We speak to Trinigy's managing director about its support of browser-based gaming

Interview: Vision Engine

A new version of Trinigy’s Vision Engine is set to be revealed at GDC, and it marks an aggressive move into the burgeoning browser gaming arena. Ed Fear spoke to Dag Frommhold, managing director of Trinigy, to find out more…

Why make the move into supporting browser-based gaming?
We’ve been thinking about this move for quite some time and we felt that the time was right.

In the last 12 to 18 months there’s been a lot of discussion in the industry about a shift towards what’s called ‘casual’ and potentially evolving new requirements for middleware and accordant business models. Basically, we’ve been following this area for much longer than that, and we diversified our licensing model long ago to meet this evolution in gaming. We were probably one of the first middleware companies to provide a specific licensing model for casual/lower-end games back in 2004. Later on, we adjusted that model to serve the needs of our customers in the growing market of downloadable console games.

Now, considering the growth in browser-based gaming, Vision for browsers – which we’re calling WebVision – was just a logical step for us and our customers to take.

From a technological point of view, the Vision Engine scales very well across platforms. We have a platform version for the Wii on one end of the spectrum and support for high-end DX11-level features on the other end. This scalability makes Vision well suited for browser-based gaming. Furthermore, quite a few of our customers are actively looking into developing browser-based games. So, after conversations with our customers and analysing what they need and how we could smoothly integrate development for browser-based games in the existing workflow, we sat down and started breathing life into WebVision.

Vision licensees developing for WebVision essentially use the same tools set as other Vision developers. They can use the full feature set of the Vision Engine, and moving an existing offline title into a browser environment is completely straightforward.

With the advances being made in open-standard 3D technologies for the web (such as WebGL and Google’s O3D) do you think there’s scope for plugin-requiring 3D on the web?
WebVision is a full game engine, complete with high-level feature support and a comprehensive toolset. Comparing it to WebGL would be like comparing a game engine to DirectX – it takes significantly less development time to create a game if you can rely on a proven, fully-featured game engine instead of having to write everything from scratch using a less comprehensive graphics API.

Additionally, there’s a significant performance difference between a solution like WebVision, which runs native code and is highly optimised, and a JavaScript-based environment as these other technologies use. The scenes that WebVision is able to manage and render can be far more complex than anything you can do in WebGL.

Would it be fair to say that consoles and PCs are still the main focus for Trinigy?
Our main focus is to serve our customers with the technology, support, platforms and sales channels they need to be successful, and to tear down technical barriers where necessary. We’re sure that we’ll see many great games based on WebVision out there in the future and beyond doubt there’ll be even more great Vision-based games on consoles and client-based PC games hitting the shelf and online platforms. In fact, the idea is to enable our customers to develop their titles for a variety of platforms from one source without technical barriers. The platform decision should only be a matter of what makes most sense for a specific title and its target group.

Technologically, we have always focused on providing a scalable game engine with a cutting-edge feature set optimised for each individual platform. We aggressively use multithreading on PC and consoles, take advantage of the latest graphics features like tessellation in DirectX11, and provide powerful forward and deferred renderers with a host of state-of-the-art graphics techniques. Browser-based games now benefit from these features as well while still maintaining full compatibility with lower-end graphics hardware.

How does the market for browser gaming differ from the console markets?
From a user or gamer perspective, we don’t see major differences from the console markets at its heart. In today’s console markets we see offerings for virtually all types of gamers, including hardcore gamers, casual gamers, family gamers and more. Having a look at today’s browser games, we recognise that we basically have a very similar range of offerings – from tiny little casual games up to fully-fledged role-playing games with large worlds and hundred of thousands of users.

On the other hand, looking at the business models and revenue streams behind browser-based gaming we recognise significant differences. While console games still mostly work on a ‘pay, get and play’ basis, browser games have been successfully celebrating the free-to-play and – to a decreasing extent –the advert-funded business model.

Last but not least, but maybe most importantly, we find big differences between both markets in terms of how to actually reach target customers, how to market a game, to get the word out and where to distribute the game. At the end of the day, we all want to transform that into as much revenue as possible; but truth is, the two markets require different approaches and strategies to achieve that.

Vision Engine has different licensing models for large-scale and casual/digital titles – where does browser gaming fit into this?

The really great thing about WebVision is that is does not require an additional licensing model. You can simply consider WebVision as an additional distribution channel for your games that you develop with the Vision Engine. From a licensing perspective WebVision will be launched without an additional charge for Vision customers.

Vision Engine 8 also features DirectX 11 support. Do you think this will prove more popular with developers than DirectX 10?

We expect DX11 to become significantly more popular with developers than DX10. DX10 did not provide too many features that made it interesting for developers to actively support it. In fact, most techniques could also be implemented using DX9 and, given the lack of support for downlevel hardware and the additional engineering work DX10 required, most studios stuck to DX9.

DX11, in turn, provides many interesting new features, such as multithreaded rendering and tessellation. Additionally, its support for downlevel hardware is certainly attractive for studios that don’t want to develop an additional DX9 version of their game. Last but not least, the DX11 API is very similar to the DX10 API, so the transition from DX10 to DX11 is much smoother than the shift from DX9 to DX10.

How has business fared during the recession – what differences have you noticed with studios’ attitudes towards middleware, if any?
Trinigy has been continuously growing throughout the years, and we were particularly happy to see that growth continue in 2009 despite the downturn you mentioned. Our impression is that more and more studios are licensing middleware, and this trend seemed to remain intact during the recession.

As a result of the economic situation, game development teams are actively working on new and interesting financing models – for instance, by funding games with financing instruments known from the movie business. The task for us as a middleware provider is to listen to the customers, work closely with them, understand their goals, align with the market and adjust our business model as necessary and where reasonable. It’s essential to look at how our customers will generate revenue.

So, in other words , we don’t feel that studios’ attitudes towards middleware have changed really, but their requirements and view towards business models, markets and revenue sources have evolved. This is what we need to tackle as a middleware provider.

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