Design in Real Time

Fission: The Presence and The Future

Fission is a real-time 3D design game developed with Blueprints in Unreal Engine. Prioritizing intuitive 3D modeling and an evaluation-in-design workflow, Fission implements a user experience (UX) not readily available within most commercial computer-aided design (CAD) platforms. It capitalizes on Unreal Engine’s unique advantages in promoting human-computer interaction (HCI) to enhance architectural design experiences in the early concept design stage. Fission poses to fill a perceptible gap left behind by commercial 3D modeling programs that are inefficient for conceptual formal studies (e.g., Rhino and Revit) and real-time visualization solutions (e.g., Enscape) that are optimized for static renderings. Therefore, it effectively cultivates a reflexive dialogue between the designer and the formal scheme under development. People in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, urban design, and urban planning will find Fission a highly usable 3D tool for conceptual explorations. Fission can also serve as a communication nexus between designers and non-designers, facilitating user-centered, participatory design activities for the generation, interpretation, and distribution of ad-hoc design knowledge across disciplinary borders. It echoes the emergent practices of gamification in participatory urban planning and will inspire more Public Interest Design (PID) initiatives that engage community participants.

Where Fission is Now

The current release of Fission is version 1.50 published on 04/26/2021. It is a desktop 3D application that can run on any Windows platform with a graphic processor unit (GPU) that supports Microsoft DirectX 11. Its 3D design environment enables users to directly operate with malleable and divisible solids in perspective views, without the mediation of 2D geometries and orthographic projections. Therefore, Fission indulges users in highly playful, fidgeting 3D modeling experiences comparable to those of playing with playdough or building blocks. Featuring real-time rendering and a playable human character avatar, Fission facilitates users to efficiently generate and evaluate formal concepts with integrated consideration of geometries, materials, daylighting, shading, and potential accommodation of human dynamic vision and behaviors.

Why Fission?
Feature 1.50 New Features

Fission’s User Interface (UI) design emphasizes context-based information display, synchronously providing quantitative design information necessary for informed decision making. Fission also offers essential file management functions for users to import 3D models in standard FBX format, save, load, merge designs, and interoperate with Rhino and Revit by exporting design parameters into Excel workbooks. To track the continual evolution of Fission, please refer to its YouTube playlist.

The Roadmap Ahead

I have been utilizing Fission in my teaching of multiple undergraduate and graduate design studios and witnessed its remarkable positive implications on student performance. Some practicing architects have also expressed tremendous interest in Fission and gave me advice for its future evolution. In response to the feedback from users in academy and the industry, Fission’s development road map recognizes four critical areas where new or enhanced features will be introduced: 3D modeling, design evaluation, design collaboration, and deployment platform. Continual improvements in these areas will significantly elevate the tool’s overall capacity and usability, making it more valuable to those in the fields of architectural design and urban planning who seek insightful and collaborative design experiences. Leveraging Unreal Engine’s advanced real-time technologies, I expect Fission to appeal to a diverse group of users in the ecosystem of Rhino, Revit, Enscape, Unreal Engine, and Twinmotion.

For 3D modeling, the objective is to add several new capabilities to improve users’ 3D modeling experiences in Fission. There will be a rotatable snap grid for rotated modules to snap to each other (Figure 1) conveniently. Users will be able to copy and paste multiple activated modules (Figure 2), rotate them all together about a single pivot point (Figure 3), get their aligned by center or by edge to a common border (Figure 4), and merge them into a singular one (Figure 5). There will also be new methods to modify a module’s appearance and yield a twisted form (Figure 6) or adopt an adaptable stepped profile (Figure 7). There will be a special module material that supports customizable textures (Figure 8). Users can effectively manage module packages through a dedicated UI widget to save, load, merge, or delete packaged modules (Figure 9). Simple cubic modules can be converted to parametric façade components (Figure 10), which are based on my Unreal Engine Blueprint study concerning generative façade design. Moreover, existing modeling functions, such as Mirror and Fission, will also be further improved, with some limitations being removed.

Figure 1. Rotatable Snap Grid.
Figure 2. Multi-Module Copy and Paste.
Figure 3. Multi-Module Rotation about a Single Pivot.
Figure 4. Module Alignment.
Figure 5. Module Merging.
Figure 6. Twisted Module.
Figure 7. Adaptable Module Profile.
Figure 8. Customizable Material,
Figure 9. Module Package Management.
Figure 10. Fission-Façade Designer Function
My Study of A Generative Façade Design System

For design evaluation, the objective is to expand the tool’s real-time quantitative and visual evaluation abilities, adding features such as alternate human character avatars (Figure 11), drivable vehicles (Figure 12), calculation of combined design data for multiple activated modules (Figure 13), and real-time measurement tool as well as building code compliance check (Figure 14). Future versions of Fission will also boast of enhanced dynamic visual analysis capability for synchronously collecting and processing dynamic Line of Sight (LOS) visual depth data (Figure 15).

Figure 11. Multiple Playable/Non-Playable Human Character Avatars.
Figure 12. Drivable Vehicles.
Figure 13. Design Data for Multiple Activated Modules.
Figure 14. Real-Time Measurement and Code Check.
Figure 15. Advanced Line of Sight (LOS) Analysis.

For design collaboration, the focus is to develop and incorporate the following features: a multi-player mode to allow several designing users and observers to work together in the same game world (Figure 16), import/export Datasmith capacity for effectively linking Fission with CAD programs, Unreal Engine and Twinmotion (Figure 17), an advanced game save/load menu that integrates design data previews and screenshot emailing ability (Figure 18), as well as run-time tag/annotation tools for creating editable comment tags (Figure 19). These new features will make Fission better embedded in a collaborative workflow that may involve multiple participants in the design process.

Figure 16. Multi-Player Mode.
Figure 17. Import/Export Datasmith
Figure 18. Advanced Save/Load Interface.
Figure 19. Tag/Annotation Function.

For deployment platform, the objective is to develop a VR version of Fission that can be deployed via SteamVR. The VR version of Fission can exchange game save files with the desktop version to implement an inter-platform workflow (Figure 20) and support multiple-player collaboration in the VR environment (Figure 21).

Figure 20. Inter-Platform Workflow.
Figure 21. Collaborative VR Mode.

During the continual development of Fission from April to August 2021, the development team, including me as the principal investigator and four graduate and undergraduate architecture students will collaborate with several architect firms in South Dakota and Minnesota and the XR research team led by Prof. Henry Richardson at Cornell University. We will also reach out to urban planners and participatory design activists who have experimented with gamification in urban planning. The development team plans to carry out an exploratory market survey, engaging students, educators, architects, and planners to identify user needs, decide on development priorities, and assess work-in-progress products. There will be beta releases as development milestones completed by the end of every month for testing and discussion.

What do you think about my plan? Join the official Discord Server for Fission and share your thoughts with me.