Insomniac pushes for cease-fire in the development technology war

Insomniac pushes for cease-fire in the development technology war

By Ed Fear

April 21st 2008 at 8:00AM

'Compete with content, not tech,' says dev behind Ratchet and Resistance with launch PS3 secret-sharing scheme

The industry isn’t doing enough to share its technical knowledge, and the secretive attitude of some game studios needs to change – for its own good.

So says American independent studio Insomniac. The California-based firm recently kick-started its Nocturnal knowledge and technology sharing scheme, and now it wants other developers to do the same.

“People wonder why we’re doing this,” Insomniac’s engine director Mike Acton told us in a new interview, the first part of which is available to read here.

“But contributing back to the industry has always been in the Insomniac philosophy. We’re all here standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us, so we feel it’s our responsibility to give back.”

Cynics would suggest that the only reason a studio would call for an end to the technology war would be so it could profit from the spoils, but Insomniac’s no slouch when it comes to graphically appealing games, having developed the likes of Resistance and Ratchet & Clank.

Rather, it believes that there’s little sense in each developer struggling through the same problems and rewriting the same fundamental but time-consuming core routines, all the while wasting resources that could be directed elsewhere.

Currently included in the Nocturnal offer are common helper utilities such as smart pointers and a delegate/event system, an non-blocking inter-process communication API, a console logging manager, debugging helpers and a Perforce API wrapper – with a profiler and a C++ reflection system set to go online soon.

And it doesn’t stop with code – Insomniac has also set up a R&D section of its website, which contains presentations, articles and resources based on the things Insomniac has learnt about PS3 development as it works on its third title on the notoriously-difficult platform.

But for all those worrying about revealing too much – of either their own practices or of the secrets of a platform – Acton said: “Naturally there are things we can’t reveal because they’re under NDA – for example, some of the lower level details of the RSX are not publicly known.

“In those cases we’ll either cull those parts out of the presentations or create a generic version that’s applicable to GPUs in general, so that other people can still get the idea and learn how the technique works without knowing the specifics. The same applies if it’s something that we’re not ready to reveal about our games – we’ll handle it generically and can then fill in the context at a later date.”

It’s still early days for the project, but Insomniac hopes that the material base will continue to grow. But its real aim, rather than doing this to build up its own library of shared content, is to blaze a path for other studios to follow. “The ultimate aim is to get other developers to do the same thing – either with us through Nocturnal or on their own,” Acton explained.

“What’s important to get across is that this sort of thing – technology – isn’t what we’re competing on. Technology isn’t our competitive edge. Let the games stand on their own, but let’s share the technology. Let’s share as much information as possible with each other and work together to make the better games for everybody.” And if the studio behind some of the PS3’s best titles isn’t scared of sharing its secrets, there’s arguably little reason for anyone else to not do the same.

You can find Insomniac's Nocturnal site at nocturnal.insomniacgames.com

Part one of our Mike Acton interview can be found here.