The powerful hardware powering the Xbox One and PS4 has opened up a new world of opportunities for developers when making games.
But to make great games, developers need the right tools that takes advantage of each system’s architecture to ensure they can create a fun and engrossing experience for their players.
To ensure you reach your full game development potential on the PS4 and Xbox One, we’ve put together a list of 18 essential tools to help your new-gen console games shine.
Unreal Engine 4
Company: Epic Games
UE4 supports advanced DirectX 11 high-end rendering features and includes the Blueprint visual scripting tool, enabling devs to build content without writing a line of code. New animation system Persona is also built on top, helping devs refine a character’s motion.
Company: Unity Technologies
Primed for next-gen with Unity 4.3, the tech includes character animation suite Mecanim, as well as extensive audio, lighting, rendering, physics, AI and terrain tools. Indies who part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program will have free access to the Xbox One add-on for Unity.
Used by Crytek in its graphics-intensive Crysis 2 and Crysis 3 titles, CryEngine features real-time editing of multi-platform game environments, whether in 2D or stereoscopic 3D, and will take advantage of the multi-core nature of PS4 and Xbox One architecture.
Development on the BitSquid Engine only began in 2009, but the development platform is already being used to port the likes of Mojang’s Cobalt to Xbox One and to develop Arrowhead’s Helldivers for the PlayStation 4.
One of the engine’s main features is its fast workflows designed to enable short iteration times. The tech enables mutli-core scaling and includes a built-in profiler and performance HUDS. It also features a scalable rendering pipe with multiple backends, and includes guides to implementing deferred shading, physical lighting, subsurface scattering and hardware tessellation.
Havok Physics/AI/Animation Studio
Havok Physics is a real-time collision detection and physical simulation solution. The 2013 version offers a smoother performance profile, enhanced run-time performance and reduced memory footprint.
Its platform-optimised AI toolset focuses on efficient pathfinding and path following in dynamic game environments. Automatic navigation mesh generation increases the productivity of AI pipelines and developers can create engaging NPCs by leveraging Havok AI’s optimised run-time to perform powerful AI queries.
The Havok Animation Studio meanwhile is designed to create dynamic event-driven character behaviours in games.
Other Havok tools also available for PS4 and Xbox One development include Havok Cloth, Destruction and Script.[Correction: This article previously stated the Havok Vision Engine supported the PS4 and Xbox One. The engine is not currently optimised for the consoles.]
Morpheme 4 & Euphoria
NaturalMotion’s animation tool Morpheme 4 offers new advanced prediction modelling capabilities to enable developers to create complex integrations between animation and AI systems.
The tech includes a new ScatterBlend parametric blend node to help streamline animator workflow. The new feature also allows character motion to be controlled with real-world inputs.
The newly productised Euphoria supports next-gen, working with Morpheme to make believable character animation by simulating the motor nervous system to create more realistic movements.
Autodesk is supporting next-gen with its entire suite of Gameware tools, which includes user interface solution Scaleform, lighting tech Beast, character animation middleware HumanIK, AI and pathfinding tool Navigation and 3D data transfer kit FBX.
The Navigation 2014 software will include new remote visual debugging tools which the firm says will assist with the creation of complex AI. The firm’s animation solution HumanIK meanwhile allows in-game characters to adapt to game environments at runtime, and includes easier control for squad and stretch deformations and enhanced quadruped animation support.
Xaitment specialises in providing artificial intelligence tools. The firm’s tech, xaitControl, is designed for helping developers with game logic and character behavioural modelling.
This means in-game characters can move more intelligently and make more logical decisions to help ensure that players don’t get frustrated with their AI counterparts and foes.
Combined with the PS4’s eight x84-64 cores and 8GB of unified GDDR3 Ram, xaitment hopes its AI?tool will help usher in a new wave of smarter opponents and improved friendly AI to the next generation of games.
PhysX & Apex
PhysX performs complex physics calcualations, aiding with collision detection, the simulation of rigid bodies and particle systems. Apex builds on this by enabling artists to expand the quantity and quality of destructible objects and more life-life clothing.
Ikinema’s RunTime technology is a real-time full body animation solution that can procedurally generate poses and animation during gameplay on human and fictional creatures.
