Created from the ground up for next-gen video games, Ubisoft's new proprietary game engine will power third-person shooter Tom Clancy's The Division and perhaps other unannounced titles, but it won't ever be used for Wii U games.
"Wii U is not a console we are developing Snowdrop on," said Rodrigo Cortes, brand art director at Massive Entertainment. "It would have been possible if we wanted to, but we would have been ruling out things we didn't want to take out."
Development on game engine Snowdrop started about five years ago, Cortes said, before The Division was in development and before the specifications were known for either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One.
Initially it was an engine built on PC for PC and next-gen development by Massive Entertainment.
"We decided to not develop for current gen," Cortes said. "Ubisoft has many good current gen engines. We started very early on to predict what the next generation consoles would be and we were lucky on the specs. We were fairly close to what they became. We're super happy they're so close to each other."
Cortes said the engine was created in-house at Massive to do things "better, not bigger."
"AAA game development projects are growing in scope exponentially, so we wanted to be smart and not rely on brute force," he said. "We needed an engine that would support how we work in the studio, promote creativity, and allow the freedom to experiment and prototype. "
The core of the game engine is powered by a "node-based system" which simplifies the process of connecting different systems like rendering, AI, mission scripting and the user interface.
"Snowdrop is a dynamic, interconnected and flexible system where developers can create their assets quickly and interact with them in ways that have never been done before," Cortes said. "The game and the editor are unified, and everything in the engine runs in real time, which means that the ongoing project is always playable. This is extremely useful and allows for the implementation of new ideas and creations instantly; providing the ability to check the consistency of the game world at any time."
The engine also supports procedurally generated environments. For instance, in the video above, the forest scene was created with a single tree, rock and fern that was then automatically replicated and placed by the engine, Cortes said.
And he added that the process for creating content for the three supported platforms is "super smooth."
"Everything you run in one platform can just be checked in any other platform," he said. "The build can be spit out too all three platforms."
While the engine was in development before work began on The Division, the Tom Clancy game is the showcase for the engine. You can't build an engine, Cortes said, without a game.
The engine is accessible to everyone at Ubisoft, but Cortes declined to say if any other projects are currently using the new engine. He did say it's likely that one day other games will use Massive's engine.
The video, released this morning and posted above, shows the engine running on a PC, Cortes said. While the video seems to show scenes from The Division in action, Cortes not a prepared Q&A that at least some of the elements shown are not part of the game.
"The forest shots, turrets and giant flies that you saw in the trailer are not part of The Division," he said. "This video is a technical demonstration, to display Snowdrop's full capacities as a new generation engine. Snowdrop is capable of creating a large range of varied universes, procedurally, and in an unprecedented level of detail."