Summary: FiringSquad chats with president Eric Peterson as he talks about their video-PC game graphic engine they are now offering to third party developers.
FiringSquad:First, for people who are not familiar with Vicious Cycle Software can you give us a brief history of the company?
Eric Peterson:I guess we can roll back the clock to 1999, when some of us worked at the MicroProse studio in Chapel Hill before it was closed on December 7. We then incorporated Vicious Cycle Software, Inc. on January 31, 2000 and opened our doors for business in April of that same year. We were fortunate enough to employ a significant group of our fellow co-workers from the MicroProse studio and began working on our first title, Robotech: Battlecry which was developed and released on the PS2, Xbox and GCN.After Battlecry shipped, we worked on Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey, a light action RPG for kids based on the books and mini-series, Robotech: Invasion, which took the Robotech license into a 1st and 3rd person action game and allowed players to ride the Cyclones for the first time, Spy vs. Spy was mainly a multiplayer action game that kept the original gameís core mechanics intact while bringing it to a fully 3D environment, Dora the Explorer: Journey to the Purple Planet was our first early childhood game that we developed and most recently was Curious George which was released in time for this yearís film adaptation of the classic books.
In addition to the products we have been creating, last year we created two new divisions, Monkey Bar Games and Vicious Engine. Monkey Barís games are intended for people of all ages and demographics. The division has recently been creating products that are geared towards younger audiences and that incorporate popular licensed characters such as Dora the Explorer, Curious George and Rita and Roddy from the upcoming DreamWorks Animation SKG and Aardman Features movie, Flushed Away. Our Vicious Engine division was created so that we could provide our tools and technology to other game developers who need a fully featured game production platform. Vicious Engine is a cross platform solution that supports PS2, Xbox, GCN, PC and PSP. The engine will eventually be offered for next-gen systems as well. We currently have three products in development, all of which will be on the floor at E3. One is Flushed Away for PS2 and GCN and the two other titles we canít unveil until we are a bit closer to E3 itself. What I can say is that one of the other titles is for the PSP, PC and DS and that the third title is our first intellectual property and is being developed exclusively for the PSP.
FiringSquad:How did the idea come about for the company licensing their graphics engine to other companies?
Eric Peterson:First, let me state that the Vicious Engine is a full featured engine that has everything a development team needs to create a game from start to finish. No other middleware is necessary, unless the developer desires to replace a currently existing feature with another 3rd party solution. The engine allows for fast content production and also delivers competitive graphics for each of our target platforms. The idea to license our technology came about last year when we had been approached to take on several projects that had either very low budgets and/or short development timeframes. Without naming which projects were done in a short amount of time, I will at least give you an idea of how long we had to make games that were shipped on 2-4 skus. We created one game in around 9 months and some other games in 3 Ĺ to 4 months. By accomplishing these feats, we felt that we had a particular knowledge and toolset that was worth sharing with the rest of the development community. Utilizing an engine that allows you to make games faster and more cost effective is more relevant now than it ever has been in the past. This is especially true since more and more publishers are starting to request that projects be made cheaper and faster, now that the last generation of systems has started to move into their twilight years. Next generation systems like the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii will conversely require much higher budgets than normal with regards to cost and time. And even with this occurring, we feel that our processes and procedures will still be relevant and beneficial to developers as they move forward with the next generation of product and will still allow them to maintain a more cost effective approach overall.
Eric Peterson:For starters we are almost completely cross platform with the exception of the DS and we are one of the only fully featured PSP engines available. In addition to that, our engine delivers the ability to implement and manage everything from GUIs to networking, physics to in-game cinematics, special effects to sound implementation, terrain creation to memory management, etc. It even comes with its own version control. The Vicious Engine is a one stop solution and developers donít need to look any further than our toolset to get the job done. When a licensee purchases the Vicious Engine they can start working immediately and can have a fully playable demo up and running in an extremely short amount of time on any of the hardware that we support. Our engine is a fully data driven approach to gameplay and content creation. The more control that can be put into the hands of the creative people on a development team, the more innovative the title will be. It is also advantageous to free up the programmers on the team to work on important technology features that enhance the technical presentation of the title. We also take great pride in telling potential customers that we donít just make an engine, we make games as well. Our technology has been used to create all of our own titles and has gone through all of the console manufacturersí standardization processes and procedures. It is a robust, well tested toolset and engine and it isnít tied to any particular game type or genre.
FiringSquad:What can you tell us about the more important features of Vicious Engine?
