It's a tough game engine market out there, with heavyweight engines from Epic and Emergent hogging the limelight. Working in the shadows is Vicious Cycle and, as CEO and president Eric Peterson tells us, it's not just the big boys that can develop games and engines at the same time...
What do you think sets the Vicious Engine apart from other game engines on the market?
First, we make games with our engine – other than Epic, there aren’t too many other engine providers that can boast this. Since we are game developers, we can fire test the technology by shipping a game with it; ideally long before it is ever licensed to anyone else. This allows us to iron out any kinks and verify that all the features that are needed to ship a game are actually there.
What specific areas have you focused on with the Vicious Engine 2?
We develop our engine first and foremost for the needs of the games that we develop. That being said, our focus for Ve2 has been on the visuals and the overall gameplay experience. We have spent many months developing a new rendering engine that supports only Xbox 360 and PS3.
While developing games for the older consoles that were multiplatform, we had to make certain sacrifices to achieve that level of versatility. With Ve2 we don’t have to make any sacrifices. We are implementing very competitive features that can really bring a game to life - features such as a highly flexible material node editor, fully dynamic direct lighting system with runtime controllable precomputed ambient occlusion maps, a new and improved animation blending system, ragdoll physics, overhauled effects and decal features, a completely new audio engine plus lots of other cool new features.
When do you hope for it to see release?
We have some friends out there that are currently using the previous version of the engine and we plan on getting them equipped with an early version of Ve2 in the coming months. As for the official wide release, we are shooting for the end of this calendar year!
You've got some heavy competition with Epic and Emergent - how do you intend to get the message out there to developers?
For starters, we will continue to target specific trade shows like GDC. We have procured an even larger booth next year and we will most likely be conducting mini-seminars during the show to educate people on the benefits of our game development technology.
We will keep on advertising in magazines and on web pages. And we are going to continue to spread the word by releasing press announcements that cover who is using the technology, what they are using it for and if any of our newer features are being supported within those said products. Thankfully, we also have very good relationships with many developers and publishers, so word of mouth is still beneficial.
Some people say that to develop games and engine technology simultaneously is a conflict of interest for its consumers. As a company that's split the game and engine arms, do you agree with this? To what extent is there communication and exchange between the two?
We disagree with this wholeheartedly. Since we simultaneously work on internal game development along with licensing our engine to developers, we are someone they can count on who knows what it takes to ship a game on the target platforms that they are looking to purchase. Making games with our Vicious Engine means we are always on the cutting edge of technology because we have to be!
As for communication between the two there is lots of it. The engine guys support our internal teams as much as they support our licensees. In a way we license our engine to our game teams in much the same way we license it to other developers.
Because of the highly data driven nature of the technology, our engine programmers are able to become a centralised group of developers that are able to deftly move between projects and implement those features that are needed. They are not assigned to any one game.
Do you think that splitting your game creation and game engine development arms has resulted in a better product?
We didn’t actually make a split such as that. We work on many projects internally as a team. Vicious Engine happens to be one of them, so the programmers that work on the engine are in a way also the programmers that work on our games through the features provided by the engine.
The reason our engine is a better product is because its development has been motivated by a core group of passionate people that want to make great games. We didn’t make this engine so that we can license it; we developed it so that we can make great games with it. That’s what makes it a better product for licensees.
Why did you set up the 'Rising Stars' programme?
We were once struggling developers with great ideas and no real way to get them in front of those that can fund it. But even back then it was easier than today because publishers were more likely to give an unproven group with a cool concept a chance. Today that is not the case; publishers want to see it running on the hardware.
The reason we set up Rising Stars was so that we can identify some folks out there that have that great idea but need a way to see it to first playable on the hardware. We give the engine to these groups free of charge, and if they are able to make a compelling demo then we help them get placed with a publisher. If that happens, then the developers who were part of the Rising Stars program become official licensed developers of the Vicious Engine.
How has the reception been?
So far reception is very good. We’ve got a couple of good start-ups that are making some neat games out of it.
You've also recently made the deal with Indiana University for students to use the engine in developing serious games. Are you looking to foster more links with educational institutions?
Absolutely! We’re an up-and-coming engine provider and we want to get our name out there as much as possible. The more people that use and love our solution, the better! Expect some more news on this front in the near future.