Game and engine developer Terminal Reality has updated its Infernal Engine with new features that make the toolset better suited for development of MMOs, large open world games and serious game applications, the studio told Gamasutra in a recent interview.
The update centers on a new terrain system for Infernal Engine that adds threaded level of detail (LOD) generation for terrain geometry; tools for editing heightmap, vertex color, material and vegetation layers; support for terrain holes for the creation of caves and other areas; an optimized material layering system; vegetation and decoration layers; altitude and slope filters and other new and optimized features.
The engine has been used for well-received internally-developed games Ghostbusters: The Video Game
and Def Jam Rapstar
. Terminal Reality has also licensed Infernal to external developers including Wideload, ThreeWave, High Voltage, Red Fly and others.
The engine supports development on Xbox 360, PlayStation, Wii, PSP, PS2 and PC, and just last week the company announced that Nintendo authorized the engine
for development on the soon-to-launch 3DS handheld.
Terminal Reality also confirmed today that Infernal officially supports development for Sony's high-end codenamed Next Generation Portable, due to release later this year.
Founded in 1994, the Lewisville, TX-based game maker started licensing out the multiplatform Infernal Engine about two-and-half years ago, joining the competitive engine licensing market.
In this interview with the company's sales and marketing VP Joe Kreiner, he offers more details on Infernal Engine, competition in the triple-A game engine market, and continuing internal development on the studio's upcoming Star Wars game for Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect sensor.
So Terminal Reality just started licensing the Infernal Engine a couple years ago. How has development of the tech been progressing and how has the company used it internally?
Joe Kreiner: It's very mature technology -- we've always been very focused on technology at the company. Our CEO is our lead programmer, so Terminal Reality has always been about a technology and pushing the limits of what's possible in consoles.
And in 2009 we put out Ghostbusters
with Atari, and in 2010 we had Def Jam Rapstar
with 4mm and Konami. Currently we're working on Star Wars Kinect
for Microsoft, which is a really exciting project. We're getting to play around with Kinect as a new technology which is really exciting and changing the way you think about games.
Terminal Reality had been quiet about its work on Star Wars Kinect. Can you give us a status update on the game's development?
Yeah, we can talk about that a little bit. Working with Kinect has been really interesting. I think Microsoft's done a great job of bringing the device to market and really refining the technology behind Kinect, and making it into something that's a fun, living room experience.
It's really changing the demographic I think, that Xbox was really targeted at. It's a great way to extend the life of the system and bring it to the customers. So, in developing for it we had to really change the way we work internally to base ourselves around Kinect.
So, we have play experience rooms where we can experiment with game play types, because it's a new device. Certainly there are the launch titles that have been put out and we're in the second wave of Kinect titles, so we want to refine the gameplay types that this device can handle.
How has the accuracy changed with Kinect since you first got your hands on it?
Well they've been making continuous improvements to Kinect and its functionality, and Microsoft has been really good about giving exposure on what to expect from the device. It's certainly more accurate, and more functional. You can do more things with it now than at pre-launch. We're finding that as developers work with it more we're starting to understand what really works from a user interface perspective.
If you look at some of the games that have come out, Harmonix's [Dance Central
] really had an awesome interface in which you could go through menus easily. You learn from what you see other developers doing and of course experiment constantly inside the studio to see what really works. We're spending a tremendous amount of time experimenting with game play types that will be fun for this experience.
How does your Kinect experience impact your support for the Infernal Engine and that initiative?
Certainly it's helped Infernal Engine in that all the experience we've had with Kinect translates to our engine technology, and we do have many licensees using Kinect on their projects. That helps Microsoft, it helps us and it's really beneficial to all parties, because we're working on a Kinect title ourselves and we're able to, on an engine technology side, to really prove out a lot of concepts, and have really robust support inside the engine framework for the Kinect device.
So it helps our licensees with their Kinect titles. We haven't announced any, but as early as this summer we'll have some additional products out in Infernal Engine that are designed for Kinect.
