Elements of Immersive Game Play


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Elements of Immersive Game Play

  1. 1. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater Are Reusable Engines the Future of Computer Games Development? STUART SLATER GSAI Research Group School of Computing Wolverhampton University s.i.slater@wlv.ac.uk ABSTRACT The changes in both commercial success and extended platforms for computer games can clearly be seen from most media sources and Game Developers Conferences over the last 3 years. These changes have meant that pressure has been placed on development studios to not only produce a working game, but that it is picked up by a major distributor in order to fund the extended development time that modern computer games require. To this end the purpose of this paper is to look at how, and why many studios seem to be purchasing licences to use game engines such as the Unreal engine and what impact this has on both the development time for the studios and the variation in games being offered to the consumers. Further more it is intended to look at what features are being offered that take advantage of cutting edge hardware and why there is a growing emergence of middleware being offered as part of the solution by the game engine development companies KEYWORDS Reusability, Middleware, Game Engines, Business Strategy. INTRODUCTION In recent years the computer game industry has been compared to the movie industry in both the press and through comments made at more than one game developers conference in the UK and US (www.gdconf.com). These comparisons have in part involved spiralling budgets as a consequence of the need to incorporate technological enhancements such as advanced computer graphics. These changes in technology have led to a gradual move over the last 20 years from computer games being written by a team of one or two people on an extremely low budget, in a short time such as with the Darling brothers of Codemasters fame, to the top selling computer games of today which can involve the work of as many as 60 people over 2 years. The price being paid for this level of change is computer game development costs increasing to millions of pounds whilst at the same time only 10% of these games are making 90% of a market meaning a substantial risk to development studios should a game fail to recoup its revenue and make a profit (Gamasutra 2003). To this end development studios are spending between 6% and 20% of their overall budget on middleware in order to help minimise overall development costs that may be combined with team restructuring and the use of more tools such as custom graphics packages like 3D Studio Max. This usage of middleware is allowing developers to produce games that can be simultaneously released onto both PC and console formats as many of the top game engines support cross platform development and thus can provide a new source of revenue to help off-set the increased production costs. Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 1
  2. 2. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater COMMERCIAL GAME ENGINES The game engine/middleware market is flooded with products therefore a summary of the most popular engines is shown below: Criterion Renderware One of the most widely used game engines available is called Renderware by Criterion. This engine is incorporated into 500 titles that are either available now or in production and this has led to a total unit sales of $2 billion for products utilising the engine. The Renderware engine is really a suite of technologies including an AI and Physics engine that allow developers to pick and choose the most suitable aspects of a game engine for their project. This modularity has also led to a 74% market share for Criterion in the middleware market with development and support of the engine covered with the companies massive 200 employee work force and comes with both 10 years experience of designing engines for the market and a number of AAA titles that have utilised the engine (Renderware 2003). It should be noted that the style of games created with the engine are varied across the genres including sport games and racing games meaning that it is an extremely versatile suite of technologies. Examples of games using the engine are: Burnout2: Point of Impact. (Criterion Games) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar Games) GTA3 (Rockstar Games) Mortal Kombat 5 – Deadly Alliance (Midway) Pro Evolution Soccer (Konami) Tony Hawks 3. (Activision) Sonic Heroes (Sega) NDL’s Gamebryo (Formerly Net Immerse) Another popular engine that has been successfully used in over 70 titles is the Gamebryo engine developed by NDL. NDL has been involved in R & D for the last 20 years with the last 5 being spent on developing the current engine (Dyrness 2003). Gamebryo is a cross platform engine that enables the developer to write their game code in C++ and easily port this to other platforms such as X-Box (Microsoft) or Game cube (Nintendo). The company employs 17 staff to develop and support the engine that until recently was called Net Immerse. Like the Renderware