems has shifted towards a more external model, especially in the fallout of COVID. 

Let's be honest, what's happened this last year is accelerating some of these trends,” Chris says. “I think it's the reason why we're completely slammed right now. It's hard for us to keep up with demand at this point!

This has led quite naturally to a wider move towards co-development in entertainment and simulation visuals. Chris took us through exactly what this means: “Co-development is a term that can refer to a lot of different things but in a nutshell, it refers to multiple companies working on different aspects or applications of a project.” 

If one company was handling the engine side of a project (the programming of features) and another was handling all of the visual assets - from the shaders to the terrain and everything in-between. That would be co-development

They are currently working on a virtual reality project of this type based in Unreal Engine. It’s a maintenance simulator for inspecting vehicles and finding all the things that could potentially be wrong with them before they get out on the road. It’s a small project that only requires a couple of programmers from Vigilante’s end to work on the visual side. According to Chris: “This allowed us to get our feet wet in terms of co-development.”

Vigilante render

Render © Vigilante

Vigilante render

Render © Vigilante

Vigilante render

Render © Vigilante

Vigilante render

Render © Vigilante

Vigilante render

Render © Vigilante

Vigilante and Epic Games 

Vigilante were recently awarded a MegaGrant from Epic Games, the creators of the ubiquitous Fortnite franchise. This grant was for the creation of a content library of assets, with the first of Vigilante’s assets being shown off earlier this month.

Chris said: “Epic Games has committed support to game developers, enterprise professionals, media and entertainment creators, students, educators, and tool developers to do amazing things with Unreal Engine or to enhance open-source capabilities for the 3D graphics community, , and they're very interested right now in acquiring users if there are the tools and technologies available.” Their grant programme gave away close to $100 million to companies all over the world and aims to incentivise more developers to begin working with their monumentally successful Unreal Engine

Chris explained their new relationship with Epic in more detail: “One of the barriers to entry for people involved in distributed simulators who want to visualise results in Unreal Engine is there's no content on the marketplace that's natively compliant with their simulation protocols - the NATO protocols they use for visualising different types of units.” 

Vigilante’s content is also going to be the first of its kind to be compliant with both Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) and High Level Architecture (HLA)– two competing standards for conducting real-time platform-level wargaming across multiple host computers. 

It will also be available for free through the Unreal marketplace and will also be able to work natively with Core DS Unreal, which means it’ll be able to work potentially with any HLA or DIS enabler.

Vigilante has also been tasked with creating an icon generator for the Unreal Editor for people who are interested in visualising scenarios with our assets from more of a command level within the Unreal Engine. These icons are used to denote different types of units (land, air, sea, enemy, friendly, infantry etc.) as icons within the Unreal Engine to help them visualise the real-time movement of units in various military scenarios.

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to speak to us. 

Images copyright TitanIM

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Posted in Defence, Training & Simulation

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Published on 20 Jan 2021

Last updated on 20 Jan 2021

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