Former Havok founders Steven Collins and Hugh Reynolds are up to something new: a company called Kore, which develops Lua-compatible virtual machines for game developers.
Clients like Bungie, Lionhead and Sega are already using Kore's virtual machines with the goal of enabling faster prototyping and speeding production pipelines. The company also provides debuggers, profiles and other support for its customers' development cycles.
Collins and Reynolds set up the company late in 2008 and raised their first funding round for version one of the Kore VM. Clients are already using version two, the company says -- Collins tells Gamasutra he saw first-hand in his work with Havok what developers needed most.
"In Havok, we had the opportunity to see what a lot of developers were doing with their production pipeline," he says. "There's a lot of pressure on companies today to look at ways not only of reducing cost in their prodution, but certainly to look at ways they can introduce effiiencies into their pipeline and do a lot more prototyping -- it's a 'fail faster' methodology."
As only promising prototypes get to continue into production, prototyping quickly and thoroughly can help make teams more productive. Scripting languages promote that, says Collins.
"The idea is you should be able to express your concept much more succinctly in the scripting language," he explains. "It's that aspect we find really exciting. We're looking at a virtual machine that plays scripting languages and has been designed espeicfially for console development. Fundamentally, it's a set of tools for script code development for game production."
Prior to the company's founding, Collins had researched scripting language development and had the support of a team in developing the core technology. Now that the Kore VM is fully operational for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 development and in production use on commercial game teams, "what we're focused on now is how can we involve our language and our tools forward to make teams even more productive," he says.
The first version of the product focuses specifically on the Lua language, which Collins says is the most commonly-used and thus an obvious first choice. "If you are developing a game using Lua, you can migrate across to the Kore virtual machine without changing any of your existing codebase, and start from there," he says.
Lua is also fast, small and consumes little memory, another reason the Kore team decided on it first, adds Collins. Now they're looking at what other languages they can support, by working directly with game companies to find out what their ideal needs are.
"The guys developing AAA blockbuster titles... fundamentally what they needed to do was reduce budgets," Collins continues. "But a much more realistic user experience is putting real pressure on developers. And that's something you can't code for; that's something you have to try, market-test, user-test and figure out what works, what doesn't work and then iterate as rapidly as you can."
With the need for more agile development and tools geared toward faster iteration, Collins says "we're seeing real excitement around the use of more production-focused scripting tech. The feedback we're getting is really strong so far."
Kore is a "product of its time," says Collins, and it also helps companies trying to work faster avoid risk: "I think when you use a scripting language, whether it's open-source or even developed internally, there's an inherent risk because you're very much dependent on first-party code that hasn't really been designed for game development," he says.
"But we can take the experience we have of delivering middleware on game consoles and deliver it to the scripting space," he adds -- and that the Kore team offers direct support to its clients is also an important part of being a middleware provider. "Having been on the team that worked hard in previous middleware companies to create a good infrastructure" was essential, Collins says.
In the longer term, Collins says the company is already looking ahead: "The hardware industry is about multi-core," he says. "A lot of the game producers are really looking toward the next set of platforms, and that's something we're in tune with... future platforms and future architectures."