Game engines have become about far more than just gaming.  They’re a major accelerator of innovation and creativity across a diverse set of fields.

By Tim MadisonRaven Sun Creative

The same game technology underpinning the creation of games like Assassin’s Creed, Fornite, and Mario Kart also has the power to revolutionize location-based entertainment (LBE).

Within the world of LBE and experiential destinations, familiarity with game engines runs the gamut from expert to more or less nonexistent.  It’s probably safe to say, however, that more of us than not skew toward the latter end of the scale. Outside of the field of game design and development, game engines—what they are, how they work, and why they’re so important—are still not widely understood.

Reese's Cupfusion-interactive game screens

Reese’s Cupfusion at Hersheypark broke the record for number of interactive targets in a dark ride gaming experience. The complex gameplay is made possible by powerful game and show control development software

That is starting to change. The influence of both gaming and game technology is being felt further afield and in some unexpected places. At Raven Sun Creative, we’re in the midst of several collaborations where game engines form the basis for our entire production. The learning curve for us has been steep but absolutely thrilling.

Why should LBE pay attention to game engines?

Gamification is already a part of many visitor experiences. Still, there are those in the extended attractions and destinations universe who may feel the subject isn’t relevant to them or what they do.

Raven Sun Interactive Automotive Retail

Interactive experiences developed with game engines could forever alter retail—both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce –with digital showrooms, interactive virtual models, AI personalization, and more.

However, I would submit that there are a number of compelling reasons everyone in LBE should be paying attention to game engines. In fact, there’s probably not a niche of our industry that game engine technology doesn’t have the potential to revolutionize in one way or another.

What is a game engine?

A game engine is a software framework that enables developers to create video games with greater efficiency, speed, and affordability.

The word “game” in game engines trips some people up. But if you remove the word entirely from the definition, what do you have? A streamlined development platform for creating complex interactive 3D visualizations and virtual environments for any purpose.

Interactive Virtual Art Gallery game engines

The same technology that streamlines game development can also be used to create interactive mixed reality environments and customizable spaces.

A specialized form of IDE (or integrated development environment), a game engine typically provides the user with a suite of tools and reusable components. It also provides the ability to streamline and manage the workflow of game creation. Game engines are, in essence, workshops built of code. They are equipped with the essential tools, materials, and functionality a game developer needs to massively simplify their work and workflow.

In addition to this, many engines are cross-platform. This enables the development of games that can be launched on multiple platforms.

Game engines are powerful multi-purpose toolkits

Prior to the introduction of game engines in the 1990s, developers needed to rebuild every scrap of game infrastructure from the ground up with each new title. The bundling of functionality in game engines revolutionized the industry by dramatically reducing the production cycle. It also allowed developers to shift their attention to the unique creative worldbuilding of the game experience.

Star Map

The operating system of tomorrow may be built with game engines

Although game engines are powerful multi-purpose tool kits, it should be noted that they are frequently used in combination with other software, like Maya or Blender. Most engines allow for the integration of visual and audio assets created with other applications.

Game engines do vary, each offering a different array of features, assets, and particular advantages to the developer. Despite the differences, there are certain key components that most game engines can be said to offer.

Key game engine components

  • Rendering Engine generates animated 2D or 3D graphics in real-time
  • Input Handling System captures user input from exterior input hardwarecontroller, keyboard, mouse, touchscreen—and translates it into action in the game
  • Physics Engine defining and governing the “physical laws” within the game, such as gravity, collision and response, fluid dynamics, and more
  • Audio Engine processes in-game sounds and audio effects
  • Scripting provides pieces of code that provide the designer with a variety of pre-defined behaviours and effects that can be integrated into gameplay
  • Artificial Intelligence defines complex adaptive behaviours in-game elements, like non-player characters
  • Networking Framework enables the integration of consistent real-time multiplayer gameplay and social interactions
  • Graphical User Interface streamlines the creation of interactive visual displays, including menus, HUDs, icons, and pointers

Some game engines also offer access to asset libraries containing premade models, audio, textures, and other game elements.

Raven Sun Interactive Sports Experience game engines

Interactive sports applications have the potential to analyze movement, evaluate performance, and also provide a training plan for improvement

Furthermore, some offer specialized frameworks for the creation of VR experiences and streaming online games.

Why do game engines matter?

The rise and influence of gaming as a medium

Gaming is a cultural force to be reckoned with. Over the past decade, video games have risen to the most profitable form of entertainment in the 21st century.  This is in part due to game engine technology turbocharging the industry and hugely expanding the market. The game engine democratized game development by making it accessible to indie developers as well as those without large teams or deep programming knowledge.

Raven Sun Military Simulation game engines

The ascendency of the medium is also shaping the tastes and expectations of increasingly mainstream audiences, changing how we understand storytelling, interactivity, immersion and social connection. Game engines offer a valuable access point for those who want a deeper understanding of where the “virtualization” of our world is taking us.

The technology is about far more than just games

Game engines are incredibly versatile development platforms. Their uses as creative and business tools extend far beyond just game creation.  One of the major draws of the technology is its capacity to create complex interactive 3D virtual objects, interfaces, and immersive environments for a variety of purposes.

More and more organizations and sectors outside the game industry—medicine and science, the automotive industry, fashion, education, television and film production— are also awakening to the practical applications of game engine technology for their own fields.

Interactive Virtual Immersive Environments

An obvious game-changer for LBE is the potential to render in real-time photorealistic immersive environments a user can interact with—whether within a VR hardware or a large scale setting employing technology like LED video walls (see Virtual Production/Previsualization below).

