The Nokia N-Gage may have had little impact on the global game industry, but for Exient, it was the catalyst for something that continues to be core to the company.
All of Exient’s games, be they original or contract titles, are built using the outfit’s proprietary cross-platform development technology XGS, which began life as the company pondered the best middleware for Nokia’s early game-focused mobile hardware.
“We found the rendering and animation performance to be lacking, when compared to our own test code,” says Exient CTO Jason Fielder of the limited N-Gage middleware available at the time
“We decided our best option was to develop our own test code into an engine, and with each new title that we developed over the years, we added more power, features and supported platforms to it.”
At the time it was an easy decision to move into proprietary tech. Quite simply, it made more sense for Exient to expend energy building its own engine rather than opt for off-the-shelf solutions and waste the studio’s existing, robust code bases.
Having decided that a proprietary approach would additionally mean their games would be distinct, and unrestricted by the feature set of a particular middleware, the team opted with committing to fleshing out their own engine.
A BAND APART
But what makes XGS particularly distinct, and what does Exient have planned for the engine?
“One of the fundamental pillars of our technology is flexibility,” offers Fielder.
“Each feature and system that is added to the engine is done so in a way that does not limit the capabilities of any games built on it and allows the games to highly customise their use of the engine as necessary to suit their purpose. It can just as easily create a football game, a racing game, an FPS or a 2D sprite based game.”
XGS also promises to be a low overhead solution, and boasts a powerful GUI technology that allows highly optimised shaders to be created for next-gen consoles and existing platforms without demanding a single line of shader code.
Its animation feature set is broad and powerful, supporting key framing, animation blending and overlaying for partial or full skeleton, inverse kinematics and much else besides. XGS is built with an emphasis on rapid iteration and it comes with all the features that are standards of external middleware. And, importantly, it is ambitiously cross-platform.
“We ensure that creating a game on one platform is easy to transport to another,” he explains.
“As such, our engine supports the following platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii, Vita, 3DS, PC (64-bit and 32-bit, using DX11 or OpenGL), Mac OS X, iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10, Windows Phone 8 and Metro. Code and data compiled for one platform can typically be ported to another and be seen running at a basic level within an afternoon.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
And soon, XGS may be available to your studio, as Fielder and his colleagues plan to buck convention and release its proprietary engine to other games outfits. A road map is already in place create a version of XGS that can be released to other developers; a result of Exient expanding and seeing more game teams across the world get to grips with its core technology.
“We are investing a lot of resource into packaging the engine into a full, distributable SDK that is easy to pick up and use by those who don’t have the benefit of the engine’s authors sat across the studio from them,” states Fielder.
“As we do this, we see that we’re able to release it to other developers and expand our business in that direction. An attraction for us is that we’ll be able to grow and improve the technology faster from the extra external feedback we’ll receive, and provide the community with another option to the already established middleware out there.”
Confident that Exient’s technology is a distinct solution, Fielder and his team are ready to share their solution with the world. While no final release date is yet available, the modular engine should be available to studios in the coming months.