Do we have “Next – Gen” Middleware?

27 Nov

Author: Mbuso Radebe (GD08)

I’ve been thinking about the Silicon Knights vs Epic Games lawsuit debacle and it made me realize that the industry is coming to a crossroad. Epic Games’ Unreal 3 engine is arguably the most popular and widely used piece of middleware in the video game industry, but developers still claim that they have to develop a substantial amount of their own tools before building their own games. This leads me to question how refined the middleware process really is.
We seems to be on the verge of a tipping point where we are appealing to our most diverse demographic yet (thanks largely to the Nintendo DS and Wii), but it seems as though we could be our own worst enemies when it comes to enticing new people into this entertainment medium.
Our development model is an unusual one (primarily in the console space) where we need to develop our own tools before we design and develop our games. The analogy which I like to use is a painter who makes his own brushes and paint before painting his next masterpiece. So we “hardcore gamers” expect lower quality first generation games, before developers learn the tools of that generation. This could inhibit the growth of the industry because our new demographic may come from entertainment mediums which only expect the content to get better or more refined with time.

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2 Responses to “Do we have “Next – Gen” Middleware?”

  1. Nick November 28, 2007 at 12:09 am #

    Great that someone brought this up. We are certainly an odd industry when compared to any other. We re-use almost nothing from project to project (besides internal proprietary engines/assets) and build the same things over and over again, never to the same standards across the board. How many people have created the same tree from company to company? If anything it should be interior designers or architects developing 3d mockups for clients who should be worrying about these details, not us. We spend an inordinate amount of time rebuilding the same things, leaving little time to actually create vastly different gameplay.

    For anyone interested Chris Hecker (programmer at Maxis) has a great article about sturdy middleware solutions being the key factor in advancing the industry into more of an art form, giving developers more time to experiment and create new mechanics and gameplay scenarios.

    You can find the article here along with some other interesting articles and an awesome talk on how they’re handling IK physics and the partitioning of 3d assets to be used for user created characters in Spore:

    http://chrishecker.com/Going_Against_The_Grain

  2. Charles Robert Simmons II November 28, 2007 at 12:37 am #

    To answer your question, I think the answer is both yes and no. If we take a step back and look at “next Gen” and define it with either revolutionary development of Gameplay and Systems presentation or the evolutionary progression of presentation.

    One’s perception of the answer to this question could be different. For Instance, look at Team Fortress 2 and Portal, these games are being released on the Next Gen Platforms, and were built with a Engine that has been in the market for a while. Using this example my answer would be yes.

    On the Other hand, looking at what people are saying are the “Next” Next Gen Games,such as Mass Effect and Bioshock, they are really good at showing off the processing power of the systems they are running on. Although these games have simple Gameplay Mechanics throughout. So if something like Unreal 3 is truly next Gen, how come TF2 and Portal weren’t done in this engine?

    Ultimately, Designers have to ask themselves, which is the best way for us to obtain our high level vision in the most efficient way possible. Not allowing their Design to be hampered by the technology, but allowing the technology to enhance the design.

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