Eric Peterson:A few of our most important features are its data driven design, point and click scripting system and in-game debugger. When using the Vicious Engine, absolutely 100% of the game (gameplay, GUI, AI, and anything to do with game specific content) is implemented in the Vicious Editor. There is no source code that controls the specifics of the game; games are developed through the use of our proprietary scripting systems. There are a couple of features that set this system apart from the others. First, the level designer that is implementing a particular game system does not type in the script; it is implemented entirely through our point and click interface. This allows new level designers, artists and/or programmers to get into the pipeline very quickly and begin implementing game assets. It also creates an exceptional boundary against errors and typos. And if you have more than one project going while using the Vicious Engine, the developer has the ability to move script and assets between projects in order to streamline the development of similar game mechanics.
The second big, distinguishing feature of this scripting engine is the built in debugger. Anyone may place breakpoints anywhere in the game script. Once that script is executed on the userís development PC, a window will open at the line of script that was marked with a breakpoint. The user can then step through the script, watch variables and constants, or check on a particular entityís current AI state. Another important feature that allows for uninterrupted immersion in a game is our ability to stream data. Maps can be loaded into the background and streamed as the player moves through the world. Geometry, entities and other dynamics can be streamed as well. Asset manager is very important to every project, so we have included a built in asset management for version control of binary assets. Team members must Ďcheck outí any game asset before they can modify it in game. Once it is checked back in, the new and improved asset is available to others on the team. Some of the other features that are worth mentioning are: PSP support, competitive graphics and rendering, built in localization, multiplayer, HDTV/widescreen, radiosity lighting, cartoon renderer, PIP, split screen, LODs, weather, lip-syncing, animation blending, background loaded VO and cinematics, streaming background music, framebuffer effects, projected shadows, light and shadow volumes, particle systems, NTSC and PAL capability, multiple sets of assets can be maintained for different skus (i.e. higher level models and textures), etc.
Eric Peterson:Initially support is purchased on a yearly basis. After the first year the licensee can elect to continue support on a monthly or quarterly basis. We supply the licensee with documentation and forum access. If an issue canít be resolved through the forums or email, the issue is escalated to a phone call. These sorts of resolutions occur during normal business hours. On-site support would be the highest level of escalation if both parties agreed that it was necessary. Regarding fixes and enhancements to the current technology, we update the developers periodically with new improvements such as performance updates, bug fixes and some new features. We will continue to update to the latest compilers and system software versions on the consoles as well.
FiringSquad:Can you give us an idea of how many third parties have already licensed the Vicious Engine for their games?
Eric Peterson:There are quite a few developers that have signed up already and we plan on unveiling who they are once their titles are announced. Also, since our successful debut at GDC this year, we have been receiving even more contacts from potential customers and are putting our evaluation package into their hands so that they can see how powerful and robust our toolset actually is.
FiringSquad:What can you tell us about the license terms for the engine and how it compares to other game graphics engine?
Eric Peterson:Our engine is very comparable to the price of Gamebryo and RenderWareís graphics engine as well as Virtools solution. We wanted to stay competitive with other packages with regards to cost even though we are offering more than just a graphics solution. With our technology you get everything you need to make a game from the ground up and for one price. We also include full source code with the purchase. Also worth mentioning is that when a license is purchased, the engine can be used for one game and one sku. Other skus can be added for a minor fee compared to the original skus purchase price. Overall, our goal is to keep the engine affordable so that all developers who have different budgetary needs can still utilize our technology.
FiringSquad:Are you planning to support next-generation consoles and higher PC hardware requirements in future versions?
Eric Peterson:Yes. We are currently PS3 and Xbox 360 approved developers and we are moving forward with middleware plans for both of those systems, as well as the newly announced Wii (aka Revolution). PC is always a supported hardware platform since we develop all of our titles on the PC from the ground up and we will continue to update our libraries to support all of the latest and greatest features.
FiringSquad:Besides Vicious Engine, what game projects is Vicious Cycle working on at the moment?
Eric Peterson:The only title that we can officially talk about is Monkey Barís next title and that is with D3Publisher, Inc. The title is for the new DreamWorks Animation SKG and Aardman Features movie called Flushed Away. Vicious Cycle has other titles that are being geared towards the hardcore gamer and will be released later this year and early next year. One of the games that we currently have in production is an original intellectual property created and developed by Vicious Cycle. It is being debuted at E3 this year at D3Publisher, Inc.ís booth in the South Hall. Both Vicious Cycle and Monkey Bar will continue to work on licensed and original concepts as we move forward with new opportunities.
FiringSquad:Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Vicious Engine at this time?
Eric Peterson:We are licensing our technology for games, simulations and educational purposes. So if you need a fully featured engine and you are interested in checking out the Vicious Engine for any of our supported platforms, then you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website at www.viciousengine.comto get more details and inquire about trying an evaluation of our technology. Also, over the next few weeks, we will be updating our site with our GDC demo assets so that people can see our PSP screenshots first hand. John, thanks again for the opportunity to discuss our new division and look out for our latest games at E3!
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