engine a range of game genres can be developed using the engine. Examples of games using the engine are: Call Of Cthulhu-Dark Corners of the Earth (Head First / Bethesda Soft works) Tennis Masters Series (Microids) Lego Team Alpha (Lego Media International Inc) Prince of Persia 3D (Mindscape/Red Orb Entertainment) Dark Age of Camelot (Vivendi Universal/Mythic Entertainment) Elder Scrolls 3 Morrowind (Bethesda Soft works) Star Trek: Bridge Commander (totally Games/Activision Inc) US Racer (Davilex/Infogrames) Freedom Force (Irrational Games/EA Games) Knight Rider (Davilex) Ben Hur (Microids) Star Trek Bridge Commander (Totally Games) Munch’s Odyssey (Odd world Inhabitants) Unreal engine The Unreal engine is developed by Epic Games who began developing the engine in 1994, which would be used in their first major hit Unreal in 1998. The Unreal engine has continually evolved into one of the most state of the art first person shooter engines on the market, incorporating some of the most cutting edge features such as atmospherics, physics engines and lip-synching technologies and has been used in over 25 games. The engine is developed and supported by 22 employees, 9 of whom are engine specific and it should be noted that support is provided directly by the developers of the engine who are continually incorporating new features into the engine to make one of the most recent builds number 2199. Recently the engine was used for UNREAL 2 and Splinter Cell both of which were Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 2
  3. 3. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater massive commercial successes. It should be noted that the engine development costs are around 10 million dollars so far (Rein 2003). Examples of games using the engine are: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (Ubi Soft) Unreal Tournament 2003 (Digital Extremes/Infogrames/Epic Games) Deus Ex (Ion Storm) Undying (DreamWorks Interactive Electronic Arts) Klingon Honour Guard (Microprose) Duke Nukem Forever (3D Realms/Take 2 interactive) America’s Army (Prima Publishing/U.S. Army) Devastation (Softek International/ARUSH) Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone. UNREAL 2004 and UNREAL 2 X-Box (Due soon) Epic. Quake Unlike the Unreal engine the Quake engine developed by id software comes in 3 distinctive flavours, these are a Quake Engine, Quake 2 engine and Quake 3 engine that are available as 3 separate products. Each engine is an evolution from the last and each one was originally used on the Quake games, Quake 1, 2 and 3, which have all been commercial successes. What is interesting to note is that the Quake 1 and Quake 2 engine are available free of charge or with a limited cost depending on its usage meaning that up and coming developers can experiment with the engine over a period of time prior to investing in the more sophisticated Quake 3 engine. The company lists 21 employees on its web site (www.idsoftware.com/business/home/team/) who include some of the original developers of one of the original first person shooters Wolfenstein 3D way back in 1991 and the later successful DOOM series indicating a vast experience pool for developing successful games. The Quake 3 engine is technologically very similar to the Unreal engine and the Quake engines have been used on a host of successful titles including Half Life, which has sold 7.5 million copies since its release. Examples of games using the engine are (Q1-Quake, Q2-Quake2, Q3-Quake3): Hexen 2 (Raven Games 1997)(Q1) Half-Life (Valve/Sierra 1998) (Q1) Kingpin (Interplay Production) (Q2) Heretic 2 (Raven Games 1998) (Q2) Soldier of Fortune (Raven Games) (Q2) Sin (Activision/Ritual Entertainment 1998) (Q2) Daikatana. (Q2) American Mc Gee’s Alice (Electronic Arts) (Q3) Heavy Metal: FAKK2 (Ritual Entertainment 2000) (Q3) Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matter/Activision/Id) (Q3) The World Is Not Enough (Electronic Arts)(Q3) Voyager- Elite Force (Raven) (Q3) Quake 3 Arena (Id/Activision)(Q3) Anachronox (ION Storm/EIDOS Interactive)(Q3) Team Fortress 2 (Sierra Entertainment)(Q3) Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix (Activision Inc)(Q3) Jedi Knight 2: Outcast (raven/Lucas Arts)(Q3) Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 3
  4. 4. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater Touchdown Entertainment formerly Lithtech (US) Touchdown Entertainment has recently undergone a name change from Lithtech who now provide 2 engines for game development. The first is a suite of technologies called Copperhead that supports multiple platforms, the other is called Jupiter and is a more integrated solution for the X-Box and PC. Both versions replace the previous versions of the engine that came in many more versions including Lithtech Talon and now have a much simpler licensing plan for developers rather than the multi-tiered structure associated with the previous engines. It should be noted that at least 25 universities across the globe are currently using binary versions of the Jupiter engine for R&D. Examples of games using the engine are: Aliens Vs Predator 2 (Monolith) No One