Develop looks at how the online games engine has reinvented its forbearer
It’s no surprise that the new Hero Cloud 2 online game engine introduces a wealth of new features. It is, after all, a major update to a well-established development platform.
The motivation for introducing the likes of high dynamic range rendering, however, isn’t as obvious as you might expect. It’s indies that the tech’s creator Idea Fabrik is keen to serve, as more and more small-to-medium studios start creating the kinds of MMO games that HeroEngine 2 and its predecessor were built to support.
Bolstering a platform – one that has typically served large studios with triple-A ambitions – with extra features to attract indies might seem like a counter intuitive logic, but to it makes sense to the team.
“Previously it had never really been a focus of ours to have every aspect of the client be cutting edge, because when we sell to triple-A developers, we’re selling them our simulation and server backend,” explains Idea Fabrik’s product manager Cooper Buckingham.
“That’s always been our special sauce, so we never focused on making sure we had, for example, every shader in place that a game could possibly use, because we figured that those large triple-A developers were just going to gut much of that client-side of the tech and make it their own.”
To a certain extent the first HeroEngine provided a gateway to and interface with the server backend. Now that entry point has become festooned with features, meaning even studios without a toolbox of proprietary tech can make the most of the engine, all the while still harnessing Ideak Fabrik’s server-side tech.
There is now less need for a studio to implement its own extensions, meaning smaller teams with more modest budgets can now embrace the engine.
“For HeroEngine 2, we’ve done a far more robust client-side implementation, in order to give independent developers all they need in one place to ship a triple-A quality game,” confirms Buckingham.
That logic comes from Idea Fabrik’s certainty that as the infamously overcrowded mobile space continues to squeeze out smaller studios, a substantial number are returning to the platform on which the new era of indie gaming was arguably born – the PC.
And so it is that HeroEngine 2 has evolved into a feature-rich solution which allows developers to build games in the cloud so an entire team can collaborate live, online and in real-time.
The Idea Fabrik tech team’s true goal with crafting HeroEngine 2 was, they say, to push the quality of massively multiplayer games closer to that seen in offline triple-A console games.
As MMOs have to prioritise huge live spaces populated with hundreds upon hundreds of simultaneous players all the while keeping download sizes small, sacrifices have to be made that typically impact graphical polish.
But with the aforementioned HDR rendering introduced, along with features like Maya and Max 2012 support, improved custom shadows, tone-mapping, streamlined language localisation and expanded middleware integration, HeroEngine 2 is starting to offer online game developers the same kind of performance that was once the preserve of solutions like Unreal and CryEngine.
And for those studios unfamiliar with the intricacies of building networked games, HeroEngine 2 includes a newly updated Foundation Framework, conceived to ease the pain of embracing the sometimes unwelcoming world of online development.
“We’ve always been an engine that gives you the tools, but then you had to go and do everything yourself,” says Buckingham.
“It was pretty tough for somebody new to online game development. So what we’ve done now is build out huge chunks of, for lack of a better word, code, that are relevant to many different types of online game.
“We’ve built in at the engine level all these foundation pieces for traditional online game systems; things like chat, social, guilds, inventory, lobby systems and multiplayer pairing systems. Those systems to support those features exist at engine level, and users can choose to hack into them in whatever way they want, and then expand on them and manipulate them.”
With HeroEngine 2, Idea Fabrik appears to have pushed almost every element of its technology, taking the solution from the realm of a highly specialised piece of middleware into the mainstream of the game development sector.
For now, how the company will charge for their tech is evolving, and currently starts at $99, but it is looking to make money from its servers, rather than the HeroEngine 2 platform directly.
Those pondering building an online game might do well to investigate the potential of Ideak Fabrik’s newly released piece of tech.