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Interview: Terminal Reality's Kreiner Gets Infernal

Interview: Terminal Reality's Kreiner Gets Infernal Exclusive

March 17, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

As reported last month, Ghostbusters developer Terminal Reality has begun to license its internally-developed Infernal Engine out to other studios.

A formal launch of the product to take place at next week's GDC, and engine supports all current platforms except for the DS -- from the PSP to the Xbox 360 to the PC and Wii.

Recently, Gamasutra had a chance to discuss Infernal Engine, one of a rapidly growing number of licensable console game engines, with Joe Kreiner,a vice president at the veteran Texan developer.

Topics discussed include what he believes the engine is capable of, who's using it, and what he thinks about some comments made by those with competing products in recent days.

I talked to someone from Terminal Reality awhile ago, back when you guys were still with Vivendi, and there was some talk that you were going to be licensing your engine. Now it seems that that's coming to fruition. Is that where you're at right now?

Joe Kreiner: Yeah. So, Terminal Reality has been working with Infernal Engine for five years internally, ever since BloodRayne. They spent that time tailoring it to using it as a licensable engine -- so adding documentation, making the user interface something that's easy to pickup and use.

We've had aspirations to address the middleware markets; it's taken till now where we feel the solution's ready for licensing.

And what do you think the strengths are of this engine over competing products in the market?

JK: Infernal's a cross-platform complete solution, so we support everything from the Xbox 360 to PS3, PC, Wii, PS2, and PSP. The major differentiating factors inside of that is we're fully multicore.

So we work great on the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 -- on the PC we support up to eight cores that we can use simultaneously, which is unique currently in the engine business. Intel is actually going to be using the Infernal Engine at GDC as a demo for their Opticore systems.

We include our own physics solution called VELOCITY Physics that we feel is very powerful, and because it's integrated into the engine it's very easy to use. Our licensees save time because they can be using physics right away rather than having to integrate an external solution.

At the same time that we provide everything that a developer would need to ship a title, we're also very middleware friendly. We support lots of things like Scaleform, Wwise, FMOD...

So we have a wide range of middleware support, and we take the stance that, while we provide a complete solution, if the licensee wants to support a particular piece of middleware we'll actually do the integration for them.

Not many engines really do work across the entire generational gap. Now, are you supporting that with two iterations of the engine that are essentially working as different products? How tightly are they integrated over the generational gap of the Wii or PS3, for example?

JK: That actually is the differentiating point with Infernal -- our editor supports all of those platforms with one executable. So we store all of the artwork that you would use in the game in platform-independent files -- targets -- while you're working with it in the engine.

When you go to build out the particular platform that you want, then we do the texture creation for that particular platform. It makes it very powerful; it gives the developer the ability to share assets amongst their next-generation titles and their previous-generation titles -- or the Wii, however you want to fit that in.

Now, have you started licensing the engine? Because as you say, Intel's going to be using it at GDC.

JK: Yeah. We publicly announced the engine at DICE a few weeks ago, but we had been licensing it behind the scenes to partners the last two years.

The way that typically was working, as people were leaving Terminal Reality -- when they went to their company, they liked our technology so much that they would come back and ask to license this.

When does Ghostbusters ship?

JK: June 16th.

Have any titles yet shipped with this engine? Obviously you said BloodRayne, but that's obviously an older iteration of the technology, I would gather, by quite a long way.

JK: Yeah. Internally, Terminal Reality is making a number of titles with Infernal on multiple different platforms. Externally, the first Infernal-based game that shipped was Mushroom Men for the Wii from SouthPeak, which came out about a month ago, and that really shows off our Wii technology.

That game got somewhat lost in the whole transition between Gamecock and SouthPeak, but it reviewed quite well and really shows off the graphics capabilities of Infernal on the Wii.

About how many licensees do you have right now?

JK: We've launched with six, which was Red Fly down in Austin, doing many projects with our engine, from multiple publishers; SpiderMonk, which is doing Roogoo for SouthPeak, which is a Wii puzzle game.

We've also got Threewave up in Vancouver, who amongst other things did the multiplatform for Ghostbusters -- they're also looking at using the engine for other projects; Wideload in Chicago, which is Alex Seropian's studio.

Sounds like it's kind of a grassroots effort so far in terms of licensing.

JK: Yeah, those existing licensees were mostly developers that were familiar with Infernal just from either working at Terminal Reality or with us on other projects.

As we go into GDC, you'll start to see us announcing the new partners that we've brought on-board since the announcement. We are announcing at GDC an expansive relationship with Streamline Studios, which is an outsourcing and production house -- they'll be using our engine internally.

They'll also be supporting our customers through discounts on services and potentially bundling their services with our engine. So if you license Infernal you get art resources with it as well, which is really cool and unprecedented in the middleware business. And we've got several other studios -- large studios -- that we may or may not be announcing at GDC.

Something that other engines that are on the market do now is include some actual shipped game tech in the engine. Obviously, it's well known that when you license Unreal you get Gears of War. I was speaking to the Vicious Engine guys, and they ship it with both some of Dead Head Fred and now some of Eat Lead: Matt Hazard, which are two games they developed internally using their technology. Do you guys have any stuff that you ship along with the engine?

JK: Yeah, we do. So right now, we distribute just a set, which is not a full game, that runs on Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC as a demo. Once Ghostbusters ships in June, we'll be providing Ghostbusters the game as a framework to our licensees. We'll have to remove the talent and any copyrighted items, but we will be distributing that to our developers once the game ships.