lives forever 2 (Monolith) TRON 2.0 (Monolith/Buena Vista Interactive) Rubies of Eventide (Cyber Warrior) Mistmare (Arxel) KISS: Psycho Circus (Third Law) Hulk (Radical Entertainment/Universal Interactive) GAME ENGINE COSTS Though some game engine developers provide code or previous versions of their engine for non-commercial applications free of charge the Industry trend is to charge for licenses, in some cases this can be low such as with the company Garage Games but for some this can escalate to as much as $500,000 dollars for a game engine licence. Shown below is an indication of relative costs of development for the range of engines discussed earlier. In some cases data on costs was not available due to tailoring of costs to a developers needs. Net Immerse Engine Costs (www.gamebryo.com/gamebryo_licensing.cfm) Initial Engine Cost Yearly Support Costs Single Use Unlimited Use Single Use Unlimited Use One Platform $50,000 $150,000 $25,000 $40,000 Two Platforms $75,000 $200,000 $35,000 $50,000 Three Platforms $100,000 $250,000 $45,000 $60,000 Four Platforms $125,000 $300,000 $55,000 $70,000 Licences include source code, modules and plug ins E-mail access, 2 enhancements for the platforms updates per year Unreal Engine Costs (Rein 2003) $350,000 per game 3% Royalties additional platforms $50,000 $750,000 per game No Royalties due additional platforms $100,000 Quake 3 (www.idsoftware.com/business/home/technology/printdoc.html) $250,000 per game 5% royalties $150,000 (to demo with hardware equipment) TouchDown Engine (www.touchdownentertainment.com) $10,000 each licence for Jupiter or Copperhead + Distribution fee More than 10 licences bought Reduced distribution fee Distribution fees due upon gold master. Renderware No Engine Licensing costs found, must contact sales directly for fees. Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 4
  5. 5. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater GAME ENGINE TECHNOLOGIES Developers using a commercial game engine do not have to spend as much money on R&D on emerging graphics technologies such as specula highlighting, projective textures and pixel/vertex shaders as these features have already been researched and incorporated into engines such as the Unreal engine and are therefore instantly available to the developer upon licensing, allowing them to either reduce costs on R&D or spend more time on game play or other aspects of the game. Engines such as Quake 3 include technologies such as shaders, curved surfaces, 32-bit colour, special effects, hardware rendering and even industry accepted CD security systems and these will allow developers to utilise researched technologies that have been proven to work such as CD encryption. The Copperhead engine by Touchdown entertainment offers a slightly different approach to some engines in that its components are modular and can be bought and used as needed these components are Pure3D graphics which provides a multi- platform capability, a physics library, audio library, content manager that deals with loading of information from disc, core library, movie modules for full motion video (FMV) and a maths library. Jupiter again by Touchdown has an AI management system, game object manager, networking module, physics module and a host of content creation tools. The Net Immerse engine supports Nvidia’s Cg programming language and the similar Microsoft high-level shader language and is also a strategic partner with both Discreet (3D Studio Max) and Havok. The Half Life 2 engine by Valve incorporates a physics engine based on Havok and is capable of rendering characters of 5,000 polygons, creating diffused and bump mapped surfaces as well as a state of the art particle and lighting system to add realism to first person shooter style games by allowing the developer luminescence and reflections in their virtual environment (anonymous 2003). It should also be noted that of the game engines researched virtually all supported either MAYA or the 3DStudio Max modelling packages. OTHER MIDDLEWARE PRODUCTS The research findings so far have only discussed stand alone engines such as Unreal and Renderware, these engines were originally developed to support the graphical aspects of programming but over the last 5 years have grown to support other aspects of game development such as AI and sound. Almost in parallel with these developments has been a number of specialist companies offering bolt-on or stand alone solutions to further areas of game development. Some of these products like Havok are specifically designed to provide easier access to real world physics and has been used extensively already by many studios such as Ion Storm, Remedy and Valve. Other products on the market are facial animation tools such as the Impersonator group of technologies that provide Lip Synching of characters from audio data (www.OC3ent.com). Many of these products including the AI and sound tools are ready to interface with engines such as the Unreal engine (Dyrness 2003). This market is rapidly growing though some products are being absorbed into the main game engines such as both Renderware and the Source Engine (Powering