Video Game Engines: A look Back

Video Game Engines: A look Back

In 2004, three of the largest and hottest video game titles were released to the general public, all with similar, yet very different next generation engines. Game engines provide a framework for the graphics and overall abilities a video game may be able to handle. These engines in particular would go on to define an entire era of Video Game history, and spawn the next generation of video gaming graphics, abilities, and eventually leading to the large indie video game development community that exists today. The games I’m referring to are Doom 3 (id Tech 4 engine), Half Life 2 (Source Engine), and Far Cry (CryEngine 1).

The id Tech 4 engine was made famous for its implementation of “Unified Lighting and Shadowing” and “MegaTexture”, providing graphically rich environments and beautifully lit on screen objects and characters (particularly those blood splattered monsters). While this engine was re-used for several other id titles (particularly Wolfenstein), it would remain the weaker of the engines, lacking some of the abilities the other engines would later feature. I still thought Doom 3 was fun, smacking zombies with a flashlight always left me satisfied.

Good Stuff

Source Engine, which powered Half Life 2, Counter Strike (Source), Left 4 Dead, among others was one of the most popular and powerful engines of its time. Its main differentiator was not only the advanced texturing, but also the frighteningly realistic physics engine. The engine brought to life untold of horrors in Ravenholm, blew terrorists across the screen in Counter Strike, and of course blowing chunks out of zombies. I’m not sure how many times I wanted to pick up a can and drop it into the trash can at the beginning of HL2, but wow was that an amazing introduction!

CryEngine 1 was originally developed as a technology demo for the Nvidia video cards being released in the early 2000’s. Eventually, folks saw the potential and turned it into a full-fledged gaming engine. The CryEngine, responsible for Far Cry 1, promoted the High-Dynamic Range Rendering (HDR) functionality and per pixel shading, providing the ability to render complex computer graphics.

While everyone has their personal favorites, there’s no doubt the Source Engine made strong headway into the gaming world during this time, and went to define a generation of game play. Developing for many of these engines often required a lot of hardware and an experienced team. While many indie developers eventually received some access to these engines (now they are available to the public), they were normally reserved for modifying the existing video games already built on these engines.

It”s interesting in how just one generation, many developers have become more open with their technology, enabling the growth of indie video game development. Compare these engines to Unity3D. While Unity3D lacks some of the bells and whistles, the openness Unity3D emphasizes provides greater outreach to gamers and fostered the growth of the indie gaming community.

What are you looking for in the future? Improved lighting? Physics? Or the ability to quickly pick up an engine and use it to build the next best seller?