A sense of Scaleform

A sense of Scaleform
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

October 18th 2010 at 8:00AM

Why does the world need GUI middleware?

For many, the notion of Scaleform is a bewildering one. Why buy in middleware for something as simple as menus? There must be a better use of time and money than embracing new technology for something so simple?

In reality, the fact is the user interfaces are changing, and Scaleform does a great deal more than let you place lists of words into pause screens. The art of UI is in flux, and Scaleform provides a tailoured canvas for that shift.

Sighting titles like ModNation Racers, DeadSpace and Starcraft 2 as prime examples of creative UI implementation, Scaleform is keen to point out why good menus and interfaces can help games expand on their potential to engross.

“These teams put forth significant effort to design a rich UI experience which paid off, and helped result in highly successful titles,” suggests Scaleform’s president and CEO Brendan Iribe. “Although game UI has come a long way recently, it still has plenty of untapped potential in terms of both design and presentation. Scaleform is committed to providing game developers with the very latest and most powerful tools to take their UI to the next level.”

The rich experience Iribe is referring to is that seen when UI does more than just menus. UI can be integrated into the game world, so that a player character can interact with the ammo crates or pockets, rather than just pour through arbitrary lists. Even within the remit of the traditional menu, there is capacity for flare and innovation, and cross over with the game world, either through continuity of design in parallel with the fictional universe, or by blurring the boundaries of the separate gameplay and option screens.

In fact the new school of UI design has been gathering pace for some time, and an ever savvy consumer is already getting comfortable with developers’ more innovative offerings. As gamers’ expectations rise, user interface creation has become a complex and challenging problem that demands expertise in many areas.

Interface Value
Responding to the raising bar developers are faced with, and following years of development and working closely with numerous game studios, Scaleform has subsequently built what promises to deliver an optimised solution. The result is a tool that leverages the ever-popular Adobe Flash pipeline; a fact that is the result of careful consideration of numerous factors.

“Flash is the industry standard for high quality vector graphics and animation and is part of the Adobe Creative Suite, which provides a complete and proven artist/designer toolset,” says Iribe, explaining Scaleform’s proximity with the platform. “Due to its widespread use, Flash artists and developers have the added advantage of an already extensive compendium of references and tutorials to draw upon, not to mention over a million-plus developer base.”

Familiarity, flexibility and power; Flash’s triple whammy of assets make Scaleform a tool that has besotted many developers.

In The House
The alternative to Scaleform is to create a proprietary UI system, which may tempt studios concerned by the amount of money lost to securing new tools, but keeping UI in house can be tedious, time-consuming and resource intensive.

With Scaleform, artists can harness the ever expanding Adobe toolset and work simultaneously with engineers, enabling a huge capacity for saving time and money.

“Using Scaleform allows developers to streamline production through our custom UI toolset and pre-built kits. Our tools are designed to help create triple-A quality game UI in half the time, with half the effort,” promises Iribe.

“And, with our new out-of-the-box 3Di rendering, developers can go far beyond traditional 2D UI, delivering new cinematic quality experiences, including fully stereoscopic 3D interfaces, that were simply too complex and expensive for most developers to create in the past.”

With titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Borderlands and Dragon Age: Origins showcasing innovative UI powered by Scaleform, it’s fairly clear what the tech offers. It minimises cost and time drain, whilst making menus a potential highlight of a given title’s design.
www.scaleform.com

Scaling Up

Developing Scaleform hasn’t been a walk in the park by any means, and the tool company president and CEO Brendan Iribe and his colleagues have crafted is the result of significant hard work so as to balance flexibility, power and ease of use. The job at Scaleform is never done, and the team there continue to fine tune and enhance the product, embracing new trends like stereoscopic 3D, and adding fresh features.

“As always, memory and performance challenges must be solved, and cross platform compatibility is required for wide spread adoption,” says Iribe of the process of building the UI middleware. “In addition to highly optimised runtime engine, we now provide a complete memory and performance profiling toolset, Scaleform AMP, which lets developers quickly tune their content, and in the near future, will have full script debugging support.”