Posted by Area Editor, 9 March 2011 7:00 pm
For the past three years we’ve been hard at work developing a new technology dubbed Project Skyline. We previewed Project Skyline at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and were relieved to see that you responded with as much enthusiasm as we’ve had about it ourselves. Despite copious hours of research with our customers and countless interviews with artists, TDs and programmers in the field before diving into Project Skyline R&D, it’s always nerve wracking to debut a new piece of technology that you feel so passionately about — so much so that I literally came away from GDC and my first thought was “PHEW”! The concepts were incredibly well received.
Project Skyline’s roots go back to something we’ve been witnessing in the industry for a long time — what we call the ‘Tale of Two Pipelines,’ or the fracture in the game development pipeline between creating content, and game engine runtime. There are many great tools available for creating content; artists are well served in this process. When you think about it, there should also be an equally abundant amount of tools available for creating game play, because game design is a highly creative process that’s essentially interactive storytelling. But in fact, this is an area that’s one of the least serviced in terms of tools — a lot of gameplay and game editing is done by engineers using C++ compilers — not a very creative or interactive process at all.
We’ve culminated our vision to extend good tools for creating assets, into creating tools for the gameplay itself — and not only tools that will help people work more creatively, but also standardized tools that can help teams work more productively. Allowing our customers to be more productive is a huge priority as there is a massive profitability problem in game development these days as evidenced by many recent facility closures and large-scale layoffs.
It’s hard to harness the complexity of a game when you cannot iterate quickly on an idea or vision. So the story we revealed at GDC was the notion of using Maya, a standard content creation tool and a known visual language, together with Softimage ICE-like visual programming technology to make the gameplay and game editing process interactive. This allows artists and game developers to debug gameplay directly in the game engine in real-time, enabling a live connection between creative assets and runtime, a key missing link in the game development process.
There are others who have attempted to solve this problem by providing a prescriptive approach to runtime — a cookie cutter range of gameplay actions. Our vision is different. We realize that the way game developers differentiate themselves, whether developing for consoles or mobile devices, is through runtime. The runtime of a game is where a lot of the amazing innovation happens in this medium. So while Project Skyline aims to standardize the toolset, we’re not trying to dictate what happens in runtime.
As a result, all of the values we brought to the asset creation space are being ported to gameplay as well. This has also been bolstered significantly by our recent acquisition of Scaleform, a leading provider of Flash-based UI tools and middleware for the videogames market. With Project Skyline, we’re demonstrating how you can interactively create and debug gameplay animation using Maya in real-time. And with Scaleform, we’re illustrating how this vision extends to UI editing and the creation of mobile and casual games, because Scaleform GFx 4.0 is the de facto high performance 2D game engine out there for those developers.
Our aim is to simplify the game development process for our customers, increase their performance, productivity and ultimately profitability from console to mobile and casual game platforms. We’re also looking forward to seeing how our customers in film, broadcast and animation will tap Project Skyline for real-time interactivity in pre-viz and conceptual stages of their productions.
As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about all of this. Project Skyline has potential to change the way games are being made—and with adoption, help bolster the game development model into a sustainable and profitable business for companies of all sizes.
You can check out a demo of Project Skyline here: http://area.autodesk.com/gdc2011/pd_gameprev
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