Raven Sun Sci Fi Experience

The ability to create complex, highly realistic immersive experiences is increasingly within the grasp of non-programmers

Virtual Movie Production/Previsualization

The Disney+ series The Mandalorian broke ground by using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine in combination with LED video walls to render ultra-realistic in the studio setting and capture it in-camera. Films like The Jungle Book, Ready Player One, and Blade Runner 2049 have used Unity’s game engine to accelerate the VFX pipeline.

Directors and crews can use the technology to shoot actors on set and work with digital effects and settings simultaneously. The walls between previsualization, production, and post-production are breaking down. We are at the very beginning of seeing our entire studios pipeline being designed, developed, and produced in a game engine.

Design & Creative Collaboration

Game engines can also be used by creative teams to create and visualize designs and 3D interactive prototypes much faster, more fluidly, and more collaboratively.

Whether it’s a car, clothing, or a museum gallery space, the design process can become much more dynamic, “hands-on”, and immediate. It also can provide a means for consumers to visualize, customize, and interact with a product prototype in the design phase.

Interactive Rehab game engines

“Serious games” and motion tracking interfaces developed with 3D game engines have shown great promise for physical and cognitive therapy

Guest & Consumer Interface

For anyone who has ever coveted a 3D interactive interface and smart operating system like Tony Stark uses in the Iron Man films, game engines offer the possibility of a virtual operating system where users can interact with 3D content in a hands-on intuitive way.

They also have the potential to become the complete user interface in the future. Game engines may well prove instrumental in the realization of a ‘Metaverse’, the long-predicted virtual successor to the internet.

Training Simulations and Virtual Learning

Put learners into scenarios that more closely resemble real-life, with interactive learning experiences and simulations developed with game engines.

Interactive Data Visualization

Interactive visualizations allow scientists, engineers, or really anyone who works in a field involving complex systems or dense streams of information new ways to synthesize, understand, explore, and communicate what data means.

Reese's Cupfusion Candy Colossus

“Distant” Interactive Experiences

A powerful integration of features, most especially AI, multiplayer networking, and cross-platform functionality. This makes the design of complex interactive experiences involving geographically distant locations an exciting possibility. Game engines can help link visitor destinations, home, and mobile experiences in new ways.

Game engines and LBE

Some of the preceding applications present more obvious potential to particular areas of LBE and destinations than others. Where game engines present the most promise to our industry and the guest experience is in its convergence of diverse functionalities into a single “big picture” environment.

The technology offers us an unlimited opportunity for interfacing storytelling, real-time interaction, world building, haptics, gesture capture, eye tracking, data analytics, predictive modelling, output functions (to an almost unlimited number of items in the IoT), and assisted intelligence, in ways that have never before been available to humanity. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

Raven Sun Large Scale Interactive game engines

Real-time game engine technology enables the creation of immersive environments with a high level of interactive intelligence for a variety of uses—from themed entertainment to first emergency responder training

The technology and architecture of game development has also proven itself to have far-reaching implications across the global landscape.

Most of us may never build a game, application, movie, or work of art using a game engine. However, those of us who wish to stay ahead of the curve of change should consider taking a closer look.

Top game engines

Game Engines have also turned into an industry unto itself; it’s a field with plenty of players, dominated by a couple of giants, Unity and Unreal. In addition to the commercially available engines, many companies use their own in-house proprietary software. The following is a select list of some the best known.

Abstract Cyberscape game engines

Game engines are taking us closer to the realization of a Metaverse, a shared virtual world many tech leaders have anticipated will eventually replace the internet

Unity

  • Together with Unreal, Unity is one of the Big Two leading the industry and advancing the applications of the technology
  • Real-time cross-platform development framework for 2D, 3D, VR, and AR
  • Developer: Unity Technologies
  • Supported Platforms include Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, Magic Leap, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: Kerbal Space Program, Hearthstone, Assassin’s Creed: Identity, Cuphead, Pokémon Go, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Ready Player One

Unreal

  • First developed in the late 1990s, Unreal—along with Unity—towers over the game development landscape.
  • Real-time cross-platform toolset for the creation of 3D visuals and immersive environments
  • Developer: Epic Games
  • Supported Platforms include Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, Magic Leap, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: Mass Effect, Bioshock, Batman: Arkham series, Gears of War, Unreal Tournament, The Mandalorian, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

CryEngine

  • Another popular engine and powerhouse in the field used in the development of all of Crytek’s game titles.
  • Cross-platform game engine for 2D and 3D game development
  • Developer: Crytek
  • Supported Platforms include Windows, Linux, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: Far Cry series, State of Decay, Sniper: Ghost Warrior series, Crysis series

Amazon Lumberyard

  • Cross-platform game engine developed by Amazon and adapted from CryEngine, which Amazon licensed in 2015.
  • Developer: Amazon
  • Supported Platforms include iOS, Android, Windows, PlayStation, Xbox and more.
  • Notable game and projects: The Grand Tour

Source

  • 3D game engine used for the development of Valve’s games
  • Developer: Valve
  • Supported Platforms include Mac, Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: Dota Overlords, Artifact, Half-Life: Alyx, Left 4 Dead

Godot

  • The 2D/3D game engine is open source under an MIT license, which means no royalties or fees.
  • Developer: Juan Linietsky, Ariel Manzur and various community contributors
  • Supported Platforms include Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, HTML5, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: City Game Studio, Get Teddy

GameMaker Studio

  • The cross-platform game engine is notable for a drag-and-drop feature. This means users don’t need to know a programming language to create.
  • Developer: YoYo Games
  • Supported Platforms include Mac, Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Linux, HTML5, and more.
  • Notable games and projects: Hyper Light Drifter, Katana Zero, Super Crate Box, Spelunky

All images kind courtesy of Raven Sun Creative