At the ‘Revitalization of Middleware’ roundtable at today’s Develop conference, Rebellion CTO Chris Kingsley claimed that any developer who uses middleware "can’t be cutting edge if they are relying on other people’s technology."
"Look at Killzone 2 or Crysis," he continued. "Both of those games are absolutely state-of-the-art, and both of those engines are built in-house."
Laying out the case for not using middleware, Kingsley said that while middleware may appear initially cheaper, the single-title or single-SKU nature of middleware pricing meant that it could end up costing the company more, especially if they come to rely on it. Not only that, but should the middleware vendor be purchased by a competitor – such as in the case of EA’s purchase of Criterion and their Renderware solution – that company could then be privy to sensitive sales information.
Kingsley’s most important point, however, centred around his company’s previous bad experiences with middleware. "We’ve failed certification before because of bugs in middleware that we used. We didn’t have access to the source code for the middleware, and as such we had to debug their code blind."
Sat immediately to Kingsley’s right was Epic’s Mark Rein, who immediately disagreed with Kingsley’s stance.
"At Epic we’ve found that the features gamers like the most are those that are put in towards the end of the process," Rein claimed. "Middleware gives you more time at the end of the project to polish because it minimises the amount of time you have to spend getting the technology sorted at the start."
Kingsley remained unconvinced: "There’s no evidence to show that people who use middleware have more time at the end of the project for polishing. I’d be much more confident about shipping a game on time if I’m not using middlware because the code is entirely under my control."
Also in the roundtable, Rein commented that the next-generation machines and PCs would mark the complete death of the fixed-function pipeline, which would prevent anyone from thinking that people who use the same middleware will make similar-looking games.
"There is some middleware that pretty much everybody in the industry uses, like Bink," said Rein. "That doesn’t mean that everyone’s in-game videos look the same, does it?"