Project Anarchy: Havok's big play for small teams

Project Anarchy: Havok's big play for small teams
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

May 7th 2013 at 10:00AM

Havok is attempting to shift the balance of power with its game engine for mobile and indie devs

[This feature was published in the May 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Ireland-headquartered tools outfit Havok used this year’s GDC to launch a new development engine and environment named Project Anarchy, which targets mobile and small studio users.

Develop has since met with Havok to better understand the technology and its ambitions, and learn more about what is included.

Project Anarchy itself presents developers with a wide-ranging toolset centered around a version of Havok’s Vision Engine, the middleware firm’s flagship engine that uses an object-oriented C++ API and can be extended a customised at will. Also included are significant elements of the company’s Physics, AI and Animation Studio tools, all prolifically used in the triple-A space.

Those technologies are combined in a toolkit that offers exporters for Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya, and a full WYSIWYG editor.

“We’re going to release it to the mobile community soon,” confirmed Havok managing director David Coghlan, speaking with Develop.

“We’re going to make it freely available for mobile developers to download, which means they can get hands on with the physics technology used in Uncharted, the AI technology used in Halo and the animation technology used in Skyrim. We think it’s very exciting for those developers.”

FREE AND EASY

Access to download and use Project Anarchy will be free of charge. More significantly, Havok will also allow developers to release finished Project Anarchy products on Android and iOS for no fee at all, giving the tech its most noteworthy and unconventional feature, in contrast to other platforms that are free to use until a game ships.

While some charges will be introduced for distribution to other platforms, and occasional co-marketing obligations may be instated, Havok asserts that there will be no hidden costs, no obscure royalty payment systems and no crippleware buried within Project Anarchy.

“Developers are going to be able to download the entire development environment, and actually bring out games on iOS and Android, and ship those games for free,” said Coghlan. “And there’s no strings attached, and that’s independent of company size or revenue or anything like that.”

The last ten years has seen free and accessible development toolsets and engines prosper, but to allowing studios the unrestricted ability to release to two platforms like iOS and Android, in tandem with offering access to renowned middleware technologies like Havok’s Physics solution, arguably gives Project Anarchy a fighting chance in a crowded space.

And for developers unsure about committing to Project Anarchy – particularly with other options like Unity and Epic’s Unreal Development Kit available and established – Havok is intent on highlighting its forthcoming platform’s strengths.

“There’s a few clear reasons to chose Project Anarchy,” stated Coghlan. “One is that it is a very flexible C++ development environment, so that will have a huge appeal. We also expose an awful lot of the source available to allow people to get in there to customise and create plug-ins and build extensions. They can rewrite the renderer if they want, and we provide that level of assistance with the source.”

“We think [the availability of existing accessible games development tools is] great to see, and the market has responded really well to having these kinds of choices more readily available,” added Ross O’Dwyer, worldwide head of developer support at Havok.

“We’re seeing though, that the market is looking for broader, more flexible tools where the ramp up time might be a little higher, but the payoff such tools offer in terms of new and uncharted gamer experienced is huge.”

FLEXING ITS MUSCLE

Built as it is around Havok’s long serving console tech, and conceived in response to increasing mobile processing power, Project Anarchy has a natural leaning towards the creation of 3D games, but will, its creators say, be adaptable enough for the crafting of all kinds of atypical gaming forms, as well as 2D physics-lead titles.

Delving deeper into Project Anarchy’s technological foundation, it appears that an emphasis on flexibility is at its core. All source code will be made available within the engine, and Havok is keen to emphasise the importance of C++ as a basis for customising the technology as a key differentiator, in contrast to other extension-friendly development solutions.

“[C++] is the language that triple-A games are developed in,” said O’Dwyer. “It’s also the language that allows you to get low level hardware access and really tap the performance of the devices you’re running your games on.”

C++, of course, has the potential to stand as an intimidating language for some of the smaller studio’s Project Anarchy is set to serve, but Havok insists it has that covered too.

“We have scripting in Lua available as well,” Joel Van Eenwyk, field application engineer at Havok told Develop.

“And this is a component based, plug-in based system where you can actually play games inside the editor. For the community that’s huge. It’s well optimised and you can still do the C++, which is what games industry professionals typically use. It’s very exciting, and we really want people to start building plug-ins and sharing those with the community. That’s important to us.”

