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Terminal Reality Jumps Onto NGP Development

...Sorta. They're making an engine, not a game, but that's one more resource for budding developers!
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 23, 2011
Stop us if you're heard this one before: Sony announces their whole Next Generation Portable (yes, that's NGP, no, it's not the final name) and a developer decides that, nope, all that talk of the uber-portable wasn't just hogwash. They want in.

Familiar? Maybe not yet, but a growing number of developers are starting to express both surprise and satisfaction at the apparent ease with which the PSP2 (or NGP if you want to go all official about it) is able to handle engines that were previously the stuff of HD consoles -- in particular the PS3.

That might seem at odds with the normal console/handheld ideal of how games are made, but Sony's been absolutely insistent that the NGP was built around development, yet it seems to have the same kind of insane Sony hardware-pushing specs involved; a quad-core main processor and a quad-core graphics chip (courtesy of PowerVR and their SGXMP4+ powerhouse).

That's a lot of muscle for a handheld system, which is perhaps why Terminal Reality, creators of their own in-house Infernal Engine, have decided to step things up a notch. The newest version of the Infernal Engine is actually planned for the next generation of console hardware -- clearly getting the jump on the perceived arrival of the 2012 successors to the PS3 and Xbox 360 -- (unless we misunderstood the slightly nebulous terminology of "3rd-generation consoles and the PC" as we're now in the seventh generation of consoles), but also the NGP.

Their plans for the engine are, shall we say... impressive. A new focus on MMOs, core (or "serious" if you follow the whole "casual" idea of game naming conventions) and big-ass open-world games are what's being zeroed in on here. To put things in context, Infernal was used previously in Ghostbusters: The Video Game and Def Jam: Rapstar -- two very different games in terms of how they leveraged the hardware's strengths. The engine has been blown out from its Ghostbusters confines to allow full worlds, with an entirely new terrain system that we'll no doubt see at GDC next week.

How this will scale to the NGP is unclear, exactly, but then much of what the NGP can do at this point -- much less what middleware engine providers can do -- is rather sketchy at best. That'll be fixed in the next few weeks and months to come, but if you're interested in bullet points as to what this new revision to Infernal will do, we've got Terminal Reality's take right here:

[o] Efficient, threaded LOD generation for terrain geometry, with the option of a predefined triangle budget
[o] Powerful tools for editing heightmap, vertex color, material and vegetation layers
[o] Support for terrain holes, making caves and other permissive areas possible
[o] A multitude of brushes and operations (lower, rise, smooth, flatten, average, noise, custom bitmap brushes, layer masks, import/export)
[o] Optimized material layering system
[o] Vegetation and decoration layers providing flexible LOD management and instanced geometry for rendering
[o] Altitude/slope filters and layer paint masks
[o ]Per sector properties for fine tuned geometry and material optimizations

If none of that makes sense to you, let's put it another way: have you ever imagined an Oblivion running on a portable? We're not saying TI is even claiming such a thing, but they've clearly built this new engine for scale (and in our minds, that kind of scale), and if you aren't expecting games with lush vegetation and serious undulation to the terrain on a portable, you don't understand just how massive a leap the NGP really is.