A few words on recycling in games

Me and my girl recently finished Child of Light (maxed it out actually, which is super easy when someone is sitting next to you and bugs you every time you go past a wall that you haven't licked yet). It got me thinking about recycling in games and how it works. It's been done for years now and the whole idea is pretty obvious, but I'll describe it a bit anyway.

Now the whole principle is... Making games is expensive. It's a lot of work too. And there's so many games that did things right. So many elements that would fit your game so well that you would just want to take these parts and put them in your game without really changing anything. Now imagine the situation where you actually own these elements, because the studio you work for owns them.

The "recycling" can be done in a number of ways, as you can recycle pretty much everything from music through art assets to the technology. Recycling is basically the whole idea behind dedicated engines. The engine From Software uses is one of the best examples - they are repeatedly making new souls games using huge chunks of code from the previous installments. Of course they have to adjust quite a lot here and there, but they do have a solid base. Another good example is the id tech engine, that keeps us entertained since the first Doom and now, guess what - the newest Doom will be using its sixth version. I'm sure they had to rewrite the whole engine at least once on the way, but they reused it more than once too. The first one alone was a base for somewhere around a dozen of games. Look at me, basically expaining what an engine is... Moving on!

There's this general bias towards games that recycle assets, especially the graphical ones. A lot of people complained about Dragon Age 2 and BioShock 2. However, games recycling assets can be great. They just need special care. Portal is probably the best example. The core mechanic itself wouldn't be enough to make it a cult classic. They also had to execute it well, with decent puzzle design and brilliant tutorial and narrative.

Now this has little to do with the article,
but damn, what a cool idea!

Smart management of assets lets the company give us more games more easily. Look at WB Games. They released Injustice: Gods Among Us almost simultaneously on both mobile and "big consoles". The models were super easy to transition, as both games used Unreal Engine 3 and it only required remembering to prepare lower LOD's (from "level of details", versions of the model with less polygons used for optimization, like viewing from afar). They obviously used a lot of tech from Mortal Kombat 9 for the console version, but had to redesign and redevelop the combat mechanics for the touch screen. When releasing MKX however, I'm sure they didn't even have that problem - they already had all the components. That's what smart asset management gives you.

Child of Light is another example of great asset management. A quite heavily "recycled" title that got nice reception. Let's face it, Ubisoft does have a whole stable of titles, bits, assets and features. They not only used the UbiArt Framework engine, but the whole game plays pretty much like the mosquito levels of Rayman Legends. The light dots fly around with a copy-pasted code of Rayman's lums and the bossfight camera zoom-ins probably didn't get a second look at either. The combat mechanics look way too close to those from South Park: The Stick of Truth that Ubisoft was helping Obsidian to close around the time of Child of Light's development. The circular menu and the two switchable characters system might not have been copy-pasted from one game engine to the other, but I'm willing to bet these fighting systems share their origin. And now, the new South Park game's been announced. With it being developed without Obsidian, there's a decent chance the new Cartman and friends game will be done using UbiArt Framework, that, thanks to Child of Light, now has turn-based battle mechanics!

If you look at it like that, Child of Light becomes a milestone in the development of the UbiArt Framework engine between Rayman and South Park. And how cool is it that this milestone also gives us a game! One with straightforward awful rhyming, but still a really decent game. That's what good planning gives you. And without it, I'm pretty sure a game like Child of Light would never see the... erm... light. Its costs would probably be way too high for Ubisoft to risk it.