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An Engine For Assassination: IO's Tech Director Speaks
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An Engine For Assassination: IO's Tech Director Speaks

December 9, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

How much of the Glacier 2 engine is focused on delivering specifically Hitman, and how much of it is meant to be more versatile?

MA: Our engine is layered so we have a base engine, which is all the system libraries, and all the I/O, and we have sort of like what we can call a "genre specific layer", where we cater for third person action adventures like Hitman and Tomb Raider and so on. And then we have a game-specific layer. So we try to layer in that way. And so the game-specific layer is very much focused on Hitman: Absolution, but it's easy to make other types of games with it.

So it's architected with a certain degree of modularity?

MA: Yeah, certainly. Very much.

You just alluded to Tomb Raider. At certain points in the company's history, different studios have made, even within the same studio, different engine decisions. How is that going in terms of the future, from your perspective?

MA: Tomb Raider and Hitman are made with two different engines. Crystal Dynamics have their own engine, and here at IO we have our own engine. I think that it's perhaps good to not place all your eggs in one basket, from a group point of view, but it's not really my area.

From IO's perspective you can say that it's an integral part of our DNA to create our own technology, and I don't think that we'd be able to deliver Hitman: Absolution the way it is without making our own technology -- because we are in complete control over all of the different paths that we're doing, and over our technology, which is very important.

It seems like the company is supportive of studios making their own tech decisions.

MA: Yes, and I think that's a great strength in many ways, because we're given the freedom to create work we really want, and that is the same philosophy that we're having behind the engine.

A big focus of Glacier 2 is actually the tools and the workflows for our developers. We wanted to create very, very, very good tools so that they can iterate the content many times over. In a game like Hitman, there are so many situations, or so many ways that you can play the level, and so many things that pop up, that it was pivotal for developers that they could put in the content, work on the game features, and then iterate it very, very fast.

So basically they can change everything while the game is running. They can re-export new animations, change the textures, and they'll just reappear on the PC, on the PS3 and Xbox while you're playing the game. That was very important for us.

I did want to ask you about the level of input the design team had into the creation of the engine.

MA: Our lead graphic artist, he's talking to our renderer guys all the time, and our game designers, they talk to our AI programmers, and everybody is talking to our tools group, so there's a lot of synergy between the guys on the team.

We're not able to make a technology in a bubble. We need constant input on how people are using the tools, what they imagine, what they would like. And so you cannot really create a game technology, or a game engine, in a bubble like that.

You need to constantly feedback, and I think that's a huge challenge -- to create a technology while you're creating a game. But there are also some synergies that you can benefit from. So the technology can drive the game, and the game can drive the technology.

Do any of the tools sit at the game layer, or are they all at a different layer?

MA: Certainly, there are some tools that are made in the game layer. For example, right now, the AI debugger, which is one of our really, really strong tools, it's basically -- I wish I could show you -- but it's basically, while you're running the game, you can click on any of the characters and see a timeline.

You can scroll back and forth on the timeline, and see exactly all of the events, all of the behaviors that this AI character has been doing, all of the animation that's been playing. And play it back, and figure out exactly what has lead up to the current situation. And dump its knowledge about all the other characters, what it can see, and so on.

And that is made in the game layer right now, but it might be ported down into the genre-specific layer at some point. That's a great advantage, in that our AI programmers are able to make these plugins to our technology, and our game programmers are able to make plugins to our technology, too -- create any small tool that would fit them, basically.

The designers the tend to always, all the time, go, "Hey, why don't we do this? Why don't we do that?" and try to push the limits of what is actually possible, but that's just how they are. We try to accommodate their requests and needs as well as possible.

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