Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Elements of Game Technology, part one: Game Engines

So what is the game engine? After importing the Blitz project into UDK some time ago now I got firsthand experience into what a game engine is. It is the editor in which all assets are compiled in. Factors like lighting, particle effects, physics, and rendering are predominately involved. Level design plays a huge role as commonly most artists ‘whitebox’ their levels in engine to assess the playthrough, scale, and accuracy. So in simple terms it is where everything a game artist does ends up. But with so many developers using exclusive engines such as Infinity Wards IW Engine used predominately for the Call of Duty series as well as Crytek’s CryEngine for the popular Crysis series, where do we start? Instead of giving a history lesson on how the game developing world became with Game Engines in mind, I decided to look more towards the future and how everything is developing for the next generation.

UDK is a very popular game engine that many game developers use today, it is free to download for anyone to use and many tutorials exist amongst the vast library that is the internet. Many developers have used this engine and it has done really well in proving itself to bring great visuals and level customization. Recent games to use the engine are Batman Arkham City, Army of Two, Mass Effect 3 and Gears of War 3; just to name a few. UDK4 is the latest development kit by Epic Games and has been in the works since 2003. Though not released yet, a video demo was put on the internet to show off some of its latest features and things are looking very Epic indeed.

(udk4 interface)

Breakdown of UDK4 features

When I think of high end graphics one of my personal favourite games comes to mind, the Metal Gear Series. With the release of the PS3 Kojima Productions came out with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, even today the game’s graphics are spectacular and it’s unique gameplay and art direction will always make it a iconic title. Kojima Productions announced their latest engine, the FOX engine during 2011 for E3 and have said they started work on it shortly after the release of MGS4. A trailer to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes was released and show’s some very impressive graphics that this new Fox Engine will deliver. It is mentioned that the game will be cross platform but no details as to what platforms specifically. Another trailer released for a up and coming game called ‘The Phantom Pain’ is also very impressive and there is speculation that the game is also running on the same engine. The character in the trailer resembles Snake from the MGS series but nothing is confirmed. These visuals for both trailers clearly indicate that these latest games will be an amazing experience and the Engine looks to rival anything else out there.

Kojima going through top secret Fox Engine (2011)

News on The Phantom Pain trailer
Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes trailer

Details about MGS Ground Zeroes 

The Phantom Pain trailer – Fox Engine.

(Fox Engine comparison to real life, can you guess whats what?)

Ubisoft are another major player in the gaming world. One of their most popular titles the ‘Assassins Creed’ is an amazing open world role playing game series, featuring dramatic gameplay in which the player can interact with all assets and NPC’s, it also has intense cut scenes and an in depth narrative. To develop the latest in the series Assassins Creed 3 Ubisoft used the AnvilNext Engine. The new technology for this title assists the vastly different environment compared to the previous games. The fight sequence animations have all been done from scratch and due to the organic environment, the way the player articulates through trees and snow have all been focal points with this new Engine.

A look into the game and AnvilNext Engine. 
Analysis on the AnvilNext Engine trailer.    

Ubisoft unveiled a brand new title called ‘Watch Dogs’ in 2012 and the game is set to come out on the new generation of console for late 2013. This game is being worked on a brand new engine and looks stunning to say the least. With this much detail and so many different animations/systems working at once, not to mention the high end graphics, it will be very interesting to see more from the Engine.  

Watch Dogs gameplay clip

As a student still with a year to go, this all does seem overwhelming because of the fast pace everything is developing, Game Engines are capable of so much more than they were say 3 – 4 years ago. The new ones being developed seems to not only make it easier for the artists working with them to speed up the production process (UDK4 for example) but give so many more options ready at the arsenal of developers. It will be a great experience in the final year when I go toe to toe with building levels and the current group project is helping us understand game Engines at a good pace.