In today's main feature written for Gamasutra sister site Serious Games Source
, which deals with games created for training, health, government, and other uses, as well as their cultural effects, writer Richard Carey presents a comparative analysis of several prominent engines currently used for developing serious games, as well as quotes from the companies behind the technologies, in the lead up to the Serious Games Shootout panel
taking place in March during the Serious Games Summit in San Francisco.
In this excerpt, Carey, who over the course of the feature takes an in-depth look at Breakaway's mōsbē, Numedeon's NICE, Forterra's OLIVE, Muzzy Lane's SIGMA, and Virtual Heroes' Unreal3 Advanced Learning Technology engines, lays out just what makes a serious game engine serious
"I agree with Wikipedia's definition of a game engine as "...the core software component that provides the underlying technologies, simplifies development, and often enables the game to run on multiple platforms such as game consoles and desktop operating systems... and typically includes a rendering engine for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine for collision detection, sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence and networking."
That definition is a good start, but a serious game engine needs to deliver a lot more. At a minimum it needs to track player behavior, asses their ability, capture and report on those metrics and make them available. In some serious games where player behavior must be analyzed closely, providing "instant replay" may also be essential. Depending on the product and market segment, an engine may interact with real world data from GPS systems, instrumentation, weapons, vehicle simulators, as well as other players and non-player characters. And for certain government or education applications, conforming to SCORM, Regulation 508 and COPA standards may also be required.
There are other important differences between entertainment and serious games. Lee Wilson, formerly chief marketing officer at Harcourt Achieve and a strong proponent of serious games in K-12 education observed, "Unlike in the consumer space for games, schools are complete ready-made communities. As such, the software should be able to dynamically access the existing user databases of those communities, rather than requiring redundant data entry. Think of it as acquiring user communities wholesale. This will dramatically ease deployment and accelerate usage, but is not commonly found in existing tool sets designed for a world where customers are added one at a time."
"The other challenge is on the publisher side: it's the time and expense of producing high-quality games" says George Kane, VP of business development for Pearson Education. "Modularity is important, so that content and functionality, and whole engines, can be reused in different contexts in order to maximize the return on our investment. Flexibility, such as the ability to turn features off and on, by us and by the teacher or school administrator, is also a central requirement."
You can now read the full Serious Games Source feature on the subject
, for Carey's full breakdown of all the capabilities of each engine, including talks with each engine's developer (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).