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.

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