A look at the tool maker's past reveals why the future of physics is bright

Havok Buzz: Havok Physics 2013

[This feature was published in the June 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Way back in 1998, Havok was formed out of a team of lecturers and engineers from the Graphics Research Group of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Back then middleware barely existed – even Renderware was still new – and so it was that a band of pioneers started to shape not just how physics would be implemented in games, but the very role and status of third-party games development tech.

“What Havok needed to do was not just sell physics to developers, but actually sell the whole idea of middleware, because at that point middleware industry was still really fledgling when it came to games,” explains Havok’s MD David Coghlan.

“We had to convince people of injecting what they might see as ‘alien’ technology into their games. Until then projects were entirely made in-house.”


Those early years for Havok were also rather experimental, as the team strived to define what game middleware was. The engineers conceived and created numerous demos offering the likes of fluid and soft body simulation, and a whole range of other technologies that at the time stretched the boundaries of what was possible.

“Many of those concepts would never survive the rigors of full in-depth games production at the time ,” admits Coghlan.

“In those first few years, we focused on refining down the feature set to the core things developers needed to do in games, and put our effort towards extremely performance-focused reliable physics for things like collision detection, constraint solving and spatial queries and so on.”


And so it was that the company concentrated its effort on refining its physics technology. Things have clearly come a long way since, both inside Havok’s walls and across the industry, but that groundwork continues to serve as a foundation for Havok’s success. And, says Coghlan, a great deal of that pioneering spirit at Havok continues to this day.

“Good companies have a personality,” he suggests. “And an awful lot of that spirit that Havok had in those early days continues to this day. It still influences the type of people we hire and the decisions that we make. Similarly, we’re still very much a technology company and a very flat organisation that trusts in our engineers’ ideas.”


Arguably, such is Havok’s longstanding influence over both physics and the very make-up of the middleware model, it has a great hand in the evolution of the games consumers enjoy today.

And that may long continue, as Coghlan and his team strive to continue pushing technology. Currently Havok’s Physics 2013 is undergoing a final polish, and it is already positioned as core to the next generation.

“From our point of view we continue to see a lot of scope to push game play and visuals that are driven from physics. We are always astounded by what teams can do with our technology, such as Battlefield 3 and the Uncharted series.

“They really try to push physics as a core element of the game, and really open up clues about the types of experiences that we can expect from the next generation. Havok is very excited about what our customers will be capable of over the next few years, especially with the hugely scaleable physics that’s now possible.”

And according to the company’s MD, the developers Havok works with have been absolutely critical to its success.

“We’d be nowhere without their constant feedback and support,” concludes Coghlan.

“Everyone in Havok sees our technically ambitious customer base as a good thing. It’s been great to work with all of them, and they’re the ones that show the world what’s possible with our technology.”


To read all of Develop’s Havok Buzz articles, visit our archive.

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