The firm’s tech also allows the manipulation of bones at every frame and provides a solver designed to produce life-like motion distributed automatically over a full body.
Through animatating characters procedurally in the game, the tool can reduce the animation load on blend trees. The same code can also be used on next generation consoles, such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and mobile devices.
Geomeric’s Develop Award-winning Lighting technology Enlighten has been used in numerous titles such as Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, Eve Online and the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition.
The tech delivers full dynamic lighting in-game, and the firm has said the powerful architecture behind the PS4 and Xbox One, such as the large increase in memory, will mean much better and more realistic dynamic lighting in next-gen releases.
As well as being available as a standalone SDK, Enlighten can also be integrated into Unreal Engine 3 and 4, and comes with plug-ins to integrate into the 3ds Max and Maya viewports.
Company: Silicon Studio
Designed for small and large studios alike, middleware provider Silicon Studio’s post-rendering tool Yebis 2 offers developers a way to deliver high-end visuals and effects.
Developers can use the post-processing tech to implement depth of field effects, motion blur, multi-colour customoisable glare effects and bokeh. The tool also supports DirectX 11 to allow for real-time colour adjustments of rendering effects, and provides numerous high quality lens effects.
The tech was used in Square Enix’s Agni’s Philosophy tech demo, which showcased their next-gen development plans through the Luminous engine.
Company: Umbra Software
Umbra 3, from Finnish technology firm Umbra Software, is the third iteration of the company’s visibility solution.
The tech specialises in occlusion culling to help ensure rendered objects are not hidden behind others.
The latest version, 3.3, includes new dynamic occluders, which enables devs to use dynamic elements as occluders. The update also made other optimisations for next-gen to reduce draw calls and run objects faster.
To date, Umbra 3 has been used in titles from studios such as CD Projekt, Bungie, Guerrilla Games, Microsoft Game Studios and SOE, and was recently used in Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Company: Rad Game Tools
Since its first iteration Rad Game Tools’ Bink video codec for games has been licensed for more than 6,200 games on 14 different platforms.
The latest Bink 2 Video has a new high-end video codec that its creator says can be twice as fast as the previous version, thanks to being designed around SIMD, and is suitable for multi-core scaling. The codec can play 4K video frames in 11ms on PS4 and Xbox One.
A number of the company’s other tools have also been made available for next-gen development, including the Miles Sound System, Granny 3D, Iggy and Telemetry.
Company: Donya Labs
Donya Labs’ Simplygon tool is designed for the automatic optimisation of 3D game content and level of detail (LODs).
Now in its fifth iteration, the software helps artists save resources and recreate large amounts of content by automatically generating lower-polygon models required for different levels of detail at higher frame-rates, requiring less data.
The tech has recently been used in Quantic Dream’s PS3 exclusive Beyond: Two Souls, and is also being used by Bungie for its hotly anticipated next-gen MMO Destiny.
Substance Designer from Allegorithmic assists developers with run-time generation of parametric texture to reduce download size and improve performance.
The suite includes tools such as a node-based workeflow, a batch system that lets devs process numerous meshes and textures simultaneously a a live link with Adobe Photosop.
Substance has been integrated with the likes of UDK and Unreal Engine, empowering next-gen developers. The firm recently released the fourth iteration of the tech.
Company: Firelight Technologies
Firelight Technologies’ audio middleware FMOD Studio has been optimised for PS4 and Xbox One development, providing extensive mixing capabilities and built-in DSP effects to help developers deliver audio in their games.
The company prides itself on providing a new interface designed to be more familiar to using professional digital audio workstations than traditional existing game audio tools.
The middleware is already being used on next-gen, debuting on Xbox One with launch game Forza Motorsport 5.
Wwise is a complete audio pipeline solution developed by Audiokinetic, enabling sound engineers to mix, profile and modify sounds in real-time within the game.
The tool features an optimised sound engine for managing audio processing, including effect and source plugins including 5.1 channel reverbs, parametric EQ and dynamic effect plugins including a compressor, expander, peak limiter, and sine and tone generation. It also includes an event-based authoring tool that can be used for creating audio asset structures and SoundBanks.