In the latest ‘Tooling Around’ feature, talking with middleware and tools developers about their products, we speak with Frank Black, director of business development at Anark, developers of 3D user interface development tool Gameface
Currently at version 3.7, Gameface is designed as a complete solution for the creation of user interfaces, and allows users to composite 3D, 2D, text, sound and interactivity using one tool. Black notes that the product “supports an artist driven workflow” and “reduces time to market”.
Gameface has been recently utilized by companies like Lionhead, Silicon Knights, Nihilistic, Insomniac, Next Level Games and LucasArts, and has been used to develop the user interface for Microsoft’s upcoming Forza Motorsport 2
We spoke to Black about Gameface, its development, the upcoming version 4.0 and its integration into game engines.
When and why was Anark formed?
Anark Corporation was founded in 1994 as an innovative 3D game development company. In 1997, Anark launched the 3D and AI based game title Galapagos
which was distributed for PC platforms by Electronic Arts and Sega.
In 1998, the company refocused its considerable real-time 3D technical expertise on the digital content creation software market resulting in the creation of the award winning Anark Media Platform.
Since this time, Anark has become a leading provider of software tools, technology, and related services that enable its customers to cost effectively develop and deploy high-end, interactive 3D multimedia applications for a variety of industry uses.
What were the aims and goals of the company at this time?
Anark has always remained focused on the proliferation of 3D technology. Being a company with strong game development roots, it was easy for us to understand the pains that exist in an industry that was severely lacking in development tools that could match the increasing demands of game consumers.
Anark Gameface was designed as a way to provide game studios a way to more efficiently create a more dazzling and memorable gaming experience.
How did you realize the need for a product like Gameface?
Since the initial release of Anark Studio 1.0, Anark had been approached by top game developers and publishers who immediately saw the tool as a compelling solution for more cost-effective, streamlined game UI development. After a series of interviews with leading game development studios, Anark engineers were able to spec out the requirements that would be needed to build an SDK that would allow Anark Studio content to be directly exported into next-generation game engines.
What was the development time on the product, and what challenges did you run into in preparing the product for industry use?
The Gameface product itself has been in development for over two years. However, Anark Studio - the authoring environment for Gameface - is a very mature product and has been available to our customers since 2001. The challenges associated with our industry are, as always, the aggressive performance (memory and speed) requirements imposed by console hardware. The difference here is that getting to work with talented and passionate game teams makes it all worth while.
How has the product developed over the time you've been producing it?
The Gameface product started life as an exporter plug-in architecture for the Anark Studio authoring environment. This was immediately useful to several teams who adopted us early and were able to include content created with Anark Studio in their games.
Since then we’ve been working towards a more end-to-end middleware solution for interactive 3D content; including a robust and exceedingly efficient runtime that’s ready for production use ‘out of the box’.
How have you acted on feedback to improve Gameface?
We have developer release program were we work with our key customers to review our development progress, recommend designs, and requested feature sets. We use the Extreme Programming Methodology, so we are rapidly turning our code and validating our functionality. Additionally, through our evaluation program we track the good, bad, and ugly of our evaluator’s experience with Gameface software. We track it all, both wins and loses, and we actively utilize this information in our development process.
How does the product work on a technical level?
The core of the technical side of the Gameface product is our cross-platform ‘Kernel’ that plays back the content created with Anark Studio. Gameface is designed to integrate easily with your game engine, and with our upcoming 4.0 release it’s easier than ever before.
Our offering is technically impressive to be sure, but the whole point of the product is really opening the door for your artists to create interactive 3d content; both in terms of their workflow and the pipeline around the data involved.
Do you feel your product works best when combined with other middleware?
The Gameface product works equally well with or without other middleware. We have some exciting partnerships lined up with other middleware providers that will result in some very cool and tightly integrated workflows, but Gameface is just as valuable to a team using no other middleware. Gameface will be useful to anyone looking to save time and money, or merely trying to break new ground and do things previously thought impossible with an interactive 3D UI.
How has the integration of Gameface into the Gamebryo engine changed the development of the product?
Our integration with Gamebryo has been extremely valuable. The integration allows us to provide a compelling out of box experience to teams using Gamebryo. Additionally, it has even been valuable to evaluators of our technology who are not using Gamebryo by allowing them to see our kit running on their target platform only minutes after downloading it. Seeing our product work so nicely with a truly AAA offering like Gamebryo has been very validating and rewarding. Following the release of Anark Gameface 4.0, we will be pursuing additional ‘out of the box’ integrations to add to the product offering.
How have you handled the move to next-gen console hardware, and what has this meant for the product?
Next-gen console hardware is very, very exciting to us. The wealth of processing power in these new systems is really what has created the opportunity for us to provide a solution to the difficult problem creating compelling interactive 3D content. Gamers’ expectations for experiences are running high, and we’re excited to be helping teams deliver on the incredible promise of this next generation of console hardware.
What are some of the more notable examples of the product's use?
The majority of our customers are producing next generation titles so most of them are still in production and the titles have yet to ship. Unfortunately, because of legal constraints, most of our best customers who have shipped titles have not granted us permission to disclose this information. The most recent title to ship that we are allowed to publicize is the release of Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 2
Who is currently using the product?
Again, because of our established non-disclosure agreements, there are only a few that we are allowed to publicize. As a whole, there are now a wide variety of different studios that have licensed Anark Gameface, but the only notable customers we can disclose at this time are Forza
, Lionhead, Silicon Knights, Nihilistic, Insomniac, Next Level Games, and Lucas Arts. The upcoming launch of version 4.0 has also dramatically increased the number of studios who are evaluating the powerful new tools and features that we’re providing.
What do you see as the next evolution of Gameface?
The next evolution of Gameface is a continuation of the core value we’ve been delivering since the beginning. Basically, we will continue making improvements over the entire pipeline from your artists' DCC applications, through our authoring environment, and on to our runtime. We’re particularly excited about the ongoing development of Collada file format as it aligns very nicely with our goals and portends a bright future for the kind of artist-centered empowerment that Anark is all about.