Climax might not be one of Britain's best known developers, having spent most of the last decade porting games like Warcraft II, Diablo and Battlezone to console systems like the PlayStation, N64 and Sega Saturn. But with studios in London, Brighton, Hampshire and Nottingham working on several new games, including an online strategy title based on the classic Warhammer fantasy battle system, they could be about to enter the spotlight.
We caught up with Tony Beckwith from Climax Brighton to find out more about their latest project, a cross-platform 3D engine designed specifically for motor racing games.
The imaginatively named Motorsports engine was originally announced for the PlayStation 2, but has since expanded to cover the Xbox, PC and GameCube as well. "Our motorsports engine is already running on the PC, and one of our titles will be coming out on PC. As for the GameCube, we've only just got the dev kits so we're just starting to get our teeth into that."
So what's it been like working with the various systems and their development kits? "To be honest, coders generally find Xbox a lot easier to initially get into", Tony told us. "The hardest thing about [working with the] PS2 is the number of processors, and getting them all synched and working in perfect harmony. PS2 is generally popular with old school coders, especially the guys who used to write games back in the 80's."
"However, if you spend a lot of time and energy on the PlayStation 2 it certainly starts to show rewards. As time passes, the PS2 gives up more and more of its secrets. After the initial relative easiness of Xbox, we'll have to wait and see if there is a lot more deep down in the system to discover."
All that hard work wringing performance out of Sony's uber-console apparently pays off though, and Tony believes that Climax is "pushing the PS2 as hard as possible" with the first in-house game they have running on the engine on the PlayStation 2 pushing "60 frames per second featuring curved surface geometry and dual pass texturing".
The Xbox also has some tricks up its sleeve though, thanks to the advanced NVIDIA graphics chip powering its visuals. "On the Xbox you get four passes at texturing, which is pretty cool - there's a lot you can do with that, but you'll have to wait and see!"
"The curved surface geometry is also a natural fit", according to Tony. "Most other engines - especially for PS2 titles - are polygon pushers. We build all of our vehicles and tracks using bezier patches. By rendering using curves we have smaller data sets, so our engines go faster and we can dynamically increase poly counts to give optimum curvature when we need it. Considering the sleek curves on many cars, bikes, and even on racing tracks, you can clearly see the advantage this gives us for motorsports titles."
Turns On A DYNE
Another key feature of the Motorsports engine is the inclusion of DYNE, a "proprietary Vehicle Dynamics and Rigid Body system" created by the Vehicle Dynamics Engineering department at Climax Brighton. Basically it's a physics system geared around motor racing, supporting "bikes, cars or anything else with wheels".
"A lot of other racing titles use an all-in-one physics solution like Math Engine or Havok", Tony explained. "The problem is that these systems are a jack of all trades (i.e. everything to do with physics) rather than a true vehicle dynamics engine."
DYNE is certainly paying its rent, getting its first outing in Climax's PlayStation 2 version of Mille Miglia for SCi at the end of last year. And as well as being used in the two games based on the Motorsports engine which Climax Brighton are developing at the moment, "DYNE is also being used in two more racing games at this studio, as well as a title being developed at our Fareham office".
Exactly what those games are going to be is something of a mystery at this stage, as "unfortunately our publishers don't allow me to divulge what titles we are working on". But Tony would tell us that "they are [based on] licenses which allow us to use real life racing vehicles in real life racing environments".
"We are developing one motorsport title on PS2 and Xbox and another title on Xbox only", he revealed after a little more arm twisting. "Oh go on, I can probably tell you that the Xbox / PC motorsports title is a bike game, and the PS2 / Xbox title is a car game involving mud and dust."
It's not just their own in-house games that will be using the engine though, as Climax are also hoping to license it out to other companies. "We've had a number of people apply. We're not just licensing this out to anybody however. Each licensee is negotiating their own bespoke deal with us. We need to be sure that the licensee has the capabilities to create a AAA title - we're very keen to make sure that games featuring DYNE and the Motorsports engine are only of the highest quality."
How this works out in practice remains to be seen, but hopefully we will know more later in the year as the first solid details of the games start to leak out.