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The third chapter in our series of exclusive Developer Diaries focuses on technology and the Totality engine driving the game…
As Evil Genius starts its final straight to completion, and boy is it looking cool, we spoke to the team in the third issue of our exclusive diary about the technology side of the game, a trait which Elixir is renowned for. Every great game needs the perfect synergy of brilliant ideas and storyline but the technology behind the game, the unseen workings, needs to be equally impressive.
Evil Genius is powered by the Totality engine which was originally created for their first title, Republic: The Revolution.
The core graphics engine has been created with flexibility in mind, which has allowed the team to quickly move the focus of the engine over to the Evil Genius universe. There isnâ??t any particular need for IBR on Evil Genius so this engine feature is not actively in use on this project.
IBR - stands for Image Based Rendering for those not in the know. IBR is all about caching complex geometry in textures so that instead of having 100,000 polygons to render every frame, you simply render a texture that these 100,000 polygons would make from the current view, and then use this to texture a considerably smaller number of polygons. This results in a scene which would seem to have â??renderedâ?? 100,000 polygons in real time, when in fact the 100,000 polygons only needed to be rendered once, then saved as a texture, which is then reused until the geometry has changed so much that the image is now invalid.
Now if tech and high end jargon leaves you slightly bemused the reason we ventured this route was because in many ways Elixir offers many new innovations and directions and we wanted to give you an insight into what this clever team has achieved and how they are continually working to improve every aspect of their game and technology.
Continuing on, the team spoke about the engine being very flexible so in that respect it's definitely suited for today's market, since it seems that nearly every game has some unique requirements that need to be met. In terms of general enhancements, Elixirs two main focuses for Evil Genius have been to simplify the art pipeline and to improve the engine's efficiency and footprint. For Republic it took significant time and effort for artwork to make it from 3D Studio MAX into the game, on Evil Genius the artist can export their model and see it in the game as soon as they start it up.
â??Efficiency improvements result in both far lower RAM usage and higher frame-rates than we saw on Republic, so Evil Genius can be enjoyed on a broad range of machines.â?
From the Totality point of view, a game engine has to be developed in a way that it can be used across many different projects. The engine Elixir had for Republic was built from the ground up but for Evil Genius the real challenge was to isolate the aspects of the engine that were useful and to switch off the other technologies that were specific to Republic: The Revolution.
Game engines develop from project to project, and as a company they are gradually building up a large suite of different graphics technologies. Each new project builds a little more on to this core engine so that the next project will have an even wider choice of technologies.
The core engine did need some development to allow it to be more extendable, there has also been a number of technologies that were developed just for Evil Genius. It was thought that the idea of a core graphics engine with game-specific extensions is a good way to look at graphics technology. It was also stated that there is no single massive graphics engine that will suit all projects.
We asked the team to give us some direct overview of the different tools used during the different stages of game development and the answer was forthcoming!
â??Each of the main disciplines has a different set of tools during development. Programmers use Developer Studio, Artists use MAX and the granny viewer, and Designers use a variety of different tools to create the content for the game. The most significant tool is the ATN editor, which is used by the designers to create character scripts. Almost every object in the game has itâ??s own ATN to control how characters behave towards them.â?
It goes without saying that without sophisticated and complex AI a game would suffer but more so with any Elixir titles, where this works on a higher level â?“ an intensity the team is renowned for!
Elixir explained that the two most important AI systems in Evil Genius are the Minion Order Processor and the Agent Behaviour Model. The MOP schedules minions to carry out all the basic tasks necessary to keep your base ticking over, creates patrol routes, assigns guards, responds to incursions and even makes sure the minions sleep and eat well.
The ABM takes a more emergent approach as the world the agent must deal with is constantly changing as they explore and discover more about your nefarious plans. Each group of agents has a set of characteristics as well as an overall goal, which defines how they will react to objects/characters. Depending on the skill of the group, a set of options will be available to them and it is up to the ABM to decide which is the best choice to further the groups goals.
â??Going back to what we discussed above, a lot of effort has gone into creating a core engine that can easily be modified for each project that comes along. All future projects developed by the company will use this engine. For example, the Blue Vault engine required lightmapped surfaces, so this offline lighting algorithm was developed by that particular team and is now available for any team to use. Similarly Evil Genius has itâ??s own evil needs such as reflective floors and complex effects systems.â?
The issue of continuously developing their own technology, along with the attraction to the ever-increasing growth of middleware solutions and what some might say is a more pertinent question, how much spin do developers place on technology focus, was keenly put!
â??As a company we strongly believe in using the best tools for the job. At the moment middleware solutions are coming of age in various aspects of game development, particularly in the graphics industry. However, for PC development the middleware solutions are often a little bit behind the cutting edge, so it makes sense to keep things in house. On Evil Genius we are using Granny and Bink; these products have proven to be a good investment, so we will continue to use middleware.â?
â??As to technology spin, this can certainly be true when you look at the top tier of games. Itâ??s very difficult to create a graphics engine that truly has a massive edge over any other engine. The one difference is where projects have very specific graphical needs such as the massive environments within Republic: The Revolution. Having said that, itâ??s very easy to spot games where the graphics engine hasnâ??t been sufficiently developed. As you say, the style of graphics is often more important, and with Evil Genius I think weâ??ve found a style which really fits the game itself. In that context all the graphics engine has to do is to keep things moving.â?
And to the future, Elixir believed that displacement mapping will have a massive aspect on games in a few years time; itâ??ll be great for online players to be able to customise the shape of their characters as well as their colour. The other big advance mentioned will occur as floating-point graphics architecture becomes more common. This will allow them to move all of their colour processing into the floating point domain which should result in much more realistic results.
So with a little insight into the deep and sometimes cerebral world and vision from Elixir we came back to the very present and throughout June and into July it has been all about testing, polishing, focus testing, minor GUI revisions, polishing, testing, polishing and testing and polishing, which is now entering the Beta phase of development, and also includes optimisation and localisation. No more content will be added over the next six weeks, (donâ??t worry, there is more than enough!), and the team will be spending the time just polishing and making sure that the game is fun, stable and evil enough for the player.
And what is the team playing and impressed with of lateâ?¦â?¦â?¦â?¦â?¦.
Track mania has been a big hit with the team, although its appeal is waning now that George has become completely unbeatable. Four swords is very popular with Alex, Sandy, Mark (The Dark Lord) and Mike. Pro Evolution Soccer remains the most popular football game of all time. In fact they recently had to purchase four new PS2 controllers as we had worn the last four outâ?¦ and the previous fourâ?¦ ad infinitum.
Evil Genius fans may remember the team chatting about Sandyâ??s Kider Whip in last months instalment; thankfully we can now bring you screens of this colossus feat of engineering within the screens section
Weâ??ll continue the progress of Evil Genius as it nears completion next month in our latest chapter, this time around focussing on the gameplay and whatâ??s actually involved when playing the game.
TVG would like to thank to all of those involved in the creation of this monthâ??s Developer Diary; look out for the next chapter towards the end of July.