Saturday, 21 February 2009

Call on the Engineer, I think I spilled my coffee in the system…

Okay, I’ve herd of game engines before. Everyone has definitely heard of engines such as the CryENGINE from Crytek, Unreal Engine from Epic and Source Engine from Valve Corporation. Usually people don’t really bother to find out anything else about them, we just know they are used to create games.

The game engine is essentially what drives the creation of a video game. They allow the creation and development of a game using several codes and features. Some of these features include rendering, physics, collision, sound, scripting, animation and artificial intelligence. When looking at modeling objects in 3Ds Max or Maya for games, we can only model and animate the characters. There is not much else that can be done, a character that we build will not be able to be controlled and will only follow the set animation sequence it has been given. This is where the game engine is introduced, the engine has the correct code and script to be able to combine several game assets into one scene and allow them to run in the way they were meant to. Some complex engines can specify attributes to assets within the game such as adding weight to a box or explosions to a fuel cell. The Havok engine is famous for its ragdoll system that provides game characters with weight and flexibility enabling them to move more realistically when different forces are acting upon the character e.g. throwing a character across a room or impaling them a wall. Previously, most engines would require the character to be animated in a single way showing only one way that the character is thrown thus resulting in a more controlled system rather than a randomized effect.

Physics within game engines has allowed creators to produce realistic effects for any outcome. Blow up a warthog in halo and you will see that the vehicle explodes in random places and each part of the vehicle will be thrown in a random direction following the explosive trajectory. It sounds complicated but all of this is required to create one explosive scene (pun not intended). This can only be done with the write script placed in the right engine. This brings me onto the re-use of game engines. Most game companies re-use existing game engines or purchase them since it is easier and cheaper rather than having to create a new system or game engine. Epic’s Unreal has been used for all the unreal series, Rainbow Six 3, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Bioshock and many others. Companies such as Crytek have moved to concentrating on game engine technology for sale. Where as Epic and Valve made their engine for their existing game, Crytek designed its engine and produced a game to display the engine. Crysis was manufactured to display the most powerful engine that incorporated dynamic lighting, better AI, Motion Blur and Environmental effects. Crytek’s dynamic lighting system enhances the way objects react to different environments and light sources, the AI system allows characters to move along different terrain while adapting their centre of gravity. The environmental effects simulate dust and other particles along with seasons and time.

The future for gaming doesn’t look too goo. With next-gen engines, more money and resources are needed to achieve different game systems that are make a game more realistic and exciting. Smaller game companies will not be able to afford new engines or the technology to build their own and therefore they will be forced to revolutionize gaming or go bankrupt. Some companies and individuals have managed to create revolutionary games such as Baird, which is a simple plat-former with an interesting time based gameplay. But these kind of ideas don’t grow on trees and will really test game producers.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

I'm Pro...

Games culture is a new media culture that has been formed due to the success of video games up to date. Now, the understanding of the culture is split into various different threads, some would say that playing video games is enough to say that you are part of the culture, yet others would disagree and state that there is a serious aspect to consider before One can call themselves a gamer. I believe that both are part of the bigger picture but need to be identified as separate cultures as well, on one side casual gaming and the other competitive gaming. Casual gaming consists of playing games just for fun, a casual gamer can be someone like Parents or younger siblings that just play games to be entertained. This is due to the fact that games everywhere, they are on mobile phones, the Internet, computers, consoles and iPods. When it comes to gamers or competitive gamers, what define a gamer are the way the games are played and the interest towards games. Gamers tend to be more competitive towards gaming and surround themselves with things to do with games. Gamers attend LAN and online sessions and tournaments and play for glory of winning. It can be considered a sport.

For me, casual gaming consists of me playing video games with a few friends in a flat. We play games late into the night but tend not to care too much about who is winning and who is losing. It generally consists of people playing games for fun while having a few beers and making general conversation. Most of my life has consisted of this kind of casual gaming culture. I have spent various nights and days playing games round a friend’s house with no competitive play involved, just playing for a laugh whilst annoying each other with constant headshots and beat downs.

Two years ago, I was introduced to competitive gaming. Online gaming changes the way people play games, its not so much about trying to find the funniest way to win but more so the basics of just making a kill or win for your record. When playing online, every win counts since records have to be made and losses accounted for. When casual gaming on Halo, I tend to find the most complicated and interesting way to kill someone with something like a barrel or cone to spawning a tank on them. When online I have to make sure I kill someone when I see them so every kill has to be made with the weapon in hand. I also have the LAN side of gaming every Tuesday, which creates a different environment since people keep to themselves and concentrate more on the pixels in front of them.

The two forms of gaming are all part of the general culture, which also consists of going to conventions, collecting game-related stuff, meeting and talking to other gamers and communicating on forums. On the whole my involvement with games is due to the fact that I enjoy playing video games in both a casual and competitive environment. The fact that I also want to be involved in the industry fuels my interaction with the culture so that I can better my understanding of the needs of gamers.