Raven Shield Engine
By Jester

Introduction

Since the R6/RS community got confirmation that UbiSoft is working on Rainbow Six: Raven Shield (or R63), there have been mixed emotions about the new game. In the press release, we finally received confirmation that UbiSoft Montreal will develop the game using "the next-generation Unreal™ engine". Some fans are angry about this; others are overjoyed. Other fans are left wondering whether they should be angry or overjoyed. If you fit in that last group, read on--you will get all the evidence that you need in order to make up your own mind on this most recent burning issue in the R6 community.

The Engine

There has been some confusion over the phrase "the next-generation Unreal™ engine" in some of the fansite forums. Some people have wondered if that means that R63 will be using the older Unreal engine, as opposed to the new Unreal II or Unreal Tournament II engine. Well, the answer is that there is just one engine, albeit in different levels of development. It's all one engine, really, which is constantly being upgraded.

The core engine is licensed out to game developers like UbiSoft. Unreal II and UT II are both based on this engine, though it has been highly modified by the developers of those titles, so that each game has many different features.

In February of this year, Epic Games released Unreal engine build 829 to licensees, which introduced quite a few new features to the already impressive changes made since Unreal and Unreal Tournament were released. In addition, there are several new technologies that have been developed by other companies, in partnership with Epic, that are available to licensees of the Unreal Engine. With UbiSoft licensing the Unreal Engine, these are all things that we might see when we finally get to buy the gaming goodness that will be Rainbow Six: Raven Shield.

Of Maps and Particle Effects

Over the years, UnrealEd, the proprietary map-making program for the Unreal series of games, has evolved more and more. Since the newer versions just build upon the old foundation, there is a sizeable knowlede base out there in the Unreal community, including tutorials and forums. UnrealEd was built from the ground up specifically for making maps for the game, and is much more user friendly for most would-be modders than a powerful tool like 3d Studio Max, which was used to make the maps for the existing games in the R6 series.

Once again, there have been significant improvements to the editor, to the way the engine handles the maps and the textures, and to the maps themselves. For instance, Epic claims that texture performance has improved since they allow DirectX to manage texture memory. In addition, they have added fog support to give more depth to maps and improve performance in larger outdoor areas, presumably by cutting down on what is visible at any given time to the player, in order to cut down on rendering scenery--much like Ghost Recon does.

Speaking of larger outdoor areas, Epic has improved UnrealEd with an interesting new feature that should aid in making large-scale terrain. One such tool will allow you to select a portion of the terrain and raise or lower it with your mouse. Real-time lighting updating during terrain painting while working in the editor is now available. In addition, the new hardware brush technology purportedly lets Epic "create scenes of 150-200 times more polygons than what users saw in Unreal Tournament at excellent levels of performance using hardware T&L."

The engine now supports true moving water, thanks to the concept of volumes. Epic has not elaborated on the idea, except to say that volumes also let developers do much more with gravity, slow-motion effects, and particle system forces such as wind. There is some exciting discussion about particle systems advancements made by Digital Extremes that have been incorporated into the engine by Epic on the Unreal Engine News Page . DE has done some great stuff with the particle system.

In this series of screenshots, you can see a cloud of smoke that realistically dissipates when a rocket moves through it. In addition, the screens show off another exciting bit of tech from DE: projective textures. Note the shadow that is visible on the smoke cloud in the first screen in the series--that is coming from a meshed fan. Shadows will not only display on objects and characters, but on particles, too. In addition, you can create weather effects, explosions, fire, smoke, blood, ground fog and volumetric lighting.

Improved Animation Art Path

Newer versions of the Unreal Engine make it easier to import skeletal character data from third-party tools, namely 3d Studio Max and Maya, two advanced tools used by many game developers. Epic says,

"The latest version of the Unreal Engine features a more efficient animation art path. Now, game developers can import skeletal character data exported from Max or Maya directly into the editor and then meshes and their animations can be previewed, scaled, adjusted, assigned the proper materials, game-code notification callbacks, and much more. All this resource preparation is now done interactively from within the editor and can be saved directly into the Unreal Engine's native format, ready to use in the game."

Good news for character modelers/animators.

