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Choosing your Game Engine (2009)

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Choosing to buy a middleware game engine for your next game is the most important technology decision you will likely make for your project. How can you evaluate engines properly? What should you do …

Choosing to buy a middleware game engine for your next game is the most important technology decision you will likely make for your project. How can you evaluate engines properly? What should you do before looking at engines? This talk covers a framework for evaluating game engines, based on a developer survey conducted in early 2009. It also goes through a bit on the history of game engines. Alas, without notes or audio, there are a lot of things missing from this presentation. But hopefully you will find it helpful!


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  • Good presentation Mark. A couple points that maybe you made verbally or maybe not
    1) there was a transition somewhere over the 2000-2004 that went from 'herculean effort from single tech lead programmer' (aka Carmack et al) to 'too big for any one man' with things like Half Life 2. That certainly played a role here.
    2) I did a similar presentation internally here, and one of the things I added in there was the attitude toward middleware/engines in marketing of game titles that went something like this (mapped to your different periods)
    - Real men don't use middleware (only second rate guys don't write their own stuff)
    - Middleware is a four letter word ('We licensed the quake engine but we completely rewrote it' - how many times did you read that in a press interview?)
    - MIddleware is a feature ('Built using Unreal!' so it must be good, right?)
    - future: middleware is a 'dont-care'? No one talks about which C compiler they use, or which modelling package, etc.
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  • It's a beautiful presentation, not just the template frontpage but all the slides :-)

