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Havok is arguably one of the most recognisable names in the industry. Providing an unparallelled standard of physics for the industry, the company also offers realistic destruction models, boasts high-end AI packages and much more. Conceived in Trinity College Dublin, Havok has gone on to become an essential element to hundreds of titles. Want to know more about Havok? TGL got you covered…
The Gaming Liberty: Can you tell us about the establishment of Havok? How did the idea come about?
Havok: Havok’s first product, Havok Physics, was conceived as a research project in the Computer Science department of Trinity College Dublin in 1998. The idea came about as the team looked at two converging trends. The first was the growing horse power of home PCs and game consoles, the second was a growing interest from game developers and players to add more realism and dynamics into their games. Before Havok was on the scene, game developers had to hand animate most things that moved in their game, e.g. explosions and debris, flags, crates, etc. Additionally most games at the time (circa 1999/2000) had very static worlds which meant the player couldn’t interact naturally with objects in the world. Havok realised that by adding a “Physics Engine” into the game, the world would come alive and the burden would be removed from the animators and moved to the CPU. The growing power of PCs and game consoles allowed for this more computationally expensive work to take place and first in the queue to use this extra power was Havok. The team working on the research project quickly realised the commercial potential of Physics in games and spun out to form Havok at the end of 1999.
TGL: One of the first mainstream titles to support the Havok physics engine was Valve’s Half-Life 2, and in many respects it changed the face of the gaming industry forever. Although an inevitable natural evolution from static animations, did the team at Havok anticipate such a surge of interest in their product?
H: Interestingly you can trace back the popularity of Physics in games to the 1970’s with titles like: Pong (very simple Physics), Breakout (early destruction!), Asteroids (simple 2D physics). Additionally, some of the first 3D games to use Physics were: Stunt Car Racer (car Physics), Jurassic Park: Trespasser (FPS using Physics), Hitman (Ragdoll physics). Half Life 2 was definitely a seminal title for Havok Physics, but if you look at the history there was a clear trend that adding Physics into games meant for more fun in games. So in short, Havok always anticipated our products would become popular as for us it meant more fun in games.
TGL: Aside from a physics engine, Havok offer packages that include cloth simulation, destruction, behaviour and even AI. Can you tell us about the thought process and creation of such packages? How are they formulated, pitched and verified before going into production?
H: There are a quite number of factors that go into product decisions. The main goal for a new product is to fill a need that our customers have; that is the main requirement first and foremost. However , we also want new products to enhance existing products. For example, when we planned Havok Destruction it built on top of Havok Physics and extended the ways that Physics could be used in a game. In the same way, Havok AI is a low level AI solution in its own right but also solves the problems in AI that are introduced when you add in destruction and dynamic into a game world. The way that our products interact with each other is important and another factor we look at as we plan our product roadmap. Being a single provider of different solutions, Havok has an opportunity to make our products work together in useful ways for our customers.
TGL: For smaller up-and-coming developers Havok offers the “Strike Program”. Can you tell us a little about it, and how it differs from a full developer license?
H: The Havok Strike program offers a number of new ways for a developer to license our software. It ranges from the completely free-to-use versions that are subsidized entirely through to a very flexible license that scales with the investment a developer is making in their game. The goal of the Strike program is to provide all developers, regardless of functioning, a route to access professional grade middleware. Ultimately we feel this level of access will benefit the community at large.
TGL: Havok also provides services to help with the production of a title(s) – in fact, Havok’s official website states that “Havok Services are not just for Havok products”. How important is it, from a business stand-point, to create trust and confidence within your customers?
H: One of Havok’s core strengths is its support team. Since day one Havok has had a “do whatever it takes” attitude to supporting its customers. Game Developers are constantly trying to push the boundary of whatever genre, game idea, technology or middle solution they are using. You absolutely as a company have to support fully in that endeavour. Havok’s support team is a very experienced bunch of engineers. We believe that the support team should be staffed with some of the most experienced engineers in the company including game developers and engineers that have worked on our core technologies. Game Developers have to know they are talking to support engineers who deeply know their material and as you ask, that is ultimately what creates trust and confidence with our customer.
TGL: With talk of the next generation consoles as strong as ever, is there anything Havok would change or would like to see included in the next generation of consoles that maybe the current generation of systems lack?
H: Unfortunately we are not in a position to answer this question due to many non-disclosure agreements.
TGL: For those wishing to become part of Havok team, or even the gaming industry, can you run us through some of the attributes or skills you think are essential these days?
H: In general terms Havok is looking for three main traits in an applicant. Firstly they have to have the basic technical skills required for the job: that is typically C++ and 3D maths. Other technical skills that are very useful are scripting languages such as e.g. Lua or Python, and experience with different sorts of programming environments, e.g. assembly, tools programming etc. The second trait is evidence of a passion for games technology. We like to see some project work that the candidate has completed, either as part of their course work or off their own bat. Today there are a large number of free for use gaming technologies available (include Havok’s own!) that can be downloaded and used by candidates who want to show off their chops. We really like when an applicant has developed a demo or a game and walk us through it. Thirdly, we are looking for the traditional skills that good developers have: problem solving skills, communication skills, and team work.
You can reach Havok through the following links: