Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Elements of Game Technology, part one: game engines

Game engines are the life force behind almost every game. These powerful tools and power houses of the game industries literally drive the vehicle that is a company with making a game.
A Game engine is software that is used in the development of video games. The most modern engines include renderers, lighting options and collision/physics elements. These are now more commonly high performance pieces of kit and some of the most recent enhance and take advantage of real time lighting technologies.

Not every engine is the same however. Many of the larger triple A studios will use “in-house” engines. These are engines which are built from scratch or built up, modified versions of an older or commercially available engine. These big companies, such as EA and Ubisoft tend to use in-house engines as it is easier for them to create features for their editors which are required for their specific franchises. For example, EA’s DICE (Digital Illusions and Creative Entertainment) developed the Frostbite engine for use on the Battlefield franchise. This engine, originally produced for first person shooters allowed the developer to achieve heightened realism with destruction and other visual effects which helped raise the bar within the first person genre.

There are 4 versions of the Frostbite engine; 1.0, 1.5, 2 and 3. Each one is built with the aim of adding improvements to its predecessor as the technology became available. Because of the usability of its latest version’s; Frostbite 2 and 3 and due to the popularity of the engine and DICE itself within it’s parent company EA, the engine has expanded across into other EA owned studios. Being an EA exclusive engine, it is used in other genres now, including racing and strategy.

However, smaller studios and developers cannot afford to create their own software in order to create their games. This is where commercially available engines may be used. Some of these include Cryengine, Unreal Engine, Unity and Source. These are available for free and all features are available in the original editors. A full game can be developed in these development kits, but would normally require a license in order to sell the game. The majority of these engines were produced by larger developers which then continue to use the technology but also allow it to be available to the public.

Editors are used by artists to perform many tasks within an engine. The engine work usually being a large part of the development process. When it comes to building the level, it’s not just a matter of placing things randomly and hoping for the best. The artists much then sort out lighting to give the level the right mood and atmospheric feeling. On top of this, particle effects, dynamic moments and triggers and animations are added.