Half Life 2), which incorporate the Havok engine. What in essence this means is that in some cases developers can choose to either purchase game development components from the game engine developer or else shop around for an alternative product that will interface with their game, but possibly at a lower cost. SUCCESS STORIES & THE QUESTION OF REPETITION From the reported $2 billion combined revenue from games developed from Renderware it would seem that games featuring “off the shelf” engines are popular with the public and so offer a substantial return on investment. An example of this is Splinter Cell that uses the Unreal engine, since November 2002 this game has sold in excess of 1.6 Million Units (Unreal 2003) and has been praised in numerous reviews; another is the Grand Theft Auto series of games based on the Renderware engine. Though some engines are developed solely as stand alone engines most are developed as a consequence of a concurrent game development such as Unreal and Quake and therefore it is surprising to see that games based on these engines from other developers can actually sell more units than the original game the engine was developed from. Half-Life which was based on the Quake 2 engine has sold in excess of 7.5 Million copies (anonymous 2003) whereas the combined sales of the Quake trilogy which Half Life was based on have only sold 4 million units (Id 2003) indicating that licensed engine games can sometimes offer something extra during development such as an addition or modification to the engine as to offer different features and can subsequently show increased sales. A question being asked in the Industry is whether the increased use of engines will mean that titles become more repetitious and offer little in the way of innovation to the gamer, as it is thought that player’s want more from their playing experiences and are getting tired of being confronted with the same game play on newer technology (Beram 2003). Also whether or not licensed characters used in combination with more complete game engines offer little innovation and merely aim to satisfy the publics need for a game based on their favourite character at the movie launch time. What is certain is that movie licenses used in conjunction with engines sell and predominantly hold the top 10 positions in most games charts at launch time. It would seem that the public can’t get enough of characters like Harry Potter or the Hulk whose licences alone can cost the developers millions of pounds on top of the actual cost of developing the game therefore some of these developers buy a licences and an engine and can have a multi-platform Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 5
  6. 6. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater game released on all formats in an extremely short time satisfying the player’s short term need for a game based on their favourite characters. THE FUTURE With several major engine developers solely working on engine improvements through the incorporation of new graphic hardware, sound technology, AI techniques and physics modelling it is of no surprise to see that the virtual environments being created are becoming more “lifelike”. These environments can allow interaction with non-player characters and incorporate advanced physics engine that allow a greater realism through improved user interaction with the environment. As a consequence of these improved virtual environments it is of no surprise to see that game engines are being used in both commercial and academic research in order to visualise real world situations, one example of this usage is the modelling of the next generation of high speed trains. Codecult the developer of one such engine has been instrumental in developing a real world simulation of the TRANSRAPID track in conjunction with Siemens (Codecult 2003). The Unreal engine was used to create a virtual film set for Stephen Spielberg during the filming of the movie A.I. and virtual walkthroughs of streets and neighbourhoods of real towns has also been modelled (Milano 1999). Though game engines are being used on a limited basis for non-game applications it is only in the game industry that significant growth of both usage of middleware and projected income from computer games is predicted. As can be seen from figure 1 middleware is currently responsible for generating approx $20 million worth of sales with an anticipated rise to $50 million within 4 years. These figures do not show the increase in growth of network engines for online gaming, which could push the growth higher especially with the recent explosion of broadband enabled technologies such as X-Box Live. Over the same period of growth the revenue from computer games is estimated to grow from $14.8 billion to $35.8 billion (Gamasutra 2003) indicating that the computer games industry is likely to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the Industry over the next few years and this rapid growth will certainly need faster and cheaper methods of responding to the market and thus the future growth of middleware looks almost certain. Revenue for Game Engines (in millio