There's been some discussion recently -- it's almost been a little bit of a back-and-forth -- Emergent recently came out and said that, when you license an engine that was built to create a specific game, you have to redo so much of it that it creates a great deal of overhead. There's been some debate on that issue: how multipurpose is your engine in terms of genre and other kinds of applications, and how much do you think that's an issue?

JK: Sure. I'm glad you brought that up because I read the article that was up on Gamasutra that Emergent put out, and I gotta say, their statements are outrageous. They're covering up the flaws in their business model and their technology, frankly.

So if you look at an engine like Infernal that Terminal Reality has worked on over a 15-year history, almost every genre in existence in games -- Infernal was not developed for one specific genre; in fact, it's very flexible.

The only thing you'd really have to adapt for different genres would be the visibility system and your AI, which most developers want to do themselves anyway.

We feel that the Infernal Engine provides a great tech foundation for any title. You have all the core elements you'd need: the rendering, the physics, the sound, a great editor, an art asset pipeline that provides a way for your artists to really differentiate themselves on any genre of game.

I think Emergent's statements frankly show that they really don't understand game development. They came out and said that, by now having an internal studio, that means they're not competing with their licensees.

I frankly think that's a negative on their part. Terminal Reality and other game developers don't necessarily compete -- that's kind of a false notion. If you've ever been in a game developer, you're not competing with other game developers.

What that does mean by having an internal studio, it means we understand game development better and what our customers really want, and I think that puts us in a lot better position to help our customers as well. We're talking to publishers from the studio side, and we're recommending them to licensees that we have on the engine side; so it's a collaboration, not a competition. I think they're fundamentally wrong there.

The other thing is, if you look at Gamebryo and their recent statements, when you're licensing an engine, you want to have stability and know where that engine technology's going.

Gamebryo's dependent on the income from engine licensing to survive, whereas companies like Terminal Reality -- we're focused on engine development, but we also have a studio side, so we're not necessarily dependent on that licensing income to improve the engine and survive.

Emergent's just gone back for a second round of funding; if you're licensing technology, do you want to get it from somebody that's having to go back for a second round of funding? What happens if they go out of business? You're licensing engine middleware because you want to mitigate risk -- not add to it.

That does bring us to an interesting point, though. Some criticism has been levied by some developers at some engine solutions based on the fact that resources can be stretched when someone's shipping titles and also shipping engines.

What kind of dedicated staff or structure do you have to help with, particularly -- let's start with engine development internally in terms of your product that you ship to other developers?

JK: Sure. There's two ways we assure that we're not going to run into a problem like that at Terminal Reality. One is we have a separate dedicated engine support team, so we have a dedicated team of engineers.

Their job is to only work on improving the engine technology, and then, when we get a licensee sending in a question or a request for a new feature, they'll stop and work on that. They do not work on any of the studio projects; they're completely separate.

The other way that we don't compete is that, at Terminal Reality, we look at Infernal as the future of the studio, so we get preference on the resources that we need internally. While we have a dedicated team to work on the engine, we do borrow from our development team work on a particular project.

So, for instance, on Ghostbusters, we've improved our sound engine; well, we rolled that back into our licensees immediately. There's no delay between when we deliver it to our internal teams and when we deliver it to our licensees.

I want to talk about real-time editing; that's obviously a major component of some of the engines on the market. It's absolutely essential, for people to be able to work efficiently, to drop things in an editor and see them work immediately. How is your engine in terms of that stuff?

JK: The Infernal Engine is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, so you can playtest inside of the editor system. You don't necessarily need to even use a devkit for a particular platform.

We've also got a lot of features that allow for developers to do rapid prototyping; without having to recompile, you can change levels around somewhat without having to incur the time penalty to recompile. So we've got pretty much the features that I think most of our competition have in that regard.

And to focus, the rapid prototyping stuff that we have, rather than being separate from the game engine, is actually integrated into the editor. So you can go from rapid prototyping of a level directly into the game relatively quickly.

And something that I think is also really worth discussing is the networking features of the engine, particularly in terms of, of course, for Xbox Live, but also the potential for larger online titles on PC or something like that. Can you give me an overview of its support?

JK: Yeah, sure. For Ghostbusters, we did use Quazal as the networking middleware. The Infernal Engine's not going to be targeting the MMO market that aggressively.

We feel that that part of the market doesn't suit our engine technology that directly. Now, that being said, if we had a licensee that wants to do it, we would probably get that to work; it's just not a focus for us.

But in terms of a console online title -- say, multiplayer versus or co-op -- is it well-positioned to support that?

JK: Like I said, we used Quazal for Ghostbusters, so we will have co-op support and multiplayer support in Ghostbusters, and it's using middleware ourselves. Our long-term goal would be to bring in the networking functionality into the engine and not necessarily require anybody to use middleware.

I assume what tools you support is, for the most part, industry standard...

JK: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we support Max and Maya equally -- in fact, we have a really cool pipeline tool that allows import from Max and Maya with a one-button click.

So, when you're working in Max on a model, you press one button to import it into the engine, and the editor pops up with that object in the editor, ready to go, so lots of time-saving features there on the external tools.

And when you get into asset management, we support all of them: Perforce and SourceSafe -- everyone that's out there. The big take away is that our engine is very flexible.

We didn't design it for just internal use; it's designed to be as flexible as possible. We know that other game studios don't necessarily work the way that Terminal Reality does, and we've made sure that the Infernal Engine will work great for everybody.

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