With gaming as an industry at an all time high, next gen consoles on the rise, and the technology available to display heart-wrenchingly detailed graphics without sacrificing gameplay, fxguide takes a brief look at the state of gaming engines and releases.
On Feb 19th Crysis 3 is released. The game is the third main installment of the Crysis series, and a sequel to the 2011 game Crysis 2, and will run on the CryEngine 3 game engine. The main CryEngine 3 engine was released on October 14, 2009. The latest version of the engine is 3.4.4, and yet it is still much loved by gamers. Crysis 3 is made by Crytek and published by EA.
Crysis 3 - CryEngine3 Tech Trailer
Games in their current form are console and PC based, but later this year both of these platforms may be 'redefined' as the next generation of consoles become even more PC like. After all, as Valve founder Gabe Newell stated in his D.I.C.E. Summit keynote presentation in Vegas recently, gaming is just a "distributed application, nothing special." Valve - market leaders in digital distribution of games (est. 50-70% share), are hardware independent but firmly believe in pushing intelligence, "to the end of the network - it makes total sense," said Newell, adding "even if you wanted a thin client, then video is the wrong model." Which means game engines on some sort of processor be it PC or console - in your personal space.
The market then is split with regard to innovation for graphics performance between:
- revs in the base hardware - (the next generation of consoles have seemed long in coming)
- games: Crysis 3 looks remarkable but the engine and console are the same as earlier games
- and finally engine innovation itself
It is of no surprise that gaming companies are regularly being forced to adapt their gaming engines to an increasingly demanding and tech savy audience. Epic's Unreal Engine is one such gaming company that has risen to the challenge, with its new engine, 'Unreal 4', expecting to stun gamers and developers alike with its remarkable capability as a tool to convey unprecedented lifelike graphics, while still maintaining flexibility for PC’s with less modern specs.
Some of its boasts include developer features designed to allow the direct importation of C++ code into an Unreal project, which has been greatly desired by developers ever since Unreal’s previous engine (Unreal 3) surprised developers by being compatible with OpenGL, allowing it to run proficiently on iOS and Android. Aside from the importation of new code directly, it also provides a number of features in its updated Kismet designed to allow game modders to easily edit functionality of objects in game and see the results real time. This section of the market, third party user additions, is now huge and a hot section of growth if not a possible completely radical overhaul of what it may mean to 'develop games'. While Valve has the majority share of the user generated game content business, Unreal is the most popular engine for direct engine development and has one of the most active professional user communities for using a game engine away from just casual gaming.
Unreal's code access is key to its success. These features include “Code View”, a function designed to allow real time editing of C++ functions in game, and “Simulate Mode”, designed to allow editing of AI functions in a similar manor. The engine also claims to have solved problems related to pre-computed lighting, prominent in Unreal 3, by using voxel cone tracing - a new cleaner, less noisy lighting tool which is a more advanced ray tracer than it’s Unreal 3 predecessor.
Unreal 4 Elemental Demo
Unreal 4 is not out yet, but after reviewing Unreal 4’s Elemental Demo (released mid last year), the question game developers have been asking across the net, is if Unreal will ever move out of the realm of the 'Unreal look'. Unreal 3’s engine, while producing some of the best reviewed games of this generation, including the Mass Effect trilogy, Alice Madness Returns, and more recently Dishonored, is only ever seen making games that have a less than totally realistic feel to them. More specifically, the graphics in games developed by the Unreal 3 engine often can have what is described as a 'cartoony feel' or a look other than real. Crytek's 'CryEngine 3' before the launch of even Crysis 3 has showed the capability of producing some of the most realistic looking graphics, and with recent advances in gaming technology; the next generation could have the power to completely dominate most other gaming engines in realism. For many developers, while Unreal 3 may have been friendlier to users and developers alike, it simply does not have the fine control to compete with the realistic graphics of CryEngine3, which begs the question, can Unreal 4?
While there is a stunning attention to detail in the Elemental Demo, overall the Unreal 4 appears to still have the same comicy/artistic feel so common to games made in the Unreal 3 engine. That said, the attention to detail plays a large role in the engines ability to convey the realistic, and the lava and rock breaking physics conveyed in the demo widely praised.
When we see the actual Crysis 3 game it should only underline that developers take some time to get the most out of any engine, and often the best games on any engine come out just as that engine is retired by the next generation. It is the combination of fast hardware, innovative engines and time for the developers to squeeze out the best from those engines that wins the day...and some great engaging and inventive game play.
Of course there are many game engines and even within one key company each individual game may use a different engine. EA in particular has a host of game engines across its wide range games from CryEngine3 to the EA sport game engines.
As one game designer recently stated, "a game’s engine doesn’t really define what kind of content, or even what type of game, you can make", they do however factor into the game's stability, and "graphical awesomeness!" - Game director Matt Firor of Elder Scrolls Online developer Zenimax Online Studios talking about their own game engine.
Freelance writer: Maxwell Joseph copyright.
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