Random thoughts on game engines

I own an Xbox360, PS2, and a half decent pc that can play some games that are higher end (Act of War, Far Cry (Toon shader looks sweet on my PC!), and a few others. I mostly play on my 360, and tinker with a few editors on the PC for games because I’m in college trying to get a game art and design degree so I can either start my own studio or join one eventually in my life. I’ve a few ideas for games that I know are ground breaking and original, in the amount and depth of gameplay and story, and I know every gamer says they have this in their head, but I truly do…

Lighting example

Now, when it comes to comes to games I mostly play action, RPG, puzzle and just plain quirky titles. I love anything that has a plot and even if it doesn’t make sense, I still play it if I like the gameplay *cough*Matt Hazard*cough* and it’s just plain fun. I know that my gamerscore sucks but between borrowing games from people to see if i like them and not having enough time lately to really sit down and play, I have a bunch of games (especially Arcade titles) that I have one or two achievements in that I don’t plan on getting more in because I just don’t like the game (just look at my gamercard on XBOX.com… You’ll see which ones I don’t plan on revisiting at all).
But this is the bulk of this blog right now is this: game engine flaws that nobody voices and how to make a better engine.

First example is the games using Source… I loved Portal, it was one of the freshest and original ideas in gaming in a while! I played all the way though Half-Life 2 on the original XBOX and PC to death, and I can’t seem to bring myself to get that much deeper into the game world because the game mechanics just suck to me. I hate the inability to aim down a sight or even zoom in a little to take a second to get a bead on an enemy or monster. I played through a few chapters of L4D and I honestly just couldn’t get into it, online or offline, even though I was playing with some damn good people online. I don’t know why, but I was all over the demo, loved it to death, but the full game I borrowed from a friend after wanting to play it, and it just blew for me. I hate the Source engine now, and I really can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because the engine feels so dated visually and gameplay wise that I can’t get into it. Don’t get me started on Team Fortress 2 either…

The three main things I don’t like about the Source engine is this:

1. I hate how floaty the whole movement and aiming system feels. The game is based on real world physics but it just seems too floaty with me and I’ve adjusted the settings to my hearts’ content, but it just won’t work right.

2. The graphics are still god awful even with the modifications made for L4D and L4D2. The screen shots don’t impress me much and I can’t seem to find a good one. I have seen the highres shots for all the source engine games, and I honestly think that the textures that they have in the game just suck. The engine has rendering problems in my mind when it comes to minor details, like ammo boxes, clothing, and minor items in the world. It’s a shame to see that a game engine that was loved and cherished when it came out now looks just down right ugly… But age does that to our medium.

3. The gunplay is off and unbalanced. I know this might seem like an odd complaint, but in L4D and HL2 the game doesn’t seem to register some very obvious hits and explosions. Maybe it’s just me, but there are times when I’m in the first section right after you get the handgun and the SMG that the game seems to miss headshots and even torso shots that I know that I’ve done. The SMG does have a wide fire pattern, but it seems that the Combine soldiers can hit you from a half mile away even on easy some times and you can’t. I don’t suck at games, and I know how to pull off a headshot.

The second engine that I am getting tired of is Unreal 3. I cannot stand this engine anymore. I know it does good games when it’s in the right hands and even some games that I would not have expected to use the Unreal 3 engine (Lost Odyssey, The Wheelman, American McGee’s Grimm, and Punisher: No Mercy). But I’m sick of this engine being used left and right, and I’m not the only one.

1. It makes the worlds it creates too shiny if the developers aren’t careful. Epic is guilty of this themselves and it comes down to the light rendering processes that the engine uses. There’s nothing more jarring than seeing a shiny outline of Marcus and Dom, or any other character in GOW1 & 2, Turok, R6: Vegas in a dark environment. It’s almost a shame to see this. The environments that aren’t supposed to brightly lit shine too, and it’s just as jarring. I know that in the beginning the engine was a shock to people and still can be, but I’ve played games using the U3 engine on HDTV’s ranging from 480p to 1080p and they all do the same. The light source is supposed to be unique and beautiful and in some cases it is, but in it’s second or nearly third generation, it shouldn’t look like there are extra light sources to light the environments than what were originally placed in the world.

