Significant improvements coming to the tech, but Valve won’t join engine licensing fray
Core games giant Valve believes the best way forward for its Source Engine is to continually update and fix the tech, as opposed to a wholesale redesign.
The company has more staff than ever making important enhancements to the engine’s technology, but several staff cooled speculation that a Source Engine 2 project exists.
“There are lot of advantages on iterating on a mature and stable and shipped codebase, as opposed to starting over again,” company president Gabe Newell told Develop.
“I think, when you see a game like DOTA 2, you’ll see how developers can get a lot more out of Source than most companies can get from a scratch-built engine.”
In a newly published interview, Newell said there are no indications that the Washington based company should change its engine update policy.
“I think that incremental updates model has worked really well for us,” he said.
“Does that mean we’ll reach some architectural tipping-point where we’ll need to change? No. I mean, if Larrabee [Intel’s promising GPU that was cancelled as a consumer device] had shipped that would have probably necessitated some fairly dramatic changes in order to take advantage of it. But, so far we’ve been able to keep the engine moving ahead, robustly. I mean, I think it looks great.”
It means that for the foreseeable future, all Valve games projects will be built on the Source Engine. The tech was first introduced in 2004 – and at the time was a high-end technology – and has transformed considerably in the following years.
Longstanding Valve artist Ted Backman said “people don’t realise how many times we’ve updated the Steam engine over the last seven years. With every one we’ve released we’ve had some kind of new rendering technology, or new modules to the engine.”
But the firm admits that significant updates need to be made to the tech. This is primarily because the numerous game projects have stretched the studio’s internal resources in recent years.
Project director Erik Johnson said “shipping The Orange Box, Left 4 Dead 1, Left 4 Dead 2 and then Portal 2 – basically in a four year time frame – has meant we have to look back at the Source engine again to improve its workflow”.
He added: “We probably have under-invested in those tools in the past, to trade-off against shipping products.”
Team Fortress 2 lead developer Robin Walker told Develop “there’s probably more people than ever” working on updating the Source engine.
“About twenty to thirty core people,” he said.
Working on a string of game projects has left Valve with “straightforward” engine updates to work through, Walker added.
“Hardware’s moved forward, that’s one thing, and the other is the rise of user created content. That’s becoming a big deal for us. We had to address some things for that.”
Develop asked Johnson if there were any ambitions beyond updating the technology, to which he replied: “Probably not. Not that we’re talking about.”
Newell also made it clear that Valve will not be competing for studio contacts with other game engine firms.
Studios have in the past opted against using Source primarily because it initially only supported PC, and then eventually Xbox 360. Only very recently has the tech supported PS3 development. Now with Mac support too, Valve has a powerful engine solution for developers that fits well with its Steam digital games business.
But Valve is not pushing the message. Use Source if you want, the company is saying to external studios, but no pressure.
“We’re really happy if another studio wants to use our engine, but we’re not going to go out there and try and muscle in on what Epic Games does,” Newell said.
“A few people have used our engine, and I think a few more will find it useful now that we have a PS3 edition.
“Y’know, we’re happy if people want to use our tools. We’re also super happy if people want to use Unreal Engine. We’ve worked hard with the guys at Epic Games to integrate Steamworks into Unreal Engine, which we think will be a great solution.
“Our philosophy is always about creating the best value for our customers, but also our partners, and right now I think there’s more value for us to pursue things like the microtransaction part of Steamworks.
"I think if we’d take the microtransaction model away, and instead push harder on getting studios to sign up to Source, I think we wouldn’t be using our time nearly as efficiently.”
Valve’s comments are drawn from a new six-page feature in Develop magazine issue 116.
The feature draws from interviews with ten key staff at the company. It is available online now, and throughout the rest of the week Develop will publish five separate Q&As with key studio staff.