Edge (UK): inbox [2002]

Date: February 2002

Source: Edge (UK Edition), Issue 107, p. 118

The article ‘Middleware: sinner or saviour?’ in E105 raises some interesting points, but seems slightly biased in favour of the growth of middleware. In the interests of redressing this balance, here are a few thoughts on this subject.

One major downside is that middleware kills skills. Some of the most valued skills for games programmers are best learned by working on engine code. An intimate knowledge of the best ways to push graphics hardware is usually gained by getting down to the metal. 3D maths skills are most readily honed by coding up a physics engine. The proliferation of middleware could see the next generation of games programmers missing such important skills, and hence remove much of the innovation that games programmers are valued for.

Munch’s Oddysee is cited as a success story for middleware. A few facts are missing from this tale. Oddworld Inhabitants have some of the industries most respected programmers helping to make this game a success – it probably wouldn’t be so hot if the team were purely ‘art driven’. The ability of Oddworld’s artists is also a major contributing factor towards the quality of the game. The way an engine looks is limited by how well the artists utilise it.

I’ve seen first hand (although not at Creature Labs) what can happen to a game when middleware rendering and physics engines are used by programmers who do not have engine coding experience. Middleware certainly has its place, but it’s still a long way from obviating the need for in-house technology.

Oscar Cooper, Creature Labs