2. Physics and game play issues. There is nothing worse in a game, especially a AAA title that has graphical glitches and problems. Bioshock, Gears of War 2, R6: Vegas 2 and more have their share if glitches and problems. GOW2 has been patched more than 4 times since it’s release and although it’s nice to see a company keep going back and fixing problems as they occur and are found, it shouldn’t have to be done this many times in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, Epic has done a good job of fixing the games they make and keeping them updated, but the amount of games that use this engine that don’t get updates to fix problems and exploits is long.
I know from personal experience I’ve seen guns get switched out from me while shooting, had random gunfire occur, and being stuck for several seconds if not completely until I restart my 360/game. I know that some of the companies that are licensing the engine for their titles are either new to the engine or game making in general, but these are issues that are mostly inherent to the engine itself, and not the developers. There are some developers that are at fault for the game not being good because they didn’t understand the technology they were handed to use, but being green isn’t a valid excuse all the time. There are other companies out there that are using the U3 engine for the first time that made good games, if a bit flawed.

3. Most games using the engine don’t have good character designs. Most of the characters you see using the engine are giant bears in clothing, with a few exceptions. But I’m tired of seeing giant men fighting other giant men or monsters. I want to see some original non bear creations that you can play as, not just against. But, this might just be a personal aesthetic choice, so this might not count but it does to me.

Now, I know that making a game engine is difficult and hard to out wow the competition sometimes, but I believe that sometimes middleware can and is the cause of the issues with some game engines. I know that middleware saves time and money, but if you use it as a plug-in (IE: Havok or NVida Physx, Speedtree, and other applications of this sort) and not have it integrated into your engine, it can and will cause issues. Look at Two Worlds…

But this is my idea on how to make a new engine that will be useful to most developers. Here are a few thoughts that I have had about my own ideas when it comes to games and engines.

1. Make it easily patchable without having to go through the certification methods (IE: Microsoft’s way of handling title updates) and make it integral to the game if the console is connected to the online service at all. If you have a glitch that is easily fixed with a few minor changes done to the engine, allow it to download the update either when the game starts or while it’s loading so that the gamer doesn’t have to sit through a long update process or annoying wait times for game reboots. Infinity Ward and Epic are close to doing this with GOW2 and Modern Warfare 2, where the multiplayer section loads the changes instantly without a title update.

2. Make it possible to easily report bugs or glitches within the game itself, no matter what system it is. If it’s on the XBOX360 and it’s a single player game, still include this ability, because even single player games need patched too.

3. Beta test it constantly. I know that companies do this, but if you have an online game, do the internal beta, but do a limited or open beta for the public. This does two things, it tests the game, the online gaming infrastructure and gets the game out there to be noticed by the public. COD:WAW had a great beta, and even though reports of bugs or glitches didn’t seem to be fixed till later, the game is great. Several other games lately have had either beta tests or online demos that showed the game and online infrastructure capabilities off well enough to show gamers if they wanted to play the game or not. Once the game is released, every week, address the current issues that are being expressed on online and offline play, then fix them as you can.

4. Don’t make gamers sit there and complain about game problems forever then decide to fix things in the game, but not the core issues that gamers have with the game that are technical related, and if you can’t fix a constant problem, let the community know that you can’t and why exactly you can’t fix it. Silence from a respected company is a killer. Epic has done 5 title updates for Gears of War 2 and gamers are still dealing with the issues that the patch was to fix. Far Cry 2 took almost a year since it’s release to get the update out there, and the update was to fix a game ending glitch with the save system! That’s ridiculous and irresponsible of companies to do this, if only from a business aspect of looking at this.

If you have any comments, feel free to send them either on here or on XBOX Live. My gamertag is Deathzmeasure.

Article from Gamersyndrome.com

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5 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. It’s not entirely the engine’s fault. And i can’t believe you found such serious flaws in some of the most powerful engines in the world. Stay away from the Xray engine or the Aurora engine(especially in it’s earlier versions)..

  2. No it’s not always the fault of the engine, and the studios using the engines are responsible for making the best game possible they can… But these flaws do exist, and I wanted to ask what do you mean about finding these flaws? Do you mean that I am overreacting or just being too picky as a gamer? I will reply in kind, and I’m just curious by what you mean.

  3. I’m not saying these engines are flawless. On the contrary – Valve and Epic should have their arms cut for releasing non-optimized products on engines they created. But i also think you’re overreacting a bit.

  4. I’m not overreacting because I’m going for college for Game art and design,and I want to make the best possible games I can and I want other companies to do so too. Although I realize that any engine will have issues and flaws, it’s avoidable. No game engine will ever be perfect but blatantly ignoring or pushing aside concerns from gamers isn’t right.

    But I can be a bit nitpicky sometimes, I fully realize this.

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