The lights are on
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I really need to hurry up and finish up this blog series. Not only did I not have these topics out before the PS4 unveiling, but the Xbox successor will be shown off in less than three weeks! Talk about procrastination. Anyways, to continue where I last left off I want to dive into the brand-spankin’ new engines that will be powering our bigger, better worlds and why they’re such a big deal.
UnrealEngine 4, Frostbite 3, CryENGINE 3, Luminous, Fox, Disrupt…These are the names of some of the biggest, newest workhorses that will be powering the worlds of next-gen video games. In addition to being more powerful tools taking advantage of more powerful hardware, these engines will be much smarter than any before them. While they will most certainly bring a new coat of polish to our games, the biggest difference these engines will have will not be seen by most gamers. For the purposes of this blog I will be using UnrealEngine 4 (UE4) for my examples as it is the engine we know most about and I believe it is indicative of how the other engines will work (not in exact execution, but rather in ideal and function).
If you haven’t seen it, I would take the time to watch demo of UE4. No, I’m not talking about the Elemental or Infiltrator pixel-porn videos; I’m talking about the demo of the actual engine and how it works. It’s actually pretty interesting to watch. After a short demonstration of how many particles UE4 can render and how much more dynamic the dynamic lighting is, the video takes the majority of its time to show the back-end of the engine and how artists and programmers will be using it. At its core, UE4 is more about ease of use and automated processes than it is about better lighting filters or texture rendering. Rather than relying solely on hard-coding techniques, UE4 is focused more on sliders and blueprints. The goal is to give artists more power over what they do and free up the hands of programmers to focus more on their individual work.
In another demo, an artist with only a little programming experience shows off the good-looking and functional games he made in only a few days time. It’s a pretty amazing demonstration of what game artists will be able to do without ever interrupting a programmer’s work. That’s not to say that dedicated programmers won’t be needed with these new engines. On the contrary, programmers will simply have more time to fix bugs, improve artificial intelligence routines, and work on overall gameplay mechanics.
Even though these game engines will allow developers to use their time and money more wisely, I do not believe these engines will make much of a dent in the pockets of Triple-A developers. Sure, devs will be able to use smaller teams for their projects (I believe that the recent layoffs by EA and others are a small indicator of that), but most of the big name devs will simply use the time they save to focus more on bug fixing and post-release content creation. It’s money that is saved only to be spent elsewhere.
However (comma, pause for effect)… Licensed engines such as UE4 and CryENGINE 3 will have a very considerable effect on mid-tier and indie game developers. Studios that don’t have the budget of Call of Duty or the massive team sizes of Ubisoft will benefit from using these engines. With very reasonable licensing options, these engines will give near Triple-A power to these much smaller teams. That last demo showed what one man with a few days can make. What could be possible to a team of five people over the course of six months? Heck, with digital distribution and more equal pricing of online games added to these engines, we may even see a small revival of the dying B-tier game!
Well, there’s always hoping.
While I cannot tell you exactly how each engine will accomplish these ideals, I can honestly say that I do believe that the greatest impact they will have will be on ease of use and simplicity, rather than simply putting more particles on-screen. Ubisoft has said that their teams are able to do in days what used to take weeks, and the only in-game footage of Bungie's next game, Destiny, shown to gaming press was a demonstration on how quickly their programmers could build a new, highly-detailed map. So it's pretty safe to say that time-management is going to be a big deal. But oh how many particles will be on-screen!
These next-generation consoles will be giving developers a much longer runway to work with. As it turns out, developers will be bringing much better planes (not just bigger ones) that can make even better use of that runway. I, for one, am pretty excited about that!
Thanks again for choosing to spend your time reading my thoughts. I hope to see ya’ll back again with my next topic: One Game, Every Device. Until then, what is one thing you want most from these next engines? Larger worlds? Better physics? A button that automatically inserts an 80’s movie reference? Post your comments below.