    The high-end, mid-range and casual/web engines have typically nice world/level builders tools. They can import models from Maya, Max and Blender. But I find it suprising that there isn't a good open source general purpose world builder or level editor available.
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  • 1. Choosing the Game Engine that is Right for You Mark DeLoura Videogame Technology Consultant October 12, 2009
  • 2. Introduction
  • 3. Topics • The Evolution of Game Engines • Choosing a Game Engine • Available Engines
  • 4. The Evolution of Game Engines • Graphics engines to game engines • Software 3D to hardware 3D • Consoles embrace game engines • The Mod generation • Shader evolution • Costs and complexity
  • 5. Graphics Engines to Game Engines • 1993: Doom (idTech 1)
  • 6. Graphics Engines to Game Engines • 1995: Software-rendered engines – Argonaut’s BRender – Criterion’s Renderware – RenderMorphics’ Reality Lab
  • 7. Graphics Engines to Game Engines • 1996: Quake 1
  • 8. Software 3D to Hardware 3D • 1996: Quake 1
  • 9. Software 3D to Hardware 3D • 1997: Quake 2 (idTech 2)
  • 10. Software 3D to Hardware 3D • 1998: Half-Life (GoldSRC)
  • 11. Software 3D to Hardware 3D • 1998: Unreal (Unreal Engine 1)
  • 12. Software 3D to Hardware 3D • 1999: Quake 3 (idTech 3)
  • 13. Consoles Embrace Engines • 1999: PlayStation2
  • 14. Consoles Embrace Engines • 1999: NDL’s NetImmerse 3D • 2000: Intrinsic Graphics’ Alchemy
  • 15. Consoles Embrace Engines • 2001: Grand Theft Auto III uses Criterion’s Renderware
  • 16. Consoles Embrace Engines • 2003: Unreal 2 PC (Unreal Engine 2) • 2004: Unreal 2 Xbox; PS2 in dev
  • 17. Consoles Embrace Engines • 2003: Vicarious Visions purchases Intrinsic Graphics (Alchemy) • 2004: EA purchases Criterion (Renderware) • 2005: Emergent purchases NDL (NetImmerse, Gamebryo)
  • 18. Engines Embrace Consoles • 2007: Unreal Engine 3 – PC, Xbox360, PS3 • 2009: CryEngine 3 – PC, Xbox360, PS3
  • 19. The Mod Generation
  • 20. The Mod Generation • 1993: Doom (idTech 1)
  • 21. The Mod Generation • 1997: Quake 2 (idTech 2)
  • 22. The Mod Generation • 1998: Unreal (Unreal Engine 1)
  • 23. The Mod Generation • 2001: Tribes 2 (Torque)
  • 24. The Mod Generation • 2002: Criterion ships Renderware Studio
  • 25. The Mod Generation • 2004: Doom 3 (idTech 4) • 2004: Half-Life 2 (Source) • 2004: FarCry (CryEngine)
  • 26. The Mod Generation • 2007: Gears of War (Unreal Engine 3)
  • 27. The Mod Generation • 2007: Crysis (CryEngine 2)
  • 28. Shader Evolution • 1999-2000: “All games on a particular engine look the same.”
  • 29. Shader Evolution • 2000: GeForce3 released
  • 30. Shader Evolution • 2004: Doom 3 (idTech 4)
  • 31. Shader Evolution • 2004: Half-Life 2 (Source)
  • 32. Shader Evolution • 2004: Far Cry (CryEngine)
  • 33. Shader Evolution • 2007: Gears of War (Unreal Engine 3)
  • 34. Current Engine Trends • Game development costs are very high – Amortize development across multiple games and multiple platforms • Multi-processor complexity – Encourages use of game engines that make multi-processor development simpler
  • 35. Choosing a Game Engine • The most important decision you will make about game technology
  • 36. 1. Create Your Game Design • A draft Game Design Document
  • 37. 2. Create Your Tech Design • A draft Technical Design Document
  • 38. 3. Create Your Production Plan • A draft Production Plan
  • 39. 4. Now Look at Engines!
  • 40. Developer Survey • February 2009 survey of game developers on game engines – Senior producers – Senior engineers • Results published on Gamasutra.com
  • 41. Game Engine Decisions • The most important considerations – Cost: What can you afford? – Relevance to platforms, genre, design – Support – Functionality: Time saved – Tools and Content Pipeline – Integration into Current Technology – Flexibility
  • 42. Cost: What can you afford? • Tiers of game engines roughly match cost – MMO Engines – High-end Engines – Mid-range Engines – Casual / Web Engines – Open source PC Engines
  • 43. Cost: What can you afford? • Deal structures are flexible – Survey: Preferred deal structure? 17.9% Flat-rate 82.1% Royalty
  • 44. Cost: What can you afford? • Other costs to keep in mind – Training – Integration time – Support and maintenance fees – Add-ons – Potentially unhappy employees
  • 45. Cost: What can you afford? • Potentially unhappy employees? – Survey: If budget and time were no object, which of these would you prefer? 7.0% 9.3% 46.5% Create ourselves Use middleware 37.2% Purchase engine Other
  • 46. Relevance • Platforms – MMO, PC standalone, consoles, handhelds, mobile • Genre – Look for similar games which use the engine • Design – What is most important? Graphics? Interaction? Physics?
  • 47. Support • Documentation • Support team structure • Samples and tutorials
  • 48. Support • Survey: Most important engine practices 1. Source code is available 2. Known to easily integrate 3. Resource management is tweakable 4. Ongoing access to current builds 5. Clear development roadmap
  • 49. Support • Get a demo license!
  • 50. Functionality • Survey: Most important engine systems 1. Multi-threading system 2. Rendering pipeline 3. Animation system 4. Collision detection / physics system 5. Streaming system 6. Networking design • Varies based on game, team expertise, other middleware
  • 51. Tools and Pipeline • Survey: Most important engine tools 1. Profiling system 2. Live preview on target platform 37.5% Yes 62.5% No
  • 52. Tools and Pipeline • Most important engine tools 3. Standalone world builder 4. Particle system editor
  • 53. Tools and Pipeline • More important engine tools 5. Scripting system • Run-time script debugger • 51.3% of projects use Lua
  • 54. Tools and Pipeline • Build Process – Average code change: 3.5 minutes – Average full rebuild: 105 minutes Using Automated Builds 11.9% Yes 88.1% No
  • 55. Integration • Existing custom technology • Middleware technology Using Engine Using Middleware 10.3% 45.0% Yes Yes 55.0% 89.7% No No
  • 56. Integration • Survey: Most popular middleware libraries – Bink – FMOD – Havok – Scaleform – Kynapse – Wwise
  • 57. Flexibility • What range of games are made on the engine? • Talk to people who have used the engine. • Work with the code: how brittle is it?
  • 58. Other important factors • Outsourcing • Source code escrow
  • 59. Most Importantly • DEMO!
  • 60. Currently Available Engines • MMO Engines • High-end Engines • Mid-range Engines • Casual / Web Engines • Open source PC Engines
  • 61. MMO Engines • BigWorld Technology Suite • Simutronics’ HeroEngine • Sun’s Project Darkstar (server)
  • 62. High-end Engines • Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 • Crytek’s CryEngine 3 • Digital Extremes’ Evolution Engine • id’s idTech 4/5/6 • Valve’s Source
  • 63. Mid-range Engines • Emergent’s Gamebryo • Terminal Reality’s Infernal Engine • Blitz Games’ BlitzTech • Trinigy’s Vision Engine • Vicious Cycle’s Vicious Engine
  • 64. Casual / Web Engines • Unity Technologies’ Unity • Garage Games’ Torque • Macromedia Flash – For example, PushButton Engine • Sun’s Java – For example, jMonkey Engine
  • 65. Open source PC Engines • Irrlicht • OGRE3D • Panda3D • Many more listed at: – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_game_ engines – zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/游戏引擎列表
  • 66. Another option: Use middleware • Use middleware to supplement your own engine
  • 67. Online Games • BigWorld Technology – Tian Xia 2, Kingdom Heroes 2 Online, Chuang Shi Online
  • 68. Online Games • Simutronics’ HeroEngine – Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • 69. Online Games • Crytek’s CryEngine 3 (2) – AION, Entropia
  • 70. Online Games • Unreal Engine 3 – Alliance of Valiant Arms (A.V.A.), APB, Huxley, The Agency
  • 71. Online Games • Gamebryo – Warhammer Online, Wizard 101, Dark Age of Camelot
  • 72. Casual Games • Unity
  • 73. Casual Games • Torque
  • 74. Conclusion • There are many, MANY engines • Plan what you are making BEFORE analyzing game engines • Each engine has unique features – analyze games, talk to users, demo the pipeline, examine the code
  • 75. Closing • Mark DeLoura’s contact info: – http://www.satori.org – mdeloura@satori.org • Gamasutra engine articles: – http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/M arkDeLoura/124/