ns) $ 60 $50 $ 40 $5 0 .7 $44.1 $30 $3 6.0 $ 20 $2 7 .7 $19.9 $1 0 $0 2003 2004 2 0 05 2006 2 00 7 Figure 1. Predicted Revenue for Game Engines. Source: Acacia Research Group( www.acaciarg.com) Copyright © 2003 Acacia Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. CONCLUSIONS Middleware is currently used in nearly 20% of all current games and its usage is estimated to rise to 65-75% of all games over the next few years (Staples 2003) as more companies endeavour to reduce increasing development costs; due in part to the costs of licensing movie and game characters. Furthermore the market is dominated by a few engine developers who are offering complete development environments with all of the tools ready to be integrated into rapidly delivered game titles across multiple platforms. This reuse of engines and the continuing R & D by the engine developers means that it is likely that the complexities of creating the next generation console and PC software will mean that the manpower resources will not increase in proportion to studios who develop their game engines from scratch (Riccitello 2003). With Playstation3, X-Box 2 and new developments on the horizon for PC graphics, studios must seriously consider what options are available to them and whether or not they can afford to fund a large team over 2 years to produce a title that may not even break even and thus join the long list of developers who become Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 6
  7. 7. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater bankrupt, or else adopt a tried and tested engine that has been used in several AAA titles in a much shorter time and with a much smaller team at the risk of less innovation in their end product. AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY Stuart Slater is currently working as a Lecturer in IT and Computing at the University of Wolverhampton, and a member of the “Games Simulation and Artificial Intelligence” research group (GSAI). His research interests include computer graphics for simulation and games as well as computer game engine developments. REFERENCES Anonymous (2003). “Half-life 2”. The Edge Magazine issue 124 pages 49-53. Beram, I. (2003). “More from Less Design.” Technique JUNE. Develop magazine June 2003. Issue 29. Intentmedia publication. Codecult (2003). “Codecult and Ginco New Media developed a 3D-simulation of the Shanghai Maglev TRANSRAPID track for SIEMENS”. www.codecult.com/main.asp. Last accessed 12/07/2003. Dyrness,C. (2003) “These engines fuel game creation.” http://newsobserver.com/business/v-print/story/2288416p-2152011c.html Last accessed 12/07/2003. Gamasutra (2003). “Industry News - PricewaterhouseCoopers Predicts Double-Digit Growth 2003-2007.” http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/industry_news_display.php?story=1824. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Gestalt (2000) “The Engine Licensing Game.” www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=546. Last accessed 12 July 2003. ID Software (2003). “Id Software’s new technology licensing program.” http://www.idsoftware.com/business/home/technology/printdoc.html. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Milano 1999. “Unrealty: Application of a 3D Game Engine to Enhance the Design, Visualisation and Presentation of Commercial Real Estate.” Perilith Industrielle. http://www.unrealty.net/vsmm99/. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Renderware (2003) “Research Community Cites Middleware as Critical for Game Industries Ongoing Success”. http://www.renderware.com. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Rein, M. Epic Game Inc. E-mail reply. 10th August 2003. Riccitello, J. (2003) “View From The top”. Page 20. June 2003 develop magazine. Intentmedia publication. Staples, S. (2003) ”Video Game Industry Recovering, Cautiously.” ACACIA Research group.” www.acaciarg.com/news/ar051302b.htm. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Unreal (2003) Unreal Engine news. http://epicgames.com/UnrealEngineNews.html. . Last accessed 12 July 2003. Further Reading Allen, S. (1999) “Post-mortem: Sin Things that went right”. Gamasutra network. http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990305/sin_02.htm .Last accessed 12 July 2003. Calderon, C. Cavazza, M. (2001).“Using Games Engines to Implement Intelligent Virtual Environments” Shiratuddin, M.F. Yaakub A.R. Arif, A.S.C.M.(2000-2003).” Games Engines in Real World Virtual Reality Application” Virtual reality InnovationCentre http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~enzrh/VRSIG7Proc/Shiratuddin/Shiratuddin.htm. Last accessed 12 July 2003. Trivedi, D. (2003). “Industry Interviews, Rise of Nations Interview.” www.sharkeyextreme.com/features/idtrInterviews/article.php/2218751. Last accessed 12 July 2003 Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 7
  8. 8. Are Reusable Engines The Future of Computer Games Development? Stuart Slater Lets get physical. PC Zone Issue 127 April 2003. Page 16 and 17. http://www.cncseries.com/generals/about/facts/ last accessed 16th July 2003. Digital Games Industries: Sept, 2003, CRIC 8