Matinee Improvements

The Unreal Engine uses a camera system that is integrated into the game editor that allows developers to film cut scenes, do level fly-bys, or script in-game sequences. This tool, known as Matinee, shows quite a bit of promise. Epic promises "exact control" over camera placement and movement, as well as easy to set-up visual effects, including fades, zooms, and orientation changes.

UnrealScript

UnrealScript is a powerful tool developed by Epic to give Unreal's designers a powerful, built-in programming language that was aimed at the needs of game developers and mod-makers. It is used for a wide variety of tasks, including Mutators (slight changes to gameplay, such as lowering gravity or adding/removing powerups), Game Types (ie. Capture the Flag, Assault, etc.), new HUDs, GUIs, new weapon types--basically, anything and everything that you can think of.

Unreal Engine Debugger

The Unreal Engine Debugger is a new tool that is integrated with the engine for the UnrealScript language. It is unclear at this point how much of this will trickle down to mod-makers, but Epic has this to say on the subject:

"This extremely comprehensive tool will help improve productivity for all Unreal Engine licensees who develop UnrealScript code and down the road for Mod-makers as well."

Some of the key features of the UnrealScript Debugger include:

  • Assign multiple breakpoints and watches
  • Break on variable change and null pointer access
  • Live editing of object properties
  • Easy access to all objects
  • Support for step into, step over and step out of function calls
  • Expandable variable property lists
  • Complete syntax-highlighted source and log viewers
  • Full session memory

On Mods

Scott Dalton, of Legend Entertainment--the developer of Unreal2--had this to say about modding for the new engine in a recent forum post:

"Unreal 2 is very much geared towards ease of use for the mod community. As far as models are concerned - We're using an entirely new system for skeletal animation import and control. Chris Hargrove has created GOLEM (our skeletal system) to be as easy to use and extendable as possible. The models and their controllers act like plugins, where mod authors can easily create their own models, skins, and even control systems for the model. This means that you just save out new models and skins into a .gem file and drop them into the meshes directory.

This is great for both us and mod authors because it allows the artists to get their work into the game as fast and easily as possible.

I think a real source of cool mod stuff will be the controllers. Since they're layered plug-ins, like the head and eye tracking we had on demo at E3, you can easily add your own controls and effects on top of what is already there.

Of course a ton of the other stuff we've been working on will be great for mod authors too. Our particle engine, scripting system, dialog engine, etc. For instance, you can easily create an entirely new weapon in just a few minutes using only a particle system. I can't wait to see what people come up with."

While the Unreal games have always supported the modding community, Red Storm has always seemed to fall into the group of game developers that were not that big on mods. Mod tools and the knowledge to use them have historically come more from the fan community than the company. If RSE wants to treat their games that way, they have every right to, of course. Some companies view modding differently--they go out of their way to support it and to give people the ability to modify their game. They do this because they feel it helps sales, for the most part.

There is no doubt that the Unreal Engine will be heavily modifiable. The question now is: Will UbiSoft pass that along to their consumers? As a licensee of the Unreal Engine, they will, undoubtedly, modify it to suit their own needs. Whether or not they release the tools necessary to modify their game further is up to them. Just because the tools exist does not mean that they have to release them. My gut feeling is that they will release tools. UbiSoft bought out RSE because they had a good, profitable franchise going with Rainbow Six. Of course Ubi will want to make money off of it. Since they went to the extreme of licensing the Unreal Engine, with all of its' goodies, why not release the tools? They seem to understand that it can only increase sales.

Will the Rainbow Six community have the same level of mod support that Unreal2 will have and that other Unreal games have had? I hope so. All will be revealed, in time.

Other Improvements

Other improvements include an optional, complicated physics engine debeloped by MathEngine plc, AI and animation updates, improved multiplayer networking code, a return to support for the Linux dedicated server, easy multilayer textures, spectacular highlights for metal textures, and support for detailed facial animations. To see all of this, check out Epic's Unreal Engine Page.

Conclusions

The Unreal Engine has quite a bit of gaming goodness to offer Raven Shield, that much is certain. It all comes down to what UbiSoft does with it, however. Several of the advanced technologies available to developers for the engine require extra licenses, so some of them may not make it into the final product. Undoubtedly, though, the final product will look great, even with a bare-bones Unreal Engine. Since UbiSoft is developing this game on their own, they still have to capture the feeling and the gameplay of the R6 series, however. Without that, they'll never win over the fans in the community.

 

 

 


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