Stonetrip CEO Philip Belhasen talks to Develop about the path to engine success with ShiVa 3D

Engine Focus: ShiVa 3D

Time was, defining a good engine was an easy task. All you had to do was look at the back of the boxes of the biggest games available on supermarket shelves. In many ways this rule still applies, but today those boxes will only give you part of the picture.

Defining ‘good’ is hard enough anyway. Good for what? Cry Engine 3 can make things look pretty, but what use does a mobile games developer have for an integrated vegetation and terrain cover generation system? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine firms like Naughty Dog, Bungie or Quantic Dream ever rushing to make use of the latest iteration of Adobe Flash for their triple-A titles.

It’s a diverse market with many needs, and success can be found providing for any and all of them. Shiva 3D has proved a fine example of this. The engine can and has built games and graphical simulations for the likes of Windows, Linux, iPhone, Android and WebOS, and before version 1.9 is released this summer a product discount has also been given to Mac developers using the engine.

“We don’t yet have native Mac support, while we know a lot of developers are using ShiVa 3D with parallels and other emulation software for the Mac,” says Stonetrip CEO Philip Belhassen.

“We wanted to level out the playing field so that everyone has the chance to develop with ShiVa.”

And as for the upcoming 1.9 iteration, Belhassen is very keen to outline what updates are set to appear.

“With the release of ShiVa Editor 1.9, we’ll be making a lot of updates including plug-in support for things like Fmod, Allegorithmic and physX. There will be a unified authoring tool for all supported platforms; Native Compilation – the editor can now convert Lua to readable C++ code to improve script performance,” he explains.

“We’re also adding the ability to code in C, C++, Cocoa and Objective-C so users can code their game completely or partially inside Lua and custom tags. There’s a new Mesh API so the mesh structure can be altered by both Lua and C++ code plug-ins to allow mesh creation and deformation. The ability to export just user generated content will also feature, which is useful if you’re developing an add-on for a game.”

Even outside of the 1.9 update, Stonetrip is a busy company right now. Belhassen is clearly, and many would say quite rightly, proud of the flurry of activity.

“ShiVa continues to add new platforms and grow as a company. On top of adding Android, iPad, Palm webOS, Wii and PSP support over the past few months, we’ve also recently added industry veteran John Goodale to the company to grow our business development efforts in North America and Asia,” he enthuses.

“And we have rolled out a new community site that gives ShiVa developers a new way to communicate and discuss their developments. All of this supports our growth.”

Stonetrip certainly seem to be taking full advantage of the shifting nature of digital entertainment. Belhassen himself is clearly paying close attention to the evolution of the development industry.

“There has definitely been a move to smaller projects and multiple platforms. With thousands of new development studios popping up because of new, more open platforms like iPhone and Android, there are a lot of opportunities for developers and aspiring developers to make the game they want to make,” he says.

“We also see a lot of people making games that might have a specialty from a larger team, but through better tools, they can build games that are complete and of very high quality.”

And for these thousands of new studios, Belhassen has little doubt of what his company, and its engine, has to offer.

“Developers using ShiVa get the oppourtunity to learn to develop using an intuitive tool and can also benefit from the workflow and optimisations that we’ve built in,” he says.

“Games can be exported for multiple platforms from a single project file and that opens opportunities in producing and publishing for multiple platforms. ShiVa 3D opens up new platforms.”

Intending to ensure that the company can maintain the momentum they have built up so far, however, Belhassen fully intends to keep himself and everyone at Stonetrip on their toes.

“We listen to the community and watch the market,” he reveals.

“There’s a balance in being the first on a platform and making sure that your development community has the tools that they need for existing platforms, and that new platforms are going to have a market. With that said, we’ve been first on iPad, Android and Palm webOS, all of which proved to be good opportunities for our community.”

But Belhassen fully believes that change is on the way yet again, and that when it comes, Stonetrip will be ready for it.

“There will be more platforms and more interest in self-publishing. I think we’ll also see more studios looking to diversify projects by going to six to ten different platforms with a game to spread the costs out, but also hit different and emerging gamers,” he theorises.

“Casual games and social games have been very popular lately and we see that trend continuing as well. For engine developers, it’s going to be about how well they can service the users of their engine and continually deliver upgrades and enhancements that make development faster and easier, while increasing the quality of the final product.”

Stonetrip has come far. Those in the know, know the company. Perhaps the big issue now, for Stonetrip as well as its rivals, is how to generate the kind of exposure the big engines still get from having their names on the boxes of the biggest titles of the moment. Still, with people like Belhassen, you get the impression they’ll figure something out.

Licence to Thrill

ShiVa is one of several big names in ‘little’ engines. Over the past few years, offering top flight tech at affordable prices has become something of an industry trend. Firms like Unity, Vision Engine and the Unreal are all claiming part of this new empire.

For Belhassen, being a part of this group is all well and good, but he stands adamantly by what he sees as an important separating factor for Stonetrip as well.

“One place where we really stand out is in our license model,” he says.

“We don’t charge a royalty, and we don’t charge by the platform. If you have a ShiVa licence, you can make as many games as you want on any of the platforms we support. Of course, for Wii and PSP you also need a development licence from first-party, but we do believe we have the best solution for developers looking to create great games on any of the platforms we support.”

And so the engine market continues to diversify and expand, and the future of games changes with it. In times like this certainty is in short supply, but Stonetrip in general and Belhassen in particular seem focused on making sure they are around for a good long while. At this rate, that notion is far from outlandish indeed.

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