Can you give some more detail about the Infernal Engine's new terrain system?
[The update is] not just to the terrain system, but a lot of visual improvements. It's part of our continuing technology investment in the engine. ... In this particular case, we looked around the industry on what was available and targeted to have a really leading solution for terrain editing inside the engine.
That's applicable to say, open world games, racing games, serious games applications, which is also a market for us, simulators and that kind of thing. When you're talking about editing a world size that's miles in any particular direction, there's a lot of support inside the engine that you need to make that really work well.
We've added dynamic tessellation so as you zoom in and out of world it adjusts the amount of drawing that you need to do. We've got geomipmapping which is similar to MegaTexturing to allow for painting of multiple layers onto terrains to make them look really super realistic and add fine detail.
So, we've done a lot of cool things there, but it's just a part of our continual visual improvements for the Infernal Engine. We really want to be pushing the boundaries of visual quality with our engine technology. We'll also of course be rolling out additional improvements this year. You'll see us add several new platforms support, so that's really exciting for us.
And Terminal Reality is saying this update is friendlier for more open world games and MMOs?
Yeah, that's a possibility. An open world game can be anything from a first-person shooter to an RTS or a simulator or driving game, and MMO is certainly an application there. You can see something like that can work with Infernal Engine. It's definitely a possibility. We have networking built into the engine based on RakNet, and they have some new functionality they just announced targeting MMO's, so that's certainly a direction somebody can take our engine.
I remember in a Gamasutra article, you were on that panel with all of the other engine makers at GDC Europe. You said that all of the engine makers are converging into the same market. Do you think that there's room for many more engine providers out there right now?
Well there are certainly a lot of [engine] options, and in the traditional console space, we're in a very mature cycle right now, the hardware cycle has gone longer than it has in the past. And it's making for a market in which the options for engine technology are probably fairly comprehensive.
I wouldn't imagine seeing any new entrants into that field moving forward. On the mobile side, things like portable game platforms and iOS and those kind of things, there seems to be a growth there and a lot of interest for developers to move in that direction. So yes, I see that there's plenty of room for growth there and we certainly are going to expand the Infernal Engine into those markets as we go along.
Are you talking about maybe competing more directly with Unity?
Well, Unity is an unusual entity in the engine licensing business. I think they're really focused on the market for social games and that kind of thing. Infernal Engine is coming from a traditional console development background, so I don't think we actually even cross paths in a lot of cases and I think that's probably good. You want to have at least some specialization in technology that you're looking at. Of course they support some platforms that we support... I just think that they're radically different concepts in engine software.
And Infernal Engine now supports 3DS and NGP. How has the experience been in bringing the engine to these new, unique handhelds?
Well, Infernal Engine worked really well on the Sony PSP and there's been numerous games shipped using Infernal on PSP, including Ghostbusters
last year. As far as the Sony NGP, we're really excited about that platform from a hardware prospective. It's a beautiful device. You've got a multicore CPU that we can really take advantage of, and the Infernal Engine has a focus on multi-threading. There's some really powerful graphics technology in there. We really feel that it's a PS3 in your hands, it's that powerful of a device.
Of course they brought back the second thumb stick which everybody used to scream and holler about on the PSP, but the addition of the touch screen and then the back touch panel opens up some really interesting gameplay choices. While none of the games being developed in Infernal Engine for that platform have been announced, we've got some pretty major intellectual property being made for that device. I can't wait to see what our developers do with those control possibilities.
And as far as the 3DS, how has the experience been with working with something that's going to be 3D stereoscopic?
The 3DS, that device is radically different than the Sony NGP. The power that you have there is a little limited so it shows the flexibility of our engine, that we can target that platform. The 3D is a really interesting feature. I haven't really gotten a lot of opportunity to play with the 3DS and really take in that 3D, but I think it's certainly a marketing driver and they should have a lot of interest in the platform based on that. And certainly the DS was very successful for them, so they're building upon that.
Examples of terrains created with the newly-updated Infernal Engine are below: