London-based Bossa Studios are best known for their hilariously difficult physics-based games – especially the 2013 Surgeon Simulator – as well as bizarre simulations where the player must learn to move around the world as something completely unique, like bread in I am bread.
I Am Fish is a logical further development of this idea. Four different fish lovers, separated from each other in a pet store aquarium, must embark on a dangerous journey to the ocean by piloting a variety of water-based “vehicles” using their fins and tails. But while this is a sequel to the infamous “Wonky Physics” that is part of the charm of studio production, this time around Bossa has developed an extensive story-based game and wants it to be accessible to those who prefer to enjoy the experience just through Press to move forward, although players can still opt for the “classic” controls at the beginning.
“We don’t do physics just for physics’ sake,” says Andy Green, Senior Technical Artist at Bossa. “With I Am Fish, we wanted to have a much more sophisticated experience, both in terms of gameplay and visuals.”
Compared to being limited to a large location, be it in different rooms of a house or just in the operating room, I Am Fish is certainly “larger in scope” and “more content-oriented”. At the core, however, was still a small team with a relatively short time scale. So Unity’s new tools were critical to realizing these ambitions.
As the first Bossa game to use Unity’s Scriptable Render Pipeline, I Am Fish leverages the latest technology that makes it possible to create a next-gen experience normally reserved for large teams. While the first prototype demo was created using an older version of Unity’s built-in render pipeline and released through prototyping platform Bossa Presents, a deal with Microsoft resulted in the game being the studio’s first title to run from the get-go Developed internally on Xbox hardware.
“At this point we had to evaluate whether we would go for the built-in renderer that we are all familiar with, or whether we would look at the High-Definition Rendering Pipeline (HDRP) or the Universal Rendering Pipeline (URP),” says Grün . “We chose HDRP because of the rendering capabilities and the fidelity we wanted.”
“With I Am Fish, we wanted to have a much more sophisticated experience, both in terms of gameplay and visuals.”
HDRP makes sense above all, since I Am Fish was also developed with the Xbox Series X and S in mind, but the new framework carried over well to the previous generation as well.
“Since this environment is relatively similar, it means that all of the graphics features of the next-generation water will work on the previous one,” Green continues. “The only thing we really had to consider is the original Xbox One, which is almost ten years old and therefore much slower than the Series X, and of course we have to take that into account.
“Much of the core rendering technology itself is still running identically on both platforms, but we had to try to balance this between platforms. We had slightly different performance bottlenecks with both, so certain functions react slightly differently to the two. But there wasn’t a system that we had to switch off immediately or completely rebuild. “
The most important aspect of working with the latest version of Unity, from Green’s point of view, is of course the “artist friendliness”, especially when it comes to giving artists more freedom to illuminate things more expressively and quickly.
“That was one of the goals in the beginning, we wanted to create a project with a lot more accuracy and achieve goals that we hadn’t really achieved before,” he explains. “HDRP made it a lot easier, otherwise we would have thought about building a lot of systems ourselves. In reality we’re a relatively small team and have been developing I Am Fish for almost a year, so we needed” to give us HDRP made possible. “
For example, Shader Graph is a node-based tool that allows artists to easily create shaders by creating them visually without writing any code, while viewing the results in real time. This “democratized” the process of creating shaders for the game, as many on the team were already familiar with node-based shader creation tools.
“Integrating Shader Graph with Unity meant that several members of the team could develop shaders almost instantly and without additional knowledge, while writing shaders in code was a pretty high barrier to entry,” says Green. “Otherwise just me and one of the other senior coders would have been the bottleneck for the team because all shaders would have had to come over us.”
Another important element in I Am Fish is water. Your fish cannot survive long unless they are submerged in a makeshift fishbowl that is available. Given the notorious difficulty of rendering water, having a body of water on screen almost always was a challenge. HDRP can support this from the start, especially through the ability to simulate the refraction of surfaces of light and water to give a sense of volume.
However, Green reveals that the water used as a vehicle in I Am Fish’s is essentially “faked” in two dimensions which, while not as highly accurate, was ultimately chosen for better performance.
“When we prototyped I Am Fish, we had a different physical solution that was physically much more accurate, but much slower, and it was very unstable because it could break in more interesting ways,” says and explains that final version simply focused on the surface, which can rise or fall, but does not take pressure or flow into account.
“For high-fidelity visuals, I think HDPR will be our first choice because it’s a lot more extensible.”
“When you pre-render for film and television, you have a lot more time to pre-bake these simulations and get them really physically accurate. But if it’s a game, try 30, 60. to run, or 90 Hz, it has to be responsive and always work and respond to the player’s inputs. “
As Bossa’s first game to use HDRP, they didn’t want to go beyond features the team wasn’t familiar with, like the new high-performance, multithreaded Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS) or the implementation of ray tracing, although Green hopes to add these in explore future projects. However, he notes that if there were other additional features that Unity did not support internally, they are “much easier to extend” compared to previous versions.
His only caveat about HDRP is that the focus on high-end platforms means that broadcasting a game on Switch, for example, would be incompatible. Developers who want to reach more platforms from the start can opt for URP instead.
“But for high-fidelity visuals, I think HDPR will be our first choice because it’s a lot more extensible,” says Green. “It’s designed to be more scalable for high resolutions, and it has basic rendering capabilities that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. If you’re running a relatively small project, lasting a year or two, you don’t have much time to build these systems yourself. So it is very helpful when everything is ready to use right away. “
I Am Fish, developed by Bossa Studios, is published by Curve Digital and is now available for Steam, Xbox, Xbox Series S / X, Windows 10 and in Game Pass for Xbox and PC