Autodesk’s Stingray Game Engine

Over the next several issues of the GBR Newsletter we will be highlighting different game engines and development tools. These overviews are a follow-on to our initial article Rev Up Your Engines – A Look at the Game Engines. We’ll start with Autodesk and their Stingray game engine.

Autodesk is of course best known for their digital content creation (DCC) tools Maya and Max, and for acquiring many middleware technology companies over the years to create the Autodesk gameware ecosystem. Some of these game tools include:

All of these have been note-worthy middleware acquisitions, however, none have been complete game engines. Introducing Stingray, Autodesk’s first real foray into productizing a game engine acquisition.

Stingray, (renamed and reworked since the Bitsquid acquisition), is a lightweight game engine with clean code written starting around 2009, according to the Autodesk Stingray Product Manager, Boris Ustaev. Swedish company Fatshark developed the games while sister company Bitsquid developed the engine, which it sold to Autodesk in June, 2014. Bitsquid based games are commercially available, most notably the Kingmaker edition of War of the Roses, Helldivers for the PS4 is another. Other Bitsquid titles include War of the Vikings and Magicka: Wizards War.

States Mr. Ustaev, “Using Stingray along with an Autodesk owned digital content creation (DCC) tool such as Maya/Max allows for a better translation between the DCC tool and the game engine.” Autodesk now has the ability to adjust both ends of the pipeline with Stingray and Maya/Max for instance, and with access over the engine full source for the first time, complex game tech (e.g., information about shaders) may be better understood by the engine.

According to Mr. Ustaev, “Before, with no transparency as to how the engine source worked, translation was limited to whatever FBX content could be imported by the engine, but, now with Stingray, the engine hood is lifted, and a more efficient pipeline for understanding 3D content is possible. For example, the engine reads the shader effects graphs directly, no special translation is needed. This allows Autodesk to better understand how to optimize both sides of the pipeline.”

Everything in Stingray is data driven. Autodesk provides flow-node based game logic. For instance, low-level nodes are defined in the editor, which a user can connect together to make a shader. Visual scripting is more intuitive to artists than text based scripting and hopefully will encourage artists and designers to become more involved in the actual game development.

Adjacent JSON based text files make it easier for game developers to tweak what needs tweaking in real time, making iterative game development possible. Stingray users can directly adjust their game’s features in these JSON files.  The engine is client-server based, relying on JSON files for defining all the data the game needs, while the front end user interface is written in HTML. Common game features such as materials, shaders, level, level scenes, and objects can now be easily adjusted in their respective JSON file.

Stingray’s supported scripting language (via legacy) is LUA, but their hope is that a fairly robust visual node-based editor may reduce the need for game developers to write independent additional scripts. The engine itself lives on the server side, decoupled from the user interface to the tools. Right now, engine development is done in Chromium using HTML and Javascript in a QT window, but soon the Stingray team plans to move to a native Chromium interface.

Supporting WebGL for web games is under discussion, as is a user generated art repository (similar to other game engine’s asset stores). Pricing and licensing models are still TBD. More information about Stingray can be found at http://www.autodesk.com/campaigns/stingray.

GBR Analysis: Autodesk has shown interest in moving into the game engine business for a while now. Game engines are not trivial business or technical undertakings but with several major industry standard digital content creation tools within their domain, providing and supporting a game engine should help Autodesk to grow even more creative mind and market share. When Stingray is commercially available, users may find a sophisticated but accessible game engine that could also be used by verticals outside the traditional game industry to create high quality 3D interactive content, with access to data from tools configured with a comprehensive content pipeline – all from the same vendor.