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How the Dawn Engine is powering the next wave of Deus Ex games - MCV

How the Dawn Engine is powering the next wave of Deus Ex games

Develop takes an early look at the tech specifically built for the series and its narrative needs
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With the Deus Ex series rebirth in 2011, the cyberpunk thriller returned to the mainstream, and was quickly reinstated as one of the cultural demi-gods of triple-A.

And as Deus Ex has grown, so has Eidos Montreal’s ambition for it. The studio has even coined ‘Deus Ex Universe’; not as a game title, but as an umbrella term under which the team’s various projects set in the dystopian world can be gathered.

Exactly what Universe will be remains a mystery – other than an insistence from Eidos that it is not an MMO. However, a new proprietary engine built by the studio has emerged. Its name is Dawn Engine, it is focused on PC and ‘new-gen’ consoles, it is to be the bedrock of the Universe project, and its claim to power demonstrates that something big is underway in Montreal.

Our goal is to be leaders in our field, and we know that this starts with two core elements; great technology and great games,” explains Eidos Montreal’s Julien Bouvrais, director of technology.

“In order for us to reach that goal, we knew that we’d have to go beyond our existing limits, which is why we chose to push forward and create the Dawn Engine.”

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ON THICK ICE

At the core of Dawn Engine sits a highly modified version of IO Interactive’s Glacier 2 engine, reworked to optimise efficiency specifically for the Deus Ex design and development pipeline. Eidos Montreal picked building on Glacier 2 as it came close to what the team needed, although they also added several custom tools and tweaked existing ones to allow them to realise their storytelling vision.

“We also invested a lot in improving the graphics engine, opting to almost completely rewrite the original version in G2,” adds Martin Dubeau, art director.

“This was done in order to ensure that we were fully leveraging the power offered by the PC and new-gen consoles. As such, it is very easy to create both compelling and complex visual settings within Dawn.”

That graphics engine rewrite introduced the increasingly ubiquitous physically-based rendering, and debuted a fresh animation system that especially considers Deus Ex’s character needs, while more broadly the team were able to cater for more polygons.

But what of that optimisation in the favour of narratives? While engines certainly need to serve as a platform for games that tell stories, the idea of storytelling tools in a game engine brings technology and narrative a little closer to one another than is often seen.

“We put particular emphasis around adding a few tools and pipelines to cope with our demanding narrative needs, such as an improved conversation system, and better fidelity in our cut scenes,” Bouvrais offers.

“As you know, storytelling is a crucial element within Deus Ex, so it was only natural for us to put emphasis on these tools when developing the engine.”

While Bouvrais and Dubeau admit creating Dawn Engine challenged even Eidos Montreal’s most experienced staff, they are confident they now hold the keys to a development platform that is relatively user friendly, and in spite of its complexity, focused on expedience.

THE IO’S SHARE

In building on the Glacier 2 tech, Dawn Engine provides access to a reasonably unique AI system that offers an efficient method for designers.

“Glacier 2 is built on what we call the entity system, allowing us to quickly create new behaviours based on existing building blocks,” says Dubeau. “This means designers can create behaviours without needing the assistance of a programmer.”

As for Dawn Engine’s future, there’s a chance it won’t find itself limited to powering Deus Ex IP.

“We have a long history of sharing technology across studios,” Bouvrais states. “A clear example of this is us using Glacier 2.

“That said, the Dawn Engine is not necessarily going to be used for every new project within Square Enix’s studios, but it is certainly a new option that will be open and available to any studio that wishes to explore it. In terms of our studio, the focus of the engine is the development and expansion of the Deus Ex franchise. But it is very much possible, and our hope is that it will be used to craft other experiences.”

Those keen on getting their hands on the Dawn Engine may be interested in a number of roles currently available at Eidos Montreal. Head to www.eidosmontreal.com for more information.

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