The inclusion of Lua scripting also points to a designer-suitable tool that could have much potential for rapid prototyping – which is one of Unity’s core strengthes – and Havok is already fleshing out a Project Anarchy best practice guide with consideration such as that in mind.

And while toolset is conceived to be of use to a single staff member working in isolation prototyping, it has also been built to support multiuser editing, and includes Perforce integration; something especially convenient for Project Anarchy’s intended audience as the versioning outfit now lets a studio harness up to 20 seat licences before charging, with the so-called 20/20 Program.

FROM SMALL ACORNS

On the matter of Project Anarchy’s intended audience, it is designed to serve teams of five staff members and above, and Havok is confident that it will provide an entry point into the company’s long-established triple-A solutions as teams grow.

“We really don’t see there being a limit to the kind of developer from the point of view of commercial ambition or studio size,” said O’Dwyer. “For smaller studios that are just dipping their feet in the water we’re hoping there’ll be sufficient material to get going quickly and to build up skills with the toolset over time.

“For larger teams we have a feeling they’ll start out with the free engine and then engage directly with us for more support and source. It’s not that the larger team couldn’t be successful, but at that size there’s an economy of scale to having more source and direct supporting.”

While Havok sees both small and large projects falling under the Project Anarchy umbrella, it is clear that one of the outfit’s motivations for publishing a tool that generates little in direct profits for the company is about establishing a network of developers literate in use of its tools and loyal to the way solutions like Havok Physics function. A studio versed in Project Anarchy is a studio primed for use of Havok’s console middleware, after all.

BEFORE ANARCHY

Of course, Project Anarchy doesn’t mark Havok’s debut in supporting mobile, but previously it tended to work closely with giant studios embracing phone platforms, crafting a modified solution for a team with money to spend.

“To date the ways that Havok technology has appeared on mobile has sort of mirrored the way Havok technology has come out in console games,” confirmed Coghlan.

“It’s tended to be the more ambitious triple-A style games. Gameloft’s Modern Combat 4 is a really good example of that; it tried to bring a console-like experience to phones and tablets, and it did so using Havok technology.

“But what we couldn’t help but notice was the really broad ecosystem of developers who are doing phenomenal things on mobile. We feel that if we put our tech into that group of people, it’s going to be a good thing for the development community and it’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Havok is expecting to push Project Anarchy into public beta for spring 2013, with sources suggesting that means some time in June.

The firm clearly has a job on its hands when so many developers are already besotted by the likes of UDK and Unity, but with Havok’s heritage and existing toolset preceding it, it could just be that Project Anarchy will inaugurate itself as a distinct alternative to the establishment.

www.projectanarchy.com

LET'S GET PHYSICS

While Havok used GDC primarily as a launch pad for its Project Anarchy mobile development platform, earlier in the same month it announced that the next full reworking of its famed Physics solution is now underway.

“A number of years ago we took a clear look at what we had, which was the leading physics engine on the market, but our engineers felt that knowing what they know now about CPU architecture and where that was going to go in the next few years, given the chance to start from scratch they could do an even better job,” said Havok managing director David Coghlan, speaking with Develop.

“When our engineers tell us they can do something like that, we’re inclined to give them the leeway, and they’ve really done a phenomenal job with this.”

The result is a new physics-focused core from Havok, due out this Spring.

“It will essentially be an awful lot faster and use an awful lot less performance than today’s Havok Physics, which even by today’s standards remains a powerful offering,” stated Coghlan.

“Havok 2 was really our big break into even the consumer’s awareness around the time of Half-Life 2. There was a huge buzz around that, and this is really the next generation of that. It’s the next truly big step forward since then, and we believe it can serve as our physics core for the next ten years.”

Pitched as a response to developers’ needs in terms of when the player is really pushing a game, the new Havok Physics solution has been built to evade the performance spikes and associated problems encountered when high-body scenes push memory to its limit.

“Before we would separate how we simulate things,” explained Joel Van Eenwyk, field application engineer at Havok. “Now we separate how we simulate certain things on different cores a lot better than before, so now the more objects and cores you have, the more we can distribute that work across them.”

And according to Coghlan, that means the new Havok Physics will be vital for developers concentrating their efforts on the upcoming console generation.

Presently, 2K Czech has been confirmed as an early adopter of the tech.

www.havok.com/physics