Train2Game News Havok plans for the future

Havok PhysicsThe middleware physics specialist, Havok, plots the future development of its newest physics platform.

Back in 2003, when Havok released its first physics technology to games developers, the impact was considerable.

Crates and barrels in virtual environments the world over enjoyed a new status as strategic playthings of gamers spoilt by a new way to interact. Half-Life 2 set a new standard, and in the following years physics-powered ragdolls and gravity guns became staples of contemporary game design. As the years went on, Havok and the in-game physics it championed never went away. Instead, they became standard.

Then, in 2013, Havok’s reinvented physics tech found its way to studios and now, in the second half of 2014, Havok is building a new template for what physics should offer. Already it is able to have thousands of objects interacting in a realtime, interactive scene.

Havok is pushing further still, ever set on bettering the impact on games. It’s what Havok’s head of product management Andrew Bowell describes as a renaissance not just for physics, but the ideas and potential to impact gameplay, parallel game systems and the creative method of environment artists.

“Describing what we’re doing now as a ‘renaissance of physics’ is not to say physics in games ever went away,” he says. “It’s been our bread and butter for years. But our latest release of Havok Physics isn’t only faster, using less memory and giving higher quality results; we’re also returning to a point where it is pushing gameplay in ways not seen before.

“I mean real cinematic gameplay at a new scale. Instead of 100 objects, we are now pushing it to a thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand objects in game. When they see that, game designers’ eyes light up.”

As Bowell reminisces about times when stacking ten physically controlled crates used to draw a crowd to a monitor, he and Havok field application engineer Steve Ewart show live, realtime, interactive demos of thousands of boulders tumbling down cliff sides, clattering together and gathering around the structure of a bridge, or soldiers influencing pillars of smoke with a fully automatic gun that unleashes a plume of tinned beans.

The demos may at times be aesthetically absurd, but they prove a point. As Havok continues to push physics, vast interactive game worlds unlike anything seen in consumer products before are increasingly possible. And as Ewart guides a sports car through a demo environment, using its wake to gather a sea of autumn leaves into neat piles, he makes an important point.

“A few crates or ragdolls was one thing, and there were great examples, but if a developer could build dynamic systems through their entire environment that work as a complete, grounded system, there is so much to be done with with gameplay,” he says. “Imagine a world with smoke effects, intricately destructible buildings, swarms of insects and such, that the player can influence directly, all interacting and controlled physically as a single dynamic system, providing information coming out of the physics that informs AI control and various other systems.”

It’s immediately obvious on seeing the demos, that a huge leap forward in the number and complexity of physics controlled objects offers devs a rich toybox of ideas to plunder.

“What we do must give the developer something they can use; something that informs other systems in powerful new ways,” says Bowell.

Source: Develop

Train2Game News: J.J Abrams and Gabe Newell could collaborate

Valve logoValve CEO, Gabe Newell and top film director, J.J Abrams hit the stage at the DICE summit in Las Vegas and announced they had been talking about working together.

After a back-and-forth about player agency and storytelling, Newell revealed that the duo had been “recapitulating a series of conversations going on,” and that they’re now ready to “do more than talk”: Newell suggested “either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie,” and Abrams said he’d like to make a game with Valve.

Valve are one of the top games developers with games such as Half Life and Portal under their belts which have incredible game play mechanics that make them fan favourites.

J.J Abrams on the other hand is one of the best directors at the moment, responsible for the reboot of the Star Trek films and is taking the helm on the new Star Wars films. Abrams has also worked on TV Series such as Lost and Fringe.

The two men working together could bring forth incredible games with the mechanics of Valve and storytelling of Abrams. In addition, in my opinion, there would be no man better to direct a Portal or Half Life movie than Mr Abrams.

In 2010, Newell said that if Valve were to make a Half-Life movie, it wouldn’t hand over control to any Hollywood studio, saying:

“There was a whole bunch of meetings with people from Hollywood. Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story. And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of.

“That’s when we started saying ‘Wow, the best thing we could ever do is to just not do this as a movie, or we’d have to make it ourselves.’”

There are no details on Newell and Abrams’ project—be it game, film, or both—outside of the tease that they’re talking. They are talking and I am sure that can only mean good things.

The PC – The ideal platform for Train2Game students?

Dragon Age: proof of a popular PC game

My spiffing Train2Game colleague Gabe recently published a blog about PC gaming, and as what could be described as a ‘hardcore’ PC gamer myself, it got me thinking.

Gabe’s blog came following remarks from Bioware that the PC “is made for gaming” which seemed rather obvious to me. It should of course be obvious to anyone who’s played a Bioware Role Playing Game, be it Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins.

When it comes to these RPG’s, it’s the PC that’s king, and in an interview with CVG, Bioware designer and writing director Daniel Erickson says the numbers speak for themselves.

“Every two or three years we hear the announcement of fantasy being dead, PC gaming being dead and RPGs being dead, and yet, all of the biggest games that ever come out – that set the records – are nearly always PC games, and a lot of them are fantasy games.”

The biggest game in the world is a fantasy, PC, RPG MMO. We all know the drawbacks of PC. We all scream at our boxes and try to make stuff work. But at the same time, the interface is made for games. The mouse/keyboard interface allows so much less restriction [Than consoles]”

Personally, I’ve not experienced Dragon Age: Origins on a console  – I play it on PC – but it’s certainly obvious to me how much easier it must be to play on a PC as you can easily access spells and talents using hot keys 1-9 and the space bar easily pauses the action. I’d imagine the whole process is a bit fiddler using a control pad, but if you can do so, feel free to prove me wrong!

The PC certainly gives Train2Game students, be they Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist & Animator, an opportunity to test their skills thanks to the number of games with large modding communities.  Half Life 2 and Fallout 3 are just two games that a loyal fanbase who are giving others the opportunity to try new weapons, new skins or even whole games.  Counter-Strike, one of the most popular online shooters of all time, started as a fan produced Half Life mod and shows that with the right ideas, modding a current game could provide a small studio with a big break.

Some developers even encourage the addition of community content to their games, with Valve perhaps providing the best example of this with Team Fortress 2. Valve have run numerous community competitions calling on fans to create items in the form of weapons and hats with the winners being able to see their creations in game. There seem to be a lot of talented Games Designers out there, and Valve are going to have a tough time deciding on a winner of the most recent contest!

The PC is the most popular gaming platform, partially due to the rise in the popularity of flash games which in itself provides even more opportunities for Train2Game students to create games.

So what do you think? Would you consider creating PC games? Have you already made mods? As usual, let us know here on the Train2Gameforum.