Q broadens middleware's horizons

Q broadens middleware's horizons
Michael French

By Michael French

February 4th 2008 at 1:28PM

SPECIAL REPORT: London-based Qube says its new technology, to be shown at GDC, has fixed the 'fundamental flaws' of middleware

The minds behind 3D API Reality Lab and Microsoft’s Direct3D will start an assault on the middleware market at GDC with what they are calling ‘the most powerful complete solution’ for game development.

According to Qube Software CEO Servan Keondjian, his firm’s new development framework Q is better suited to studio’s needs than other game engines on the market, is more flexible and cheaper to licence.

Bold claims, but having been in R&D for some nears – and drawing from Keondjian’s previous experiences in tools development ­– Q certainly seems to have the capacity to follow through on its amibitions. And, says Keondjian, it can help address the development commuity’s awkward relationship with middleware.

Q solves “a tangible problem in the games industry” he explains: “Most developers don’t like middleware, not really – it’s just something they have to use. You need it given the cost of development. As far as I can see, there has never been a solution that really works.”

He adds: “What we have done is solved the problem. We aren’t about showing an amazing graphics demo to win people over – although we have got a great demo – it’s about telling people we are really addressing the fundamentals of the flaws in middleware.”
“We’ve written 80 per cent of the code for a game: the bits you always need to write but don’t want to; and we've worked in some great stuff like background data streaming while we're at it,” says Keondjian.

“What's more, Q comes with an extensive collection of plug-ins to give you plenty of options, allowing you pick and choose which of our components you want to use and which you want to replace with your own or 3rd party plug-ins,” says Keondjian.

“At the moment the only areas we don’t supply components for are the A.I. and physics engine, simply because those elements determine the look and feel of your game. We’ve started from the assumption that developers are talented, intelligent people who want to concentrate on the stuff that makes their game stand out – first and foremost Q sets out to relieve them of the grunt work with an elegant solution that allows their work and ours to fit together seamlessly in a framework that works for every platform and every genre.”

The firm’s tools and technology program manager Jamie Fowlston adds: “We’ve built something that people can customise for themselves in a major way. That means for us a middleware business our licensing costs are actually much lower. So it’s not just saying that either our software or our customer service is flexible – it’s both.”

Qube hopes that its approach to game engines and middleware will help studios avoid the pitfalls intrinsic to investing in proprietary tools and also licensing established third-party solutions. Qube’s EarthSim learning tool (pictured above) has already been created on the framework, and also acts as a convincing demonstration of Q’s power.

Says Keondjian: “When studios make an internal engine and start using it for different games or genres they’re stuck, because that engine’s strengths – and also its weaknesses – are intrinsic to that previous genre.”

“The rational studio response to that is specialism, but that ends up trapping studios and seeing them pigeonholed as ‘a driving game studio’,” adds Fowlston.

The two don’t deny that other popular engines have their advantages, but strongly feel their approach – best described as having the potential to be the codebase backbone of a studio or its project, not the muscle – is a long-term solution.

Says Keondjian: “If a studio wants to make a first person shooter then yes, there is software out there that will answer that. But our thinking is studio-wide; we’ve created a framework of code that can be used across multiple titles they can reuse and customise and is totally cross platform. Isn’t that what studios really want – to cut costs, rather than maintaining multiple licence deals for different engines on different projects?”

Adds Fowlston: “Of course I know that’s what a lot of engine suppliers say, but they do it by producing the source code for an already made game and ask you to fish through it – and what team wants to go through all that with a compiler?”

Big questions – and ones the firm thinks it will answer with the unveiling of Q at GDC this month.