I certainly doubt that GSC will attempt to develop another proprietary engine.
— Me, April 5, 2010
That’s the kind of wisdoms you can expect from yours truly, my friends: completely inaccurate ones. Word comes across the vines of grapes that Ukrainian developer GSC Game World is hard at work on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 with plans for a 2012 release, and will – contrary to all sanity, logic, and sense – be developing a new engine for it in-house. So it’s a good news/uh-oh sort of situation.
Let me tell you something about game engines: they’re the hardest, most complex, most time-consuming, most difficult aspects of development. Developing one costs millions of dollars. There’s a reason that a garden of middleware developers dedicated entirely to creating engines has sprung up, and why larger companies such as Valve and Crytek license their engine software. If you’re a game developer and you choose to create a proprietary engine for your game, you should expect to tack 36 months onto your development schedule.
Let me tell you something else about game engines: they can be millions of lines of code, they must play nice with a huge array of hardware combinations and operating systems, and – even if they’re technically sound – they must be tightly optimized so they run well on lower-end machines. This is not a trivial task. Many small developers that opt to create their own engines either go out of business before the game is even complete, or they release a game on an engine that’s buggy, poorly optimized, unstable, or otherwise insufficient for its purposes.
This is what GSC Game World did – the X-Ray Engine was developed for STALKER, and it was a mess. Updated for Clear Sky, it was still a mess, only this time it was a DirectX 10 mess, meaning that not only was it a mess, it was a 1 frame per second mess. By Call of Pripyat they’d cleaned up and optimized the engine, turning it into a good performer, though its frame rates were still lower than they should have been. It was around this time some began speculating that STALKER 2 might license the Cry3 technology from Crytek. Cry3 would be especially suitable for a STALKER game given its ability to render vast, open outdoor environments, and Crytek has promised that unlike Cry3’s predecessor, this version will run well on midrange computers.
Until this announcement: yay! More STALKER! Boo! Proprietary engine!
STALKER was delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed – and sort of gutted – because GSC, then a very small company, insisted on developing a proprietary engine and AI. Given how ambitious the game design itself was, the decision to develop so much technology in-house was a terrible one. It nearly cost the world the game. There was a time when it looked like STALKER wasn’t going to ship, and given how important the series has become, that would have been heartbreaking. That GSC would choose to make the same mistake twice (and it is a mistake; Gamebryo and Cry3 are both well-suited to STALKER, and neither is nearly as expensive as the cost of developing a dedicated engine) is either a sign of hubris or a sign that the company has expanded to the point where it’s supremely confident in its own technical abilities.
Is this decision going to keep me from buying the new STALKER? Certainly not, and it shouldn’t keep you from buying it either. It’s just a bad decision, one that’s likely to delay the game beyond its planned 2012 ship and may result in a buggy, underperforming result.
But hey, a new STALKER is a new STALKER, so now I have reason to live at least until 2012.
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