Has middleware destroyed innovation in the games industry?

We spotted this article on Kotaku, concerning Square Enix joining the ranks of developers using Emergent Software's Gamebryo for the development of an upcoming title. The article prompted some thinking about middleware engines and their effect on the industry. On the surface, they seem wonderful: The developer cuts the cost and time associated with development of a new title, and the gamers get something that is relatively solid and get it faster than in the old days. However, are middleware engines really all that? Or are we as gamers foregoing the things that once made our games unique?

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slak3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )


and after reading it


No, the problem with middleware is that it has resulted in the developers becoming complacent with their solutions. There is no desire to innovate beyond the means of the middleware, because much of the work has already been done. When the company writes the engine from the bottom up, it is creative along the way. The games design doc is written not to take advantage of an existing solution, but for the sake of the games vision and the creativity behind it. Furthermore, by coding their own engine the developer is able to insert new and innovative aspects into the game, because they wrote the engine and know what can and cannot be done without breaking it. In the case of modern middleware, some programmers have been delegated to the position of little more than glorified scripters: unable to modify the source of the engine too much for fear of breaking it.

GWAVE3596d ago

Middleware only destroys innovation...

...when all the exclusive developers disappear.

That's why it is foolish to rely on 3rd party devs. Yes, 3rd-party, middleware, multiplat games can certainly be fun, but they will never push your system. The games that really shine are games like Gears of War (technically not middleware since EPIC made the engine) or Killzone 2 or Uncharted. Those games look fantastic because the dev made their own engine and pushed the platform.

TheRealSpy3596d ago

I agree that games are starting to look very similar. the unreal engine 3 has definitely run it's course.

however, as engines get more and more complex, you'll be able to see more variety from developers. if everyone had to rely on building their own engines, we'd have a lot fewer games because smaller developers will spend years building an engine. like valve...for example. the source engine took a long time to make. and look how many amazing games and mods have been made by other smaller companies using those tools.

i would like to see more diversity. but a lot can be said for a great engine.

Lich1203596d ago

Im not really sure I can agree with this article, while its an interesting point to bring up, it seems only valid if the games being made today were of the same complexity of those many years ago (before middleware took over). The thing is, most games today are better than any game at least 6 years old. Because way more time goes into making them (even mediocre games by today's standards). I'd dare to say that the quality we see today is a result of better and more widely available tool sets.

I've done some pretty cool things in Hammer and Unreal Ed 3 without an ounce of programming, something that was completely impossible in years passed. Easier to use tools means more time to worry about the games vision, not the other way around as the article says.

TheAntiFanboy3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )

A middleware engine is an artist's blank canvas, a fresh roll of tape in a camera, the vast number of empty pages in a new notebook.

It is the paintbrush from which colors shall blossom, and the surface upon which art shall spring to life.

No, but seriously. When a developer uses middleware, it allows them to focus on other things. Most games don't use pre-animated death animations anymore, because procedurally generated animations via Havok's ragdolls and Natural Motion's Euphoria do the job so much better.

Animations take a long time to do. Freeing oneself up of the necessity to create a variety of any specific type of animation opens them up to other possibilities, other things upon which they can innovate, such as the art style, the storyline, and the gameplay.

TheAntiFanboy3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )

Oops, double post. Please delete this. ><

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PirateThom3596d ago

In a lot of cases, it's given a lot of third developers, especially multiplatform developers, no reason to ever push hardware.

beavis4play3596d ago

1.GG games and KZ2 engine.
2.naughty dog and their "jak and daxter" and "uncharted" engines.
3.insomniac with their "ratchet and clank" engine.
4.santa monica studios and their GOW engine.
5.kojima studios and the MGS4 engine

just some examples of devs that "do their own thing" using in-house engines with amazing results.

Xi3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )

Middleware are such things as lightsprint(used in the upcoming LA noir), havok physics, endorphin(used to replicate human motion in games like gta4/star wars force unleashed), bink video, etc. If anything these middleware is increasing innovation this generation.

If developers are using 3rd party engines (like ut3), people had no problem last generation with games like splinter-cell which uses unreal 2, or the plethora of titles based off the renderware engine. Or even today, games like mirror's edge, cod4, crackdown, mass effect, the witcher, are all based off of 3rd party engines and are some of the most innovative franchises this generation.

