Insomniac, of course, is very famous for building very solid engines. At DICE, Mike Acton and Andy Burke talked about how they just do not use third party tool solutions, and -- well, obviously some tools, yes, but not physics plug-ins or anything like that.
LM: And we're on exactly the same page as them. We use all our own tools and technology, short of Maya, and maybe Perforce.
What do you think are advantages of that?
LM: I think there are considerable advantages. If you saw their talk at DICE, it was right on. If you build your own engine, ultimately, you're not only getting the advantages of doing something custom for your game, but you're spending roughly the same amount of time.
I think that people who have weaker engineers tend to go towards third party because they think it will save them time -- and maybe it will, but if you have solid, veteran people, you're always better off building your own engine and tools.
A lot of people use Unreal, obviously, for 360 and PS3 games. It's very choice right now. But I've rarely talked to someone who hasn't talked about having to do extensive modifications to make it suit their purposes, and I guess that there's something a struggle right now -- even a legal struggle right now, in some cases --with the idea that it's being marketed as an off-the-shelf solution.
LM: Well that's the thing; I don't really believe there is, in terms of engines, anything truly that is an off-the-shelf solution. Unless you're making a game that is so uniform, and in line with the original purpose of the engine, you're going to have to adjust it, and repurpose it. That's just the reality.
It's also funny if you play some Unreal engine games, you can see what they nicked from Gears of War, basically. Because when you license the engine, they ship it to you with the source code for Gears of War. Even talking to developers, I've had developers tell me what they borrowed. Or how they studied the maps, and tried to figure out how to effectively use the engine... Some Unreal Engine games don't splash out, and some games, like Mirror's Edge by DICE -- I don't know if you've seen it -- it's totally different. I think once you get to the different side, it probably speaks to the amount of effort that you have to put into it.
LM: Yeah. That's exactly it. It's not that you can't do amazing things with the Unreal Engine; you can, but it's just a question of the amount of effort that you have to put in to get there, and whether that effort wouldn't have been better spent working on your own technology.
EA's Mirror's Edge
So you think it's probably best, for people who have the resources, to really work on their own tech.
LM: Yeah, absolutely. I think that working on your engine is really the best approach. And also, when you're approaching your studio, that's the part of the team that you want to be the most senior: your tools guys, and your engine guys. And that's certainly the case as we have just a lot of really veteran guys, there, talented guys.
What do you think of physics plug-ins? You know, like people might do their own engines, but they still will license Havok or something, because it's robust.
LM: I think it depends on what you're doing with your game. A lot of hoopla is made over physics plug-ins. I think that there are a lot of games that don't actually need physics plug-ins. There are a lot of things you can do with fake physics. It's sort of, with the animation, making something look realer than real.
And we've had people swear up and down with games, that, "Oh my god! Your physics must be great!" But there is no physics engine there; it's just faked. So you really have to sit long and hard and think about, is your game going to take advantage of this or not, before you even concern yourself with whether or not to use an off-the-shelf solution, or code your own.
And at that point, it's a question of what the off-the-shelf solution supports, as compared to what you want in your game.