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It was perhaps the most surprising of the big middleware buy-outs of the past 12 months, but much like Nvidia’s acquisition of Ageia and Intel’s snapping up of Havok, Autodesk’s purchase of French artificial intelligence company Kynogon has been followed by the prolonged sound of silence. Apart from a corporate announcement highlighting “the future of video games is about more believable characters and environments,” there’s not been much explanation of Autodesk’s move from modelling and animation tools into the runtime world.
Michel Kripalani, Autodesk’s senior games industry manager, is happy to put the record straight however. “We saw the need to move from the asset creation space,” he explains. “With the next generation of gaming platforms, the focus is going to be on runtime simulations. Of course, art tools are also becoming more tied into physics and AI, and while we already had the HumanIK technology, we wanted a complete team that could develop, market, sell and support middleware. It’s different to our primary business so that’s why we purchased Kynogon.”
Kynogon’s Kynapse AI engine is still available for licensing, together with HumanIK, through Autodesk’s new Games Technology Group. In fact, this is being headed by Pierre Pontevia and Jacques Gaubil, Kynogon’s co-founders, and while Kripalani says he can’t talk about specific numbers, the team has received resources to grow “appropriately” in terms of its role as the spearhead of Autodesk’s middleware business.
There’s no news on when the reveal will be made, but Kripalani confirms the goal is no secret. “What we’re focusing on is a complete solution for believable characters and that will run from art packages to runtimes.”
Three main components are planned; each of which will be available as a standalone as well as being fully integrated with the other parts and third party game engines. It’s an approach Kripalani refers to as an ‘a la carte’ menu. The first is a character-oriented physics system so a character can fully interact with a dynamic environment. Next is the artificial intelligence piece, which will provide the smarts for the characters to act in a believable manner. Then, there’s the animation system so characters can walk, crawl and climb over obstacles. Basically, it all boils down to physics, AI and animation.
“All these technologies are progressing, but as one progresses the others have to keep up or the believability is lost. For example, if you have this great exploding world but the character can’t climb over a one-metre piece of rubble, the whole illusion is destroyed,” says Kripalani.
Finally, there’s the need, in turn, to integrate this technology back into Maya and 3ds Max. “It’s vital that artists are in control of the process, not programmers,” Kripalani argues. “Once everything in-game is procedural, artists have to be creating those procedures and that’s the direction we’re taking Max and Maya.”
But as for the timeline, he’s fairly pragmatic. “I expect we’ll get a large portion of job done with this generation of hardware but what we’re being really clear about is where we’re going. We’ll get there in small stages. We’ve seen it in films with things the Uncanny Valley. Those are the sort of complex problems we’re going to have to solve to get believable characters into games, but that’s the goal.”