Spreading Havok

Spreading Havok
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

April 18th 2012 at 10:00AM

We ask the engine outfit's managing director David Coghlan what its latest ventures mean for the future

What does the Wii U deal mean for Havok, and the developers of Wii U games?
For developers of Wii U games it means access to two of our flagship products – Havok Physics and Havok Animation – for any games that they are developing on the platform, and in an extremely cost effective way.

The deal applies to developers worldwide, including both third-party and Nintendo studios.

From a Havok point of view it means we’re potentially expanding the range of studios that are getting their hands on our tech. That’s something we’re always trying to do at an overall level, and at every level.

Historically Havok has been very focused on the triple-A side of things, but in the last two years we’ve seen our tech get into the hands of many more people, and this is an important step along that road.

This Wii U deal really will put leading tech in a much broader range of studios worldwide.

And will we see more Havok’s middleware added to the rostrum of products that are supported by the Wii U deal?
Speaking with Nintendo, they identified Havok Physics and Animation as priority products to make more accessible to Wii U developers.

The other Havok products are available for Wii U games development, but under standard licensing models from Havok.

So why was it Havok Physics and Havok Animation were chosen to be made available to Wii U devs through the deal?
Nintendo clearly recognised the value that cutting-edge physics can have on a platform. I think animation is also a key area that people are focused on as they look to the future.

Wii U games developers can still come to us for other products, but something like Havok Cloth may not be applicable to for every game for the platform, while things like physics and animation are clearly relevant to every title.

How about the integration of the Vision Engine into the Havok toolset. What motivated the move into the engine space?
Historically Havok had been known for providing ‘best in class’ middleware components, and for many studios they were happy to take that and integrate that with their in-house render.

But we also started seeing a lot of studios that were coming to us and saying something like  ‘we’re using so many Havok components in our games development pipeline, how about just rounding it out and giving it to us pre-integrated inside an engine?’.

We’ve known the guys at Trinigy for years, including the founders, and we had a number of common customers that we shared, and we liked the fact that as architects of their own software they have a very similar approach to Havok; a very modular approach to their technology.

About six months ago we made the acquisition and we’re all thrilled with the progress we’re making. At GDC 2012 we were showing the Vision Engine fully integrated with the full range of Havok products, all out of the box.

So a modular tool set is now paired with a central engine. Why is that modular nature significant in this case?
The progress that we’ve made in that short space of time has really been possible because of the modular architecture of the Vision Engine, and a number of our
customers are already using Vision with Havok products integrated.

But Havok’s offering remains one where Havok users can still pick and choose the elements they want to use?
Absolutely, and we’re committed to maintaining that approach. So for someone who is interested in a full solution including all the middleware components and engine, we can now provide that for them.

But if someone just wants Havok AI, Havok Physics or perhaps Havok Cloth, we make sure that they can have that.

We’re not interested in providing a single-model solution. We want to put the choice in the hands of developers.

And in offering that range you’re still making your products available to smaller developers, as we discussed last year?

There’s two ways we approach that. One is technical, and the other is business related.

From the tech perspective, what we’re finding with studios working on more modest budgets is that they may not have the time to round out the gaps between individual middleware pieces they might have selected.

Now they’re very interested in actually taking the full off-the-shelf engine that has all the components pre-integrated. It’s a great model for those teams.

Adding the engine capabilities has been a really important step in increasing the accessibility of our middleware products for smaller teams. That’s been a very important step forward for us.

The business angle is that we obviously want to remain ahead of the changes in the industry, and we’ve seen huge changes at the moment, in terms of the range of team sizes producing high quality 3D content.

So through things like our Strike program we’re really looking at business models that allow teams that aren’t necessarily at the triple-A end of the scale to have the ambition to make very exciting 3D titles.

Has positioning the Vision Engine as something of a hub that connects the Havok middleware elements in any way influenced you plans for further developing those tools?
At six months in I think it’s had some small influence already, and I think as we go forward you’ll continue to see changes there.

It gives us a really good reference case in the way our middleware components will be integrated together inside an engine solution, and that in turn can help inform developers of those products.

As the industry continues to change, the concept of a game engine will need to do the same. How do you see the core concept of the game engine evolving?
There’s a number of exciting directions that we’re looking at. One is related to the range of high-end platforms there are today.

The gap between a high-end console and a handheld is narrowing, and as that continues the things we expect to be possible across a diverse range of platforms is very exciting.

It’s critical that engine and middleware technology evolve to support the kind of gaming experience that potentially moves between platforms. We’re very focused there.

Now that you are both an engine and middleware company, you’ve broadened Havok’s scope. How far do you take that expansion? How do you choose what not to tackle next, in terms of games tech?
I think we feel, in terms of our solution set now, it’s a pretty complete offering. And then when you consider the range of integrations into third party middleware Havok provides, that’s even more the case. We’re certainly keeping those channels open.

Deals like that we share with Autodesk for ScaleForm and Beast integrations now apply to the Vision Engine.

The Vision Engine even integrates with some technologies that could be seen as somewhat competing with our existing products, but we’re really determined that we don’t limit developer choice there. We’re customer lead in that regard.

But I do feel that Havok is a position to offer a solution in which it is entirely feasible to build a game of absolutely any scale from a budget iOS title up to something like a cutting edge console title.

Looking ahead, the breadth of what we offer is now pretty complete, so in the future it’s about continued innovation in the areas we cover.

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