[In this Intel-sponsored feature, part of the Gamasutra Visual Computing microsite, middleware firm Havok discusses its new products - from Havok Destruction to Havok Cloth - its acquisition by Intel, and plans for the future.]
Physics - that fascinating branch of science that traditionally puts high school students into a REM sleep state - has also given birth to innovations as modest as the roulette wheel and the unicycle, and as awe inspiring as the hydrogen bomb and the Apollo space missions.
Depicting real-world events realistically in 3-D computer games requires a physics engine that is capable of applying the rules of Newtonian physics to the interactions of characters and objects.
This objective guided the successful rise of Havok, from its origins in Dublin, Ireland, in 1998 to its current position as the preeminent provider of physics software for triple-A computer games. Havok continues to gain stature and recognition in the technology industry for its expertise in producing physics, animation, and software-development tools for game developers and the movie industry.
The Havok Physics engine simulates the nature of motion, particle systems, and collisions in the environment and provides them algorithmically for use in computer gaming. Combined with Havok Animation, which offers an extensive slate of animation capabilities to game developers, the functionality makes it possible to recreate scores of physical events, from the collision of two billiard balls to an out-of-control motorcycle careening through a traffic-filled intersection.
Characters also gain new realism in gameplay through a motion pipeline that helps determine their responses to one another. Packaged together as Havok Complete, these physics and animation capabilities are now available as a product for downloading and use at no cost.
Intel's acquisition of Havok in September 2007 set the stage for some very high-profile advances in gaming. Long-time partners, Intel and Havok engineering teams worked closely to refine and improve Havok's HydraCore technology, which optimizes game physics behaviors on platforms based on Intel Core microarchitecture.
Intel has pledged that Havok will continue with its cross-platform philosophy and Intel will employ a hands-off management approach, giving Dublin-based Havok the opportunity to take maximum advantage of Intel engineering resources and software tools, while enhancing its popular middleware for the strongly competitive game market.
I talked with David O'Meara, the managing director of Havok, about product announcements at Game Developers Conference (GDC) earlier this year, the nature of cross-platform game development, rising industry costs, and the benefits of Intel and Havok working together.
I understand you received a very strong response to your new product introductions at the 2008 GDC.
O'Meara: Havok launched two new products at GDC this year and both of those products have been exceptionally well received. One of them is called Havok Destruction and the other is called Havok Cloth. Together, they are going to significantly improve the experience for gamers. The Cloth video demo had 370,000 downloads in 24 hours. That is phenomenal.
These new technologies, Destruction and Cloth, on top of our existing products, will give games that come out in a year or two another breakthrough in terms of the look and feel and the gameplay. They are also very important for the type of thing that Intel wants to achieve with future hardware for visual computing, with the capability of doing things with Destruction and Cloth that you might not get with smaller platforms.
Is the nature of game development changing?
O'Meara: In the games industry, the cost of developing these games has risen dramatically: it costs around 30- to 40-million, USD, to develop a game. Five years ago it was around two to five million. Costs have increased substantially for a number of reasons.
One is that the consumer expects a compelling story and a compelling video experience, which requires a lot more thought, effort, technology, and movie-like appearances in the game. So, that has obviously increased the cost significantly. Secondly, there is the increase in the cost of developing across these really advanced technical platforms, like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, compared to the type of platforms we had five years ago. Thirdly, in game studios today there will be over 100 people working on a game.
At a business level, Havok is providing one piece of software to work across a huge range of hardware that varies greatly in complexity: sophisticated PCs, sophisticated PlayStation 3 consoles with lots of special processing units, and then right down to mobile devices with limited capabilities at the moment.