As Seen In: Rockstar Presents Table Tennis, GTA IV + Episodes, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire (rumoured)
GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas and Bully, for all their awesomeness, did not run off publisher Rockstar’s own tech, but were instead facilitated by Criterion’s Renderware engine. Yet it was the less commercial Red Dead Revolver that made up the publisher’s mind to pursue its own middleware solution for the next generation. With dreams of a grand sequel that no available engine could facilitate, Rockstar San Diego began work on RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) in 2004 with a view toRed Dead Redemption. And according to our conversations with the developer, the three games already released this generation using RAGE were all warming-up to this epic 2010 release.
RAGE’s strengths are many. Its ability to handle large streaming worlds, complex A.I. arrangements, weather effects, fast network code and a multitude of gameplay styles will be obvious to anyone who has played GTA IV. It’s also incredibly welcoming of partner middleware. Euphoria from NaturalMotion, a dynamic animation engine, bonded with RAGE like they’d been split at birth (a feat LucasArts were unable to achieve with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed), as did the Bullet physics engine from Erwin Coumans. And it is still so young: accurate physics, ecosystem A.I. and improved draw distance are just some of the improvements we’ll see in RAGE over the coming months.
As Seen In: Far Cry, Crysis, Crysis Warhead, Crysis 2, Aion: Tower of Eternity
It didn’t take long for the German developer Crytek to make a name for itself. The developer’s 2004 debut game, Far Cry, was nothing short of a revelation. While the world had waited expectedly for Half-life 2, Doom 3 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. to usher in a new generation of PC gaming, Crytek beat them all to the punch with a stunning, tropical set FPS game powered by its own brilliant CryENGINE. Three years later it did it again, when Crysis – running on CryENGINE 2 – set a new standard for gaming visuals. For its next outing, Crysis 2, Crytek is bringing the middleware to consoles with the new CryENGINE 3.
According to Crytek, “CryENGINE 3 is the first Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, MMO, DX9 and DX10 all-in-one game development solution that is next-gen ready – with scalable computation and graphics technologies.” Unlike many of its competitors, this engine does not need additional support from niche third-party middleware and can handle its own physics, sound and animations, as well as produce the outstanding visuals for which Crytek’s games are famed. If Crytek’s own games weren’t reason enough to include the CryENGINE on this list, then the fact that the developer is doing all it can to push CryENGINE 3 as a middleware solution for other developers is great news for gamers, and a big threat to Epic Games and Unreal Engine 3.
Let’s hope rumours of a TimeSplitters 4 on CryENGINE 3 come to fruition.
As Seen in: Battlefield,Medal of Honor,Army of Two
Best known for the game “Battlefield,” the Frostbite engine was created by the Swedish developer DICE (Digital Illusions CE) in 2008, originally for first-person shooter games. Primarily, Frostbite’s principal contribution to the gaming world is the superior destruction of environments. Explosions, fires and detonations of all sorts look, feel and sound genuinely lifelike with Frostbite’s help. Combat-heavy games like “Medal of Honor” and “Army of Two” benefit from Frostbite’s proficiency at allowing the user to destroy whole buildings and landscapes instead of small walls and objects, then watch them burn down in glorious visual detail.
Naughty Dog Game Engine
As Seen in: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Without a doubt the graphical marvel of E3 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves shows just how much potential there is in the PlayStation 3 when the game engine is done right. The Naughty Dog engine – named after the developer behind not only Uncharted, but also the Jak & Daxter series – was developed specifically for the PS3 and provided some spectacular results in the 2007 release Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Stunning animations and character models, spectacular lighting and sound, rich colour palettes and Hollywood-like cutscenes were its calling card.
For Uncharted: Among Thieves the developer has put two years of hard work into creating the Naughty Dog 2.0 engine, and the results are nothing short of sublime. Crisp environments filled with countless dynamic objects with independent physics, smoother and more diverse environment-animation interaction, astounding improvements to lighting and A.I., seamless transitions between engine-driven cinematics and gameplay, as well as full support for co-op and competitive multiplayer. Nothing short of a beast!
It is also our understanding that Naughty Dog is sharing some of its knowledge with The Ice Team, the secret Sony studio working on the base Edge Tools kit for the improvement of all PS3 games. The developer also dropped a hint our way at E3 that there might be a new Jak & Daxter next year.
The Dead Engine
As Seen in: Dead Space, Dante’s Inferno
Dead Space was awesome: so awesome that the game’s development team from EA Redwood Shores was given its own proper identity soon after the game’s release. In May, Electronic Arts announced that it was renaming the team Visceral Games in order to “better reflect the studio’s culture, identity and focus on creating intense action-oriented intellectual properties.” Although not officially branded the Dead Engine (the name was provided by media and fans), when studio head Glen Schofield was in Australia promoting his horror-fest he spoke enthusiastically about the game’s engine and its future.
Following the release of The Godfather: The Game in 2006, a component of the development team broke off to work on the Dead Space project and took with them The Godfather engine. That engine was then almost completely rebuilt in order to facilitate Dead Space’s futuristic horror experience, eventually becoming its own beast and now the proud offspring of the exciting Visceral Games studio. Dead Space was a stunner in just about every department, but the engine’s real power came through in its control and implementation of sound and lighting. It is easily one of the scariest games of all time, and the birthplace of a new engine with an extremely promising next outing set in hell: Dante’s Inferno.