Truth is, a good developer will make a good game with whatever engine they have, a bad one will just try to do what everyone else has done. Third party engines are becomming more and more popular because of the increased costs and development time related to the new hardware provided this generation. Speeding up development times, and decreasing costs provides nothing but benefits for both developers and gamers.

Unicron3596d ago

Indeed. Like anything, its about balance.

My biggest beef is that when the "quick route" is taken to the extreme, everything looks homogenized (Gears looking the same as UT3 for example). But no, I don't think its "destroying" anything, because some games just wouldn't get made otherwise.

Xi3596d ago

the brown look that gears seemed to popularize for example, isn't because of the UT3 engine but because gears was the first blockbuster nextgen game, so developers tried to replicate it to garner their own hits.

Mass effect and mirror's edge both use the ut3 engine, neither suffer from the brown effect and both are complete polar opposites with regards to gameplay, each offer a new experience never seen last gen, one with unlimted branching in it's story, the other being the first fps-platformer.

nycredude3596d ago

"Speeding up development times provides nothing but benefits for both developers and gamers."

I gotta disagree with you there. Good games take time, and while I do agree that speeding it up benefits the developers mostly, and to a certain extent the gamers cause we get more games, but it can also result in a bunch of subpar, rushed, overprices games (shovelware).

No one complained about the games using UE2 last gen because it was "last gen". We are in a new generation, and we have much better looking games to compare to each other. If people and developers were happy, then why do we have UE3 and newer engines being developed?

"Third party engines are becomming more and more popular because of the increased costs and development time related to the new hardware provided this generation."

I agree with you here but if the developer was really worth their salt they would invest the time and effort to create their own engine, which in the long run will give them an advantage over other developers using middleware. Only the first game they create will take alot of time and money as once the engine is complete it only needs to be tweaked for their next game. Take Insomniac for example, quality game every year. How about Naughty Dog with Uncharted 2 coming out shorty and looking even better than 1. Do you really think Killzone 3 will take another 4 years to complete?

Xi3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )

Time takes money, and not every developer has the backing that bungie, kojima, and other well known developers, or 1st party developers have. So without these 3rd party engines making games cheaper, we may never see those independant firms making games that tend to be more risky and innovative.

Not only that most games have roughly the same development time whether or not they use an inhouse engine, speed helps developers provide more content in a game, and in the end making games that are worth more to us gamers.

It's not cheap making a game, just look at lair and haze, both used their own inhouse engines, both spent a lot of resources developing them, and after their largest titles failed to produce sales they both went bankrupt. Had they gone the "cheaper" route maybe they wouldn't have suffered such losses. Maybe they would've actually made money so they could work on their inhouse engine for their upcoming titles.

Yes it's true that in-house engines tend to look better, and in the end they often provide larger benefits for a company but they're also risky and exspensive to make, the last thing we as gamers should want are good independant developers dying off because they can't afford to build their own engines. Unless you want every game to be followed by an EA/activision/ubisoft/k2 logo.

Also, aren't you contradicting yourself saying that good games take time to develop... then stating things like " Take Insomniac for example, quality game every year." Doesn't prove the opposite?

Unicron3596d ago

Exactly Xi. Sometimes you just can't afford, be it time or money, to make your own engine. In those regards, I think it's great to have. I'm just so sick of U3's slippery when dry look. I'm glad titles like Mirror's Edge were able to step away from it.

Lich1203596d ago

I thought about pointing out middleware was the wrong term, but then it seemed like everyone was assuming that meant licensed engine so I went with it. Im with you though xi, after all, many of these engines are extremely diverse and are only recognizable by their graphics. You wouldn't play mass effect and complain about how the gameplay feels too UE3.

TheAntiFanboy3596d ago (Edited 3596d ago )

I agree with most of what you said, yes.

However, game engines such as Unreal Engine 3 are indeed middleware. UE3 specifically is a middleware "package", one that includes several other middleware engines including Havok (a physics engine) and Creative's EAX (a sound engine).

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Polluted3596d ago

Personally I would have thought middleware such as PhysX, etc, would only foster innovation. I mean devs can spend all the time they would have wasted programming some physics engine on more important things. Like making their game not suck, for instance.

I guess a solid argument could be made both for and against middleware, but to say it's "destroyed" innovation seems a little extreme.

cliffbo3596d ago

bit late in the day to write this even though it does make sense. i could have written this two years ago

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