3D Middleware Review


There are plenty of 3D engines and other middleware available for the taking. Some of them will expect you to pay large sums of money, and you'll have to weigh for yourself if you'd rather attempt to make a 3D engine yourself or if you'll sleep better at night knowing that you have something that works. Many companies in the middleware market like Epic (Unreal Engine) and Criterion (Renderware) are game companies as well as middleware providers. Other companies like Intrinsic are middleware companies through and through.

What you'll want from a licensed 3D engine is much more than the ability to draw triangles at blazing speed. After all, there are plenty of free technologies like OpenGL and DirectX that will draw triangles just fine. The problem is much deeper than drawing triangles.

Games don't read 3D Studio Max scene files (.MAX) because they aren't optimized for real time display and they certainly don't enforce certain limitations of 3D rendering hardware. The same is true for Maya or Softimage. Instead, you'll want to export these files into a format your game can use directly. These export plug-ins are fabulously tricky to write, especially if they support many types of hardware. The Xbox and the PS2 are extremely different architectures and an export tool must take that into account.

Beyond the export tools many companies provide secondary analysis tools to optimize and manipulate exported scenes and textures. Two examples are Renderware's PVS tool and Intrinsic's Finalizer. Both tools seek to restructure the geometry and textures of your static levels and dynamic objects in order to draw them as fast as possible on each target platform.

Its also important for middleware to support complicated objects and animations with a minimum of pain and suffering on your part. It's even better if the results of all this work look anything like what the artists created in their tools. I'll provide a quick summary of the top tier rendering engines next.

Renderware Graphics

Renderware by Criterion Software is an industry old hand. The technology can be trusted and you know there's a lot of people who've seen and solved virtually every problem you can create using Renderware. The fact that they've shipped fifty games means that they should be around for a long time to come. Their API is based in C, which seems a little backwards to me, and I found it a little difficult to learn because I think in C++. Their coordinate system is quite odd and differs from industry standard tools like 3DStudio Max. Their support system, probably one of the most important part of your decision, is excellent.

One interesting development out of Criterion is Renderware Studio, a completely integrated multi-platform game creation environment. Game designers use this tool to bring models, animations, sounds, and custom code together in one environment. Even more incredible it can show the newly created game environment on all four supported platforms simultaneously. It is even possible to customize the game environment so that one platform looks and acts differently than another.

  • API Support: C API

  • Architecture: World sectors define polygon sets for static geometry, world sectors are organized in a BSP tree.

  • Renderer Features: Optimized tri-stripping and Bezier geometry, lightmaps, hardware-specific features such as mutitexturing, pixel shaders, and particle systems.

  • Exporters: 3DStudio Max 4.x and Maya 4 are supported with a fully featured exporter that has a preview window.

  • Special Tools: Light mapping tool, world sector editing tool for PVS (potentially visibly set), pre-instancing tool optimizes art assets for individual platforms, general animation toolkit for hierarchical and non-heirarchical animations, and a skin splitter to get around maximum bone limitations.

  • Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, and PC

  • Games You Might Have Played: Grand Theft Auto III, Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3, over 50 titles shipped in all

Intrinsic Alchemy

Intrinsic Alchemy by Intrinsic is one of the new kids on the block, and quite an aggressive kid at that. They've made significant inroads into creating a significant toolset and rendering API that holds well against any other engine. Their only problem is that they haven't been around for very long, and they don't have a top ten title in their trophy case. That will likely change.

  • API Style: C++ API

  • Architecture: Multipass rendering, subclassible scene graph hierarchy.

  • Renderer Features: High level shaders, animation support, visibility culling, occlusion culling, simple collision, intersection processing, visibility pre-processing, multi-resolution meshes, particle system

  • Exporters: 3D Studio Max, Maya, Lightwave, and Softimage; remote viewers allow artists to view artwork directly on target platform

  • Special Tools: Intrinsic Optimizer generates platform specific optimizations for exported geometry, performance analysis tools.

  • Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC (Win32 and Linux)

  • Games You Might Have Played: None yet but they've only been around since 2001.

NetImmerse by NDL

NetImmerse is another renderer that's been around the block a few times. While I've never used it myself, it would be something of a crime to exclude them from this survey. If you look at the games that used their technology, you'll be impressed with their technology. I don't know about you, but I thought Munch's Odyssey on the Xbox was pretty cool.

  • API Style: C++ API.

  • Architecture: Subclassible scene graph hierarchy that supports instancing

  • Renderer Features: Classic culling via view frustrum, portals, multitexturing, bump mapping, particle systems, skinned characters, collision detection.

  • Exporters: 3D Studio Max, Maya exporters will fully functional preview windows.

  • Special Tools: Animation toolset helps blend and time multiple character animations as they'll be seen in the game, scene graph optimization.

  • Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC (Win32 and Linux)

  • Games You Might Have Played: Munch's Odyssey, Dark Age of Camelot.

Unreal Engine

The Unreal Engine by Epic is probably the grand dame of all the rendering engines available. There's no question that it provide some of the most compelling graphics outside of whatever John Carmack is working on right now. Unreal is far from a stagnant product, however. Every code build brings new changes that may affect your development and these code drops happen quickly—about every couple months. You can expect that Epic, being primarily a game company and not a game engine company, will direct the Unreal Engine however they see fit and if you want to tag along just pay your license fee and jump on.

  • API Style: Mixed C and C++ API.

  • Architecture: Subclassible scene list (not a graph) that supports instancing.

  • Renderer Features: Classic culling via view frustrum, portals, multitexturing, bump mapping, particle systems, skinned characters, basic collision detection.

  • Exporters: 3D Studio Max, Maya exporters will fully functional preview windows.

  • Special Tools: Animation toolset helps blend and time multiple character animations as they'll be seen in the game.

  • Platforms: Playstation 2, Xbox, PC.

  • Games You Might Have Played: Unreal Tournament 2003, Deus Ex




Game Coding Complete
Game Coding Complete
ISBN: 1932111751
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 139

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