As Seen In: Gears of War, Mass Effect, BioShock, Unreal Tournament, Deus Ex, GRAW, Red Steel, Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, Homefront, Mirror’s Edge, Singularity, Rainbow Six: Vegas and a gazillion more
How many times have you seen the words “heavily-modified Unreal Engine” somewhere in a game preview or a press release? Since its first incarnation in 1998, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine (now in its third generation) has evolved to become the multi-format engine of choice for many of the major and minor publishing houses. It turns up in the strangest of places (Surf’s Up) and even in games from developers with their own impressive tech (BioWare, EA, Ubisoft). But why?
Latest reports from Epic Games suggest that Unreal Engine 4 development is in full swing and is expected to be sold to developers in time for the next-generation consoles, which they’ve declared will be post 2012.
As Seen in: Just Cause, Just Cause 2, The Hunter
Just Cause 2 was one of the true surprise packets of this year’s E3. While the original game had offered a fun but flawed distraction early on in the generation, the four year gap between it and a sequel had seen interest in the series wane. It turns out that developer Avalanche Studios had used the time to completely strip its Avalanche Engine and rebuild most of its components from scratch. And so it is that the Avalanche 2.0 engine used in the sequel allows the game to truly live up to the original’s potential.
When you see Just Cause 2 in action, it is hard not to be impressed by what the Avalanche Engine can achieve. Seamless blending of vastly different gameplay mechanics on-the-fly (parachuting, driving, third-person combat, swimming, exploring), large amounts of on-screen explosions and combatants, the physics-driven gameplay of the new grappling hook features, and advanced A.I…. not to mention it looks bloody amazing. It all unfolds in a massive streaming world that goes from snowy mountain peaks to tropical sandy beaches, sealing this as one of the great new engines in gaming.
Excitingly, the developer’s next Avalanche 2.0 driven project is expected to be AionGuard, which has a fantasy setting.
As Seen in: Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: World at War, Quantum of Solace, Modern Warfare 2
That would be IW as in Infinity Ward, the legendary developer behind arguably the biggest franchise of this generation, Call of Duty. Although the original game in the series ran off the id Tech 3 engine, for the highly regarded Call of Duty 2 the developer built its own in-house middleware which, until recently, had no official name. When questioned at E3 this year, however, we were told by an Infinity Ward rep that the upcoming Modern Warfare 2 would be running on the IW 4.0 engine, a generation beyond what we saw in the so-spectacular-it-hasn’t-aged-a-bit Call of Duty 4, released in 2007.
If you’ve played that game, then the quality of the engine and the experience it can deliver needs no introduction. Phenomenal animations and lighting lead the way, although its ability to handle complex A.I., amazing sound, depth of field and dynamic bullet penetration – all at a blistering pace – cannot be ignored. Better still, it runs a beauty over a network, leading Call of Duty to be one of the most successful online experiences of all time. The engine enhancements for Modern Warfare 2 are subtle, but powerful. A new streaming texture technique allows the world’s objects to appear in far greater detail and resolution, while there have also been major improvements to the lighting, physics and A.I.
Other good news is that Infinity Ward appear to feel comfortable letting Treyarch and potentially other Activision studios use its engine in future products. More IW 4.0 games? Yes please!
As Seen In: Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, Shaun White Snowboarding, Assassin’s Creed II
Somewhere along the line Ubisoft must have got really sick and tired of using other developers’ tech, as there has been an explosion in quality in-house engines coming out of the publisher in recent times. This includes Dunia (Far Cry 2), LEAD (Splinter Cell: Conviction), Fox (Naruto: Broken Bond), LyN (Beyond Good & Evil 2), IRISZOOM (R.U.S.E) and Anvil, aka the Scimitar 2.0 Engine. But for sheer oomph it is hard to go past the Anvil which helped drive Assassin’s Creed to one of the most successful new IP debuts in video game history.
For both Assassin’s and Prince of Persia, it was the way Anvil allowed the animations and the environment to interact in real-time which shone so elegantly. It was also capable of populating its world with large numbers of smart A.I. For the upcoming sequel, Ubisoft Montreal has focused on a number of key areas including lighting, reflections, dynamic cloth, enhanced A.I. interaction with the environment, longer draw distances and a full day/night cycle. Interestingly, the impressive vegetation technology from Far Cry 2’s Dunia engine has also been incorporated into Anvil, although we have yet to see the gameplay this allows.
It’s also interesting to note that Shaun White Snowboarding introduced multiplayer to the engine, fuelling rumours from E3 that such a mode will exist in Assassin’s Creed II.
As Seen In: Colin McRae: DiRT, Race Driver: GRiD, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Colin McRae DiRT 2, F1 2009, F1 2010
Codemasters has published some pretty average games this generation, but when it takes its gaming in-house and develops titles itself, it tends to deliver the goods. This is due in large part to its own EGO Engine (formally known as NEON) which, interestingly, had a little bit of developmental input from Sony. For many Australians, the direction the developer has taken with its two awesome driving series’ Colin McRae & Race Driver – as in to Americanise the hell out of them – has come as a bit of a slap in the face, but once the sting has died down you cannot deny the quality of the games’ production.
As a racer, the engine not only facilitates a highly playable driving engine across a multitude of different car and terrain types, but also delivers impressively detailed worlds that look just as great up close and personal – usually through your cracked windshield and over your smoking bonnet – as they do whizzing by at 200km/h. A robust dynamic damage system, brilliant A.I. and exceptional lighting also play a role in making EGO-driven games serious eye candy. The main reason why EGO makes this list though is that it has shown impressive flexibility, powering the great looking and super realistic FPS game Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, expected in September.
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Our hands-on time with DiRT 2 reveals that the developer has been primarily focused on the physics component of its engine and bringing greater realism back to the Colin driving experience. It gives us great confidence that with an additional year’s polish, the developer’s 2010 Formula 1 game could be epic.