For those of you that are interested in the Knights of the Old Republic MMORPG Engine, this is the game engine and design tools that Bioware is using for this MMORPG:
Before anyone says anything, the character creation in the video is only an example/default, as well as everything in the videos. The engine is meant to be build upon like a base, and the final product should be more refined and tuned.
A few things I shall point out that you may or may not have noticed about this engine:
- HeroEngine World Builder uses a Malleable Terrain Tool, which means that a flat plane can be molded like clay into nearly any shape necessary depending on the polygon count of the plane. While this seems like an easy and common sense tool, it has only begun to appear in the more recent and updated of world builders to my knowledge. WoW, for example, uses a more archaic form of modeling from the Warcraft 3 World builder to create hills and ground independently, working off of a tile system. Due to this, WoW players may have noticed the choppy and often “pointy” ground that is left over from lack of a smoothing tool. Not even Valve’s Source engine world builder “Hammer” has a terrain molder this sophisticated. This terrain tool should guarantee smooth and clean looking landscapes to traverse within The Old Republic, hopefully lowing the chance of getting stuck in the world when taking a wrong turn.
- The WorldBuilder uses Texture Layer painting, which means that multiple layers of landscape texture can be painted over each other (like a dirt road upon a grass field). This tool is newer, but older than Malleable Terrain. Source’s “Hammer” World Builder uses an early form of this tool, but only allows for 2 textures to be stacked at once. HeroEngine allows up to 4, which will allow for more varied and interesting terrain than the endless valleys of green or rock seen in WoW.
- HeroEngine has incorporated a Flora system called Speed Tree (http://www.speedtree.com/) into it’s engine. This is a Flora engine that allows for large, dynamic forests to be created. What does dynamic mean exactly? SpeedTree’s dynamic flora system allows the developer to determine the amount of leafs on the tree, length and width of branches, custom environmental schemes, etc. This system has a number of unique qualities, all of which are explained in detail here: (http://www.speedtree.com/overview/).
-SpeedTree allows for Dynamic Wind Effects, meaning that force exerted upon Flora will effect the Flora. To the extent depends on the detail, but wind is an obvious. Possible ways this may effect The Old Republic is: Walking through plants may cause them to move and respond to you. They may also respond to Force powers and explosions depending on the level of detail and developers feel hey should put in.
-Games that use SpeedTree that can be used as examples of what to expect in The Old Republic include:
Gears of War 2
Unreal Tournament 3
Dragon Age: Origins
Age of Conan MMO
Neverwinter Nights 2
- The games Lighting/Shadow system includes Day and Night transition overtime with dynamic shadows for the environment as time progresses. This dynamic lightning also effects SpeedTree’s Flora, casting ever changing shadows off of both the branches and individual leafs. This system, however, is relevant only to people with advanced systems as the strain of high settings may slow down older systems.
- Unlike WoW, which loads an entire instance all at once a select loads npcs, HeroEngine uses a room visualization system. Meaning, instead of having an entire map pushing on your RAM and graphics card, the engine only puts energy into what you can immediately see. Adjacent rooms can be set to render or not render, greatly saving on render time and energy better used for graphics, effects, etc. This also allows large scale texture bank swaps, lowering load times and lag in large outdoor areas as well.
- Particle effects in the Engine are a step above some other engines. Particles and Emitters can be the same thing, meaning that a stray particle of lightning or fire can create other particles as it flies through the air, lowering particle count and system drain due to less need for multiple emitters going at once. See more in the link at the top of the post.
- Full Body morphing allows the developer to set morph targets that can be adjusted by any mechanism you desire. Using these simple morph targets, HeroEngine automatically morphs the rest of the character, even its skeletal system if need be. So, while morphing, you shouldn’t come across a look that blows your character our of proportion of gives the illusion that your skeleton has something wrong with it.
- The Face Morphing tool allows for custom set nodes, so this allows for non-human editing to take place for everyone curious if there will be playable non-humans.
- The characters, both player and npc, work off of a node based skeletal structure. This allows for weapons, particle effects, animated meshes, attractors, etc to be placed on any of the many nodes on the body for effect. So, for instance, if a light saber happens to hit your shoulder then the shoulder node will emit a spark or burn effect upon that spot instead of WoW’s “everything comes out of your chest” effects.
- HeroEngine supports an advanced skeletal structure system in the game, meaning that animations should flow more smoothly than seen in other MMOs. Armor, weapons, skin, etc should flow correctly with the animations, and the animations themselves -should- be able to flow between each other without much pause if the developers fully use the Engine’s abilities.
Now, bear with me here. Smart Objects by now are common sense in most games but are still a failing in many MMOs. A Smart Object is an object that can be interacted with. Sounds simple right? Not really, and even harder in a world as big as an MMO. They tend to be the reason for glitches, bugs, scripting errors, etc in games and many MMOs leave them out almost entirely due to lack of proper tools for the job.
Now, say you are playing WoW or Guild Wars, or some other various. You run up to a ledge, and often in those games there will be a ramp as jumping in both is either a perk or nonexistent. In HeroEngine, that ledge can give you the option (In the form of a button that appears on the side of your screen) to crawl/jump/climb up that ledge. Once ontop, you can go over to the edge and you can be given the option to sit down on the ledge, etc. This also applies to pulling levers, pressing switches, and other forms of environmental interaction.
Now, I know what you are thinking. “That’s just simple animation.” My thoughts exactly, which is why it is so sad that so few MMOs have given the option for this. For those that have played MMOs, these would be environmental emotes of sort. Ontop of this, the engine allows for animations to be applied to the object instead of standing still and something magically happening.
Again, this sounds so simple but this is what truly makes this engine unique in a few key ways compared to current market MMOs. While I listed simple examples, the possibility’s for environmental interaction are expansive and I can only hope Bioware takes advantage of this part of the Engine’s abilities. Everything from sitting down on a bench, leaning against the wall, to pulling a lever to cause a cave-in.
In the end these are simply elaborate Emotes, but my personal favorite thing about Matrix Online was its large array of interactive emotes that I felt really added to the atmosphere of the game. I've yet to find an MMO since that agreed with me.
This engine is new, and Bioware's KOTOR MMORPG will be the first license for HeroEngine.
"At BioWare we selected HeroEngine because it had the most sophisticated and complete development tools available for building an amazing online experience. Our team wanted a great rapid prototyping environment and to work with experienced MMO developers. HeroEngine from Simutronics is a perfect fit for BioWare Austin's requirements."
Co-Studio Director of BioWare Austin