Irish engineers at the cutting edge of gaming developments
19 June 2014
Author: Luke O’Reilly, head of developer relations and field application engineering, Havok
Whether it is firing an XPR 50 in Call of Duty or engaging in hand-to-hand combat in Mortal Kombat, gamers all over the world enjoy nothing more than the opportunity to live through the screen. And not just any game will do. With technology advancing on a daily basis, gamers are now more sophisticated than ever before and therefore demand – and expect – the best and highest quality products available.
What gamers often do not realise, when they are playing on their console or mobile device, is the sheer amount of research and development required to ensure they get optimum enjoyment from their gaming experience. Research and development (R&D) is critical to the continued success of Havok and is a significant focus for the company. It allows us to stay ahead of the competition and continue delivering high quality products to customers, while also conditioning us to be extremely flexible in a rapidly changing technological environment.
Havok is a leading provider of 3D interactive software development technologies with over 13 years of experience servicing the most demanding technology requirements for leading customers in the interactive software, and entertainment industries. A combination of superior technology and dedication to delivering industry leading support to our customers has led to Havok’s technologies being used in over 500 game titles, including top franchises such as Halo, The Elder Scrolls®, Assassin’s Creed®, Call of Duty®, Killzone®, Uncharted® Dead Rising™ and Skylanders™, in partnership with some of the world’s best known interactive entertainment software developers.
These include Microsoft Games Studios®, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Nintendo® Co., Ltd.Tencent Games, Take Two Interactive, Activision, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft®, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment™, ZeniMax Online, and Indies.
Our suite of products can be used in various ways by various clients. For example Havok Physics, Havok Animation Studio and Havok AI are all utilised in the latest title – Iron Knight – from Tencent Games. Iron Knight is an online melee combat game that required cutting-edge global technologies to fulfil the growing demands of gamers for more compelling features in video games.
Havok products enabled delivery of dynamic battlefields, enhanced graphics, efficient character artificial intelligence, more realistic animations and detailed destruction effects that offer players the most authentic fighting action possible. Similarly, game developer Nyamyam licensed the same three Havok products to develop its recently launched iOS game Tengami, an adventure game set within a beautifully paper-crafted pop-up world inspired by traditional Japanese arts and crafts.
Havok AI is used to control the pathfinding of the character, bringing natural behaviour to the entities within the dynamically changing game world. Havok Animation helped the development team bring seamless motion to the title’s distinct art style, while Havok Physics came in to play to ensure that the entities exhibited the proper collision detection, reacting according to contact with the world and its inhabitants.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
At Havok, we adopt a structured approach to research and development. The research aspect is focused on ‘blue-sky’ thinking, problem solving and dynamic learning. Mechanically speaking, it allows a smart software engineer to look at a problem in a broad way and experiment with a number of approaches to see what they can learn. Our software engineers will derive disparate tests in order to discover what works and, crucially, what does not work, so that we can avoid these paths in the future.
The development phase is committed to presenting several different options and then determining the best approach to creating a new feature or product. It takes extremely dedicated engineers and strong team collaboration to conduct this research and development in order to create new and improved products.
To facilitate R&D within Havok, we have devised an automated in-house ‘build-and-test’ system. When our development teams worldwide create a new product or enhance a new code within a product, the change can then be tested on multiple hardware and software platforms, without having to have these devices available locally.
We deploy on many platforms including a variety of game consoles, so we have to ensure they work across these platforms. This ensures that we receive feedback on performance and can share this updated information throughout the company, facilitating trial and error in a systematic way
Just recently, we released a new version of Havok Physics, which took approximately five years of in-house R&D by a team of extremely self-motivated engineers and experienced engineers. To be in a position to develop our physics engines and products, we require engineers to be deft in the skills of 3D math, C/C++ programming, and hardware-specific optimisation.
These are vital for various features such as interactive object simulation and path finding, which are responsible for moving characters and navigating them around maps. Many of the employees on our R&D teams are postgraduates with PHD’s in mathematics, physics or graphics.
As well as having the required technical capability, however, our engineers have to have excellent communication skills. Communication is vital for two reasons. Firstly, we are a global company with R&D teams located in Germany, the US and Dublin, Ireland. We also have support offices in Tokyo, Shanghai, Orlando and Seoul. Each location is locally managed, but there is significant collaboration across all of the offices, mainly due to their localised specialisation.
For example, Havok’s Seoul office is heavily focused on online Windows PC games and the mobile space, while Havok’s San Francisco office focuses more on gaming consoles like PlayStation®4 and Xbox One®. These specifications develop according to the popularity of products in the various regions. As a result, strong communication skills with local team members as well as colleagues in different territories is extremely important.
The second reason we place so much emphasis on communication skills, is because it is essential for successful customer relations. Learning and understanding our customers’ needs and collaborating with them on an ongoing basis is crucial in determining what qualities within the Havok suite of products are important to them in the short and long term. By truly immersing themselves in customer relationships, Havok engineers can deliver an even higher quality product to our clients.
Our field application engineering team collaborates with our sales team to work with customers to determine exactly what their problems are and how Havok can help. They will then work with the customer to test the chosen products to determine if they will actually work in practice. Post sale, we have a developer relations team of engineers who make sure that commitments made during the sale process are delivered and that the customer is satisfied with the product and the process.
The constant advancement of the mobile games industry is extremely significant for our sector. Ten years ago, this industry did not exist and now it is one of the biggest in the world. Mobile devices continue to get faster and stronger with better graphics, resulting in more interesting games with better 3D results. We will be keeping an eye on what the differentiating factors will be for customers as developers move from 2D to 3D and what new game designs they can come up with for stronger mobile devices and continue to improve our offerings for mobile platforms.
FUTURE OF GAMING
What the future holds for the gaming industry is extremely exciting, particularly with new exclusive titles in the pipeline for thePlayStation®4 and Xbox One®. Players will be looking to see what is new and what advancements have been made. Expectations are high, meaning continual investment is crucial. For example, Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, recently spoke about spending $500million on their new title Destiny, which is a high scale game in the Triple-A console space. That is a large engineering project by any standards.
With both game consoles and mobile devices, there is also a growing trend towards cloud computing for offloading some of the computation of heavy lifting for physics simulation. Microsoft is doing this with the Xbox One®, this is also a space to watch. Ultimately this will improve speed, memory utilisation and game ability.
Significantly, all of these advancements are also moving towards new virtual experiences for the player. For example, Oculus VR® with Facebook and Morpheus with Sony are using new technologies that permit consumers to participate in a completely immersive virtual reality world by viewing the game through goggles or glasses. There is no doubt that these new frontiers will change the way future generations will interact with gaming, learning, and entertainment.
Remaining flexible in the field of graphic engineering is vital to surviving in such a dynamic, exciting, and fun industry. Whatever direction the sector takes, there is no doubt that Havok is going to be a significant part of it, and will continue to provide quality products that are above and beyond our customer’s – and players’ – expectations. We cannot wait!