Servan Keondjian and Doug Rabson, the software pioneers who created Reality Lab and Direct3D, are to launch their ‘future generation’ middleware, ‘Q’, at GDC this month (Feb 18-22).
Until now Q has only been available to close partners of Qube, the company Keondjian and Rabson set up after leaving Microsoft. The pair believes that the technology will give the sector a badly needed shake up.
Everything we learnt from building Direct3D and Reality Lab has been put into Q, said Qube’s CEO, Keondjian.
Qube has designed and built Q to provide a consistent software framework for development studios, across multiple titles and target hardware ranging from previous generation consoles to top of the range DX10 PCs.
We’ve designed and built Q to be fast and compact enough for last generation devices, at the same time it rocks on ALL the current generation of platforms and on hi spec gaming PCs, and it positions us well for next generation mobile devices, Keondjian said. It’s a solution that works for every genre; RPG, MMO, FPS, racing, sports, action and even the latest stars like rhythm action games.
Q is purpose built for developers to give them a full range of tools combined with maximum freedom, maximum flexibility and maximum control, said Keondjian. Q isn’t a by-product of a game in the way that engines have been spun off from games like Unreal or Crysis are, nor is it just a low-level renderer where you have to build everything else for yourself from scratch.
Qube’s CTO, Doug Rabson, says that one of Q’s key goals was to tackle one of middleware’s big problems; that all too often, middleware gets in the way of a developer getting the hardware to do what they want.
We don’t see any reason why middleware shouldn’t provide low-level and high-level components, while still allowing complete control over the hardware, Rabson said.
We believe we have solved this problem with Q through our plug-in framework architecture. What seems to have really impressed our partner developers during beta testing is that they can use it for multiple projects sharing framework code across all in-house games.
Q provides genre-independent core technology plug-ins for game development, whilst allowing developers full freedom to extend and specialize wherever necessary. The core plug-in set includes cutting edge features such as:
– support for arbitrary scene rendering algorithms
– support for programmable shaders
– background data streaming
– texture manager capable of handling scenes with many gigabytes of texture visible on screen
– cross-platform data format
– n-dimensional animation blending
– background work queue
– 3D editor which allows both core and custom plug-ins to run live inside the editing environment.
Keondjian set himself the goal of creating middleware that puts the developer in charge and to that end Qube actively encourages studios to both build plug-ins and licence those they create. Keondjian and Rabson anticipate the significant growth of a market in third party plug-ins for Q.
Above all, the most important lesson we learnt was about freeing the developer to add their own features. Traditional middleware can often cause more problems for studios than it solves. In particular, the problems associated with adding custom features to a large external codebase can be crippling when new releases of the middleware arrive. Keondjian warns. Q has solved that problem, he said.
What some of our competitors are offering is a Betty Crocker cake mix solution, said Jamie Fowlston, Q’s Program Manager.
You buy the box, you mix it together and you get a cake just like the one Betty Crocker made earlier. Other middleware providers meanwhile are just selling a plain bag of flour. You’ve got to do absolutely everything else yourself.
But in our experience developers aren’t the tech equivalents of mum and dad turning out predictable goodies for a kids’ party, Fowlston said. They’re more like master chefs. They know how to put ingredients together to make something new, completely different and, as often as not, something quite wonderful.
But what Q offers is a range of the finest middleware ingredients known to mankind. Qube wants studios to pick and choose from our ingredients, to add their own, and to make the whole uniquely theirs by using the professional skills that most other middleware solutions don’t allow them to bring to bear, Fowlston added.
Q unlocks the genius of independent studios. It doesn’t box them in.
The Qube team will be in the Strategy Room on the 3rd Floor of the W Hotel adjacent to the GDC venue on Feb 20 and 22 and on the ATI stand throughout the show.