“Is it better to have your own technology for making games, or should you license an engine?” is a question that I get asked now and then.
Here at Remedy, we have always used our own technology. Call it a Nordic thing. Many of our neighbouring studios have used their own technology for the longest of times too.
Northlight is a comprehensive game engine that, like every game engine, has a unique take on workflows and data pipelines. It has modern rendering technology, offers comprehensive solutions for most – if not all – areas of game development, and it can be used to make games for multiple console platforms and PC.
When considering the own technology vs. licensed engine question, it’s tempting to compare some specific aspects of game engines, such as perceived image quality or character animation fidelity. But on a more holistic level, it would be mostly meaningless. In my opinion, what should be considered instead is how well a particular game engine can fit the game development team’s strengths; what is the team size and composition; what is the game vision and its core pillars; what main platforms the game is going to be released on. For example, having our own game engine means we can tailor it to our team’s needs and together define the best practices so that teams and individuals can get everything possible out of the technology available.
Creating a game on top of any game engine can go from light scripting and content setup to significant customization of the engine and reworking entire content pipelines. It’s important to pick the right technology base, so that the game team’s effort can go into making that unique game. It’s also important that the game team understands the strengths of the chosen technology and embraces it; have solid plan on how to implement that creative vision with the chosen technology, instead of fighting it.
This is why our Vanguard development team went with the Unreal Engine. It has, out-of-the-box, many of the things that the Vanguard team needs for an online game. That is the right choice for that game.
Why have we chosen and keep choosing Northlight?
“the in-house technology, workflows, pipelines, and game teams are in a symbiotic relationship”
Northlight was born many, many hardware generations ago, when games and teams were much smaller. Times were in many aspects simpler, and commercial game engines were not really available in the same way as they are today. Remedy built its own technology, which came with custom workflows and pipelines. We kept making new games, development teams kept growing, and we kept building on top of existing technology, and more importantly, our custom pipelines and workflows. This symbiosis of tech, pipelines and workflows has defined and continues to define what kind of roles we have in our teams, which in turn defines the games that come out as a result. In other words, the in-house technology, workflows, pipelines, and game teams are in a symbiotic relationship where each part helps the others to grow and succeed.
What continues to make Remedy stay with Northlight is that developing our own technology means we keep having the full control over all content pipelines and workflows, in addition to all the runtime capabilities. We have seen that when technology is developed for and with all the game teams, it truly means that everything we build is built for our teams and games. For example, this approach has recently allowed us to introduce a new scripting system (Luau), replace our game object model (which changes the way how gameplay code is written), and introduce completely new content pipelines based on Pixar’s Universal Scene Description (USD). These changes are solving issues that were raised by several of our technology and content teams when they were building our previous games. We can now build and run larger, more detailed worlds, and have larger teams to create content for our upcoming games.
Owning and developing proprietary engine of course has its challenges. That is definitely not lost on us. It’s a constant challenge and a huge investment to upkeep. Having full control of our technology means it has to be maintained decisively and kept balanced between smaller iterative changes and larger technology leaps. Becoming stagnant would be a slow but certain death for internal technology; you have to be able to keep taking calculated risks with technology. Our adoption of Universal Scene Description and building our new content pipelines on top of it, is a good example of a larger leap on technology and content creation. It comes with risks, and we can really only assess the benefits only after the first game has shipped on it.
Making games is, as we are fond of saying at Remedy, hard, and it is not possible to foresee all the challenges that come up during multi-year, multi-project game production, regardless of one’s chosen technology. Whether you have your own tech or licensed, there are always going to be massive challenges. Games are more and more complex, have more features and more fidelity; the work is never ending. We are well aware of the challenges of maintaining our own technology, but at least it’s in our hands.
There are always multiple perspectives to consider when evaluating which is the right technology choice for a team. It is always a collaborative effort to make a game; tech and creatives need to work together and trust that each individual in every team is doing their best and wants to ensure shipping great games. Ultimately, the kind of crafts and individuals you have defines the end result in both macro and micro scale. Having deep control of technology brings its own flavor into the games made with it. Yet the deep control is the main reason I believe many studios have been and want to keep investing into strong technology teams and proprietary game engines.
Now that we have kicked things off, you can expect more blog posts from us at irregular cadence around a variety of Northlight related topics. Thank you for reading!