There's a new player in the engine licensing game. Ready at Dawn Studios -- responsible for Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus on PSP as well as the Wii version of Okami -- has announced its cross-platform Ready at Dawn Engine, which will launch with support for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP.
Aiming to create a complete console-native development platform, Ready at Dawn says its engine solution combines its own proprietary engine with integrated third-party tools and middleware that needs no additional licensed tech for top-shelf game development.
"Middleware hasn't really delivered on its promises," Ready at Dawn co-founder and engine licensing team head Didier Malenfant told Gamasutra in advance of today's announcement. "There are a lot of licenses out there, but all you hear is horror stories about how it's hampered development, rather than made it easier."
The company is starting a private beta of the engine in the "next few weeks," during which time it will distribute the tech out to a few select partners for feedback and testing. The company expects to a concrete release announcement by the end of the year.
Gamasutra spoke with Malenfant about the void Ready at Dawn sees in the licensed engine market, its attitude towards usability and modularity, and how it decided on its launching platforms.
What made you decide to get into the engine game?
Didier Malenfant: We've gone through all the pains of developing triple-A games. One thing we've learned is nothing is more important than the tools you used to create your games. Middleware hasn't really delivered on its promises. There are a lot of licenses out there, but all you hear is horror stories about how it's hampered development, rather than made it easier.
What causes those horror stories? What are the particular issues you're hoping to address?
DM: One source of the problem right now seems to be that under the current scheme, you pick your engine, then you pick your physics system from somewhere else, then your sound tools, then your UI tools, and you're left to try and make it all work together.
What we want to do is brting a different approach. It's a complete, fully-integrated game development platform all in one place, and more importantly all from one place. We're building on our own tool pipeline, and we've partnered with world-class service providers in areas where we think they already provide the best services.
What you have is a ready to use package optimized to work together and deliver the best features and performance for your game.
Can you mention any of the third-party providers whose tech you're integrating?
DM: We're going to make announcements in the coming months. We're not announcing anything today, but it's mostly in areas where you already have solutions that area already a standard, where one really stands out.
You don't want to let people have to wonder, once they get one part, what they should mix and match. We're helping people out by making those choices for them, and packaging the best solution where our own technology didn't cover it.
What about studios who want to integrate their own tools, or if there's a particular physics solution they want to use?
DM: There's always the possibility of that. Obviously, people would have access to all our tools and engine, but the goal really here is to help people to make games, and only worry about the game side.
You always hear when people have these middleware pieces and then have to rip out half of it and have to rebuild bits and pieces. It's really not the way to go; it's more wasteful than anything else. The goal really is to provide something that's comprehensive, fully-integrated, and ready to use.
Right now, you see a lot of the technology available was written originally for PC, and not well-tailored for console platforms. Our tech and our tool platform was historically born on consoles, and is built for console. Originally, it was build for PSP, and now it scales all the way up for PS3 or 360. It potentially allows us to support platforms like the Wii or the iPhone.
How long have you been developing this tech with an eye specifically towards licensing?
DM: We were put in a situation initally when we started Ready at Dawn and we didn't have a choice of middleware, since there was none on PSP at the time. We started out of that need, more than anything else.
But over the years, people saw the tools and the result, and really wanted to use it for themselves and their games. It's something that, now, has evolved into the point where we can do this seriously, and have all the backing we need internally to do this as a business at the site of our game teams.
In a way, it's been five or six years coming, but like with our game development, we wanted to make sure we were ready to get into that space, as opposed to just going out there and signing a bunch of people who were disappointed because we're not ready.
What are your general thoughts on licensing philosophy? You've got guys like Epic, who license to a huge number of customers, then smaller players like Valve and Crytek, who focus on licensees more individually.
DM: We're going to approach it the same way we did as game development: one step at a time. We're going to make sure the result speaks for itself. We could have gone to develop PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 games when we started. We decided to go on PSP, because it was a perfect platform for us to get started one step at a time.
We're going to take the same approach with engine development. We're going to make sure our partners are completely satisfied with what they have. We want to show them what they can do with our platform, and really empower then to make games that are just as good. We're going to make sure we have happy licensees and we grow this one step at a time.
Do you see an area to obviously differentiate yourself since your tech presumably comes from a third-person perspective, as opposed to the first-person perspective that's at the heart of most major licensed engines?
DM: Obviously, because our own games are third-person, our engine can handle third-person games very well. A lot of the libraries provided can cater to that.
You'll find that first-person shooters are way more targeted in the choices you make for engine development. They're so specific in so many ways. You end up cornering yourselves with those kinds of games more than with the stuff we do.
You could make an amazing racing game using our technology -- or a first-person shooter for that matter. It's a platform to build the game on top of. It doesn't limit you into doing the kinds of things we do. We really want to provide something to people to build their game, whatever that game is.
What are your plans for the beta?
DM: We're going to launch it in the next few weeks. We're obviously not finding licensees just yet, but we want to give a few teams a preview of the platform and everything it includes, so we're going to select a few key teams to let them have access to the source code and everything else, and start playing around with it.
We'll get feedback, make sure we're on track with what we're trying to achieve and providing something that makes a difference compared to what's out there. The few teams currently signed up to the beta are ecstatic, because it's providing something not available right now.
From a usability standpoint, what do you think makes your engine notable?
DM: Without going into too many details, our editing environment is absolutely unique. Personally, the time for all the proprietary editors is over. It's time to provide something that is a single editing environment for artists, for modelers, for gameplay designers. That is one point where I think we're going to make a big difference. That is probably the single biggest feature that is attractive to people who have seen the tool pipeline.
How does your game and engine development structure work? How close are the teams?
DM: The entire engine licensing department is headed by myself, and is completely separate from the game team.
The beauty of the model is that our own games are built on the same platform. Unlike other solutions, we're not tailoring the platform to the game. The game team is just a client of the engine team. They build a game on top of the same engine platforms that our licensees have access to.