GDC 2007: The Battle for Middleware


This week is the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, where the giants of the games industry gather to talk about their experiences building their latest games. It's also a good place to job hunt and network, which is why employers hate sending their employees to this somewhat costly conference (it's a $1000+ conference pass which has interesting lecture sections, but are likely not applicable to the project at hand). It's also a good place for casual and independent games to make an appearance and get some press for participating in contests like the Independent Games Festival.

One of the more amusing lectures to come out of the Casual Games Sessions is the Ricochet Xtreme Game Challenge, in which the creator of Ricochet Xtreme handed over all the assets of the game under a Creative Commons license to 5 game engine creators and gave them 8 hours to create a clone using the assets, but using their own engine.

The competitors were PlayFirst's PlayGround, Macromedia Flash, Sun Java, PopCap, and Garage Games' Torque Game Builder. PlayGround, Sun Java and PopCap are completely free to develop on, while Macromedia Flash and Torque Game Builder costs some licensing fees (which are low and quite reasonable compared to the licensing fees for iD's engine or for Unreal).

These game engines are known as middleware -- platforms that a third party has developed which makes it such that developers can focus on building the game, and not the tools or the engine, which in theory should help them produce a game that much quicker, as the cost of a free to $500 engine saves countless man-hours developing their own engine. Of course, the problem with middleware is that if a feature doesn't exist or is unsupported, you're coding it yourself anyway...

The results were amusing, and should give some ammo for companies to tout their own engine, but who can really say, seeing as no one really seems to know whether or not the companies kept to the eight hour rule. (PlayFirst, it seems had the chunkiest framerate, although they did manage to make web and Mac versions very quickly).

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