California-based God of War: Chains of Olympus and Daxter developer Ready At Dawn Studios has announced that its multiplatform engine, which can be used to develop games on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP, has chosen Autodesk's Maya program as an integrated partner for its technology.
Gamasutra was able to see a demo of the technology in action, and can confirm that the tools for design and art rest fully on top of Maya -- allowing modelers and animators as well as level and game designers to work in the exact same environment in real-time.
We also got a chance to speak with Didier Malenfant, president of Ready at Dawn, and head of the engine project. Malenfant says, "One of the things that the Maya integration does that people might not realize is that, for the first time, your artists, designers, and everybody can work under the same tool.
"Whereas, before, every other system I can think of, you'd do your art in Max or Maya and you'd have to export it into another tool to basically edit your levels, and do your stuff. If something didn't work, you'd have to go back and forth, and re-export it.
"And in our case it's the same environment and that's a huge benefit, and that's something you can't even say enough about -- because the entire team works under the same environment."
The Benefits of Maya
In a statement, Marc Stevens, Autodesk vice president, Games said, "The proposed integration of the Ready At Dawn Engine's complete game editing environment with Maya should give game designers, level designers and everyone on a game development team access to Maya software's world class editing environment. This should give development teams a single workflow, with no need for back and forth exporting between separate applications."
The RAD Engine was created to the specifics of the studio's own style of console development -- and addresses what Malenfant sees as legacy flaws in other engine technologies. "You have access to the game just like everybody else does.
"[Other engine tech] is an artificial separation, at the end of the day. It's really just something that's driven by choices that have been made 15 years ago that were probably the right thing for PC first person shooters but that really no one questioned, and went 'Wait a minute, is this really the right idea?'
"So, it's where we basically looked fresh and did basically what we thought, at least initially for us internally, was the way we wanted to work -- without limitation, without those artificial boundaries between tools," says Malenfant.
Using Maya as a base doesn't just increase ease of development of games -- it also increases ease of engine development, says Malenfant. RAD is "not trying to reinvent the wheel, and not trying to do things that people have done before, and make everything proprietary, is something that will get us there quicker."
RAD's tech also allows for a full preview of in-game content in Maya, as the engine's renderer is integrated with Maya. RAD intends to increase this capability to realtime in-editor playthrough in the future.
Of course, the integration means that studios will be limited to using Maya -- and can't choose other packages, like 3ds Max. This choice, says Malenfant, was deliberate. "In our case it was because Maya was way more extensible than 3ds Max was. And really it's an historical choice. Naughty Dog was a Maya house. My experience was with Maya."
"We really knew very well from the get-go what we could get out of extending Maya's functionality. If you're a developer that's using Max extensively and has 3ds Max everywhere, then it's really not the choice for you -- and that's fine. It's not about being a solution for everybody."
Developing Like RAD
For studios that are making products like Ready at Dawn's, says Malenfant, "I think we do fit a hole in the engine licensing business right now, because a lot of engines out there have the same philosophy, and the same approach to things. From the days of id Software and your proprietary editor, and they're kind of all the same. We're very different in that respect. We're definitely going to help a bunch of people that make games the way that we do."
The current version of the Ready At Dawn engine has of course been used to develop RAD's PSP titles Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus. Says Malenfant, "Our company mantra, and it's served us pretty well, and we've applied it to the engine licensing, is 'no bullshit'. We're not about making sales pitches and we're not about making you believe you will solve every problem in the universe if you use our stuff. That said, the games we've shipped so far speak for themselves."
When it comes to the releasing the engine to licensees, says Malefant, "We're ready to go on PSP, obviously, because that's where we've shipped games. That's probably the most mature part of our proposition. What we're trying to do with PS3 and Xbox 360 is go through a private beta phase. The reason for that is that is we want to make sure that by the time we're ready to license, we've had [external] people use it and get feedback."
The Support Question
For those who worry that Ready At Dawn's own games projects will take away from its ability to support the engine, Malenfant says that won't be the case. "It's something we're definitely aware of and we're focusing a lot on making sure it doesn't happen to us," he says. "We're basically really separating the engine team from the game team. My title is president and co-founder of Ready At Dawn, but all I really do is head the engine licensing as a separate business."
The engine, originally developed to produce games in-house, "Is not handled by the game team. It's completely separate. We've made some changes and decisions on how we present the product and our tools that are different from the choices the game team made. We do from an engine licensing perspective for the licensees of our tech. Our game team is going to turn into another licensee of our tech."
Gamasutra will publish a full interview with Malenfant in the near future.