Jan "Mnemonic" Nedoma, creator of adventure game engine 'Wintermute

Τρίτη, 03 Μαρτίου 2009, Συντάκτης Dream Specialist, Fallen Angel

Jan "Mnemonic" Nedoma, creator of adventure game engine 'Wintermute

Welcome to Adventure Advocate, Jan. Could you introduce yourself to the Adventure Advocate's readers?

Hello everyone. My name is Jan Nedoma and I'm the developer of an adventure game development system called Wintermute Engine (http://dead-code.org).

We would like to learn more of the man behind the Wintermute Εngine (wme). What can you tell us about yourself?

I'm 32 years old, I live in the Czech Republic. I work as a software developer / analyst.

Most of our readers don't know what a game engine actually is. So, could you explain -as simply as possible- what a game engine actually does?

Game engine is an application, which is responsible for providing any game functionality. There are many, many tasks a typical game needs to perform, some are more apparent than others, but imagine functions such as graphics and sound output, networking, file access, physics, artificial intelligence etc. Game engines are typically designed to be relatively generic (or "data driven"), which means they are not written with one particular game in mind, but they can handle a lot of different situations and it depends on the actual game which of those are utilized and which are not. This is often achieved by so called scripting. Even though the goal of game engines is to hide complex low level functions, so that game designers can concentrate on the game itself, scripts are a powerful tool which allows them to write simple short programs (scripts), to leverage engine capabilities.

What is the difference between a game engine and an adventure game engine?

Even though I said the game engines were generic, the reality is that most game engines are geared towards a specific genre. That is the case of adventure game engines. These engines provide the generic functionality described above, but on top of that they offer high-level functions specific to adventures, like character navigation within game "rooms", handling of inventory items, dialogue trees and other stuff you typically see in an adventure game.

We know WME is an adventure engine and it has been used to quite some adventure titles already. But, could it be used to create other kind of games?

From what I've said before, you can see that adventure game engine contains both the generic functionality AND an additional layer simplifying adventure game creation. That means you can ignore the adventure-specific functions, if you want to, and only use the generic parts to design some non-adventure gameplay. It's actually not as unusual as it may sound, because even adventure game developers do that routinely when designing various minigames.

What is the best game engine ever developed according to you?

There are many game engines out there which vary in design and functionality, and there are always pros and cons in every design. However, from the generally known engines, I like the design of Unreal engine quite a lot. I share some of the philosophies used by this engine.

AGS is also a renowned game engine. What are the differences between the WME and the AGS?

I'm not really an AGS expert, but from what I've seen, the two systems are getting more and more similar with every new version. Which is logical, considering they have similar goals. The core functionality is more or less the same - which is dictated by the adventure genre, but they differ in implementation and technical details. I don't think it's necessary to list every last difference here. If anyone is serious about developing a game, I would recommend testing both systems and trying which one fits their needs better.

How did you come up with the idea of the WME? Meaning, for what purpose did you create the engine in the first place?

Well, initially I wasn't trying to make a game engine for others to use. I was trying to make a game. But eventually it turned out people were much more interested in a tool they could use themselves, rather than helping with other people's games :) And that's how it all started. And once the first prehistoric version of WME became public, there was no turning back...

And what about its name? Wintermute... anything to do with muting winters? ;)

Hehe, no. Wintermute is my not-so-subtle reference to William Gibson's book Neuromancer. Wintermute is a "character" which appears in the book, and you can actually find more references like this in my work. It became sort of a running joke.

Give us some examples of games that were created with or are making use of certain features of WΜΕ. Has there been a game exploiting its full potential yet?

Oh, there are far too many games and each is unique in its own way! I would recommend your readers to visit the game showcase (http://dead-code.org/home/index.php/games/) and see for themselves. I believe the diversity of titles listed there speaks for itself.

As for exploiting full potential... Let me put it this way. During the years the engine got so many functions that I don't think it's possible for any game to use every single function there is :) It's not a problem at all, though. In my opinion the true potential of games lies elsewhere than in leveraging every technical trick possible.

Is the engine capable of incorporating new features that have become available since its initial build was released, or is it restricted to its original capabilities until a whole new version gets out? Which brings us to... are the rumors that you're working on WME2 true?

It depends. The engine tries to be as flexible as possible. So using the built-in functions and the scripting language one can create complex new functionality. A typical example that comes to my mind is the "snoop key" feature known from the Tunguska game (the button which highlights all active hotspots in a scene). It was rather easy to implement this function in WME.

But of course, there are things that cannot be easily added by game developers, such as full-3D support and such. That brings me to the second part of your question. Yes, it's true that a next generation of WME (codenamed WME2) is now in development (and it will be in development for quite some time, I'm sure :)

Will the engine be improved into supporting real-time 3D as well?

WME already supports real-time 3D characters. But, yes, support for real-time 3D environments (in one way or another ;) is one of the goals of the WME2 project.

Would you say the engine is designed to favor the creation of 3rd person or 1st person games, and what made you take that direction (if any)?

Actually, 1st person games are just a simplified case of 3rd person games :) So by supporting 3rd person you're automatically also supporting 1st person games.

What are the restrictions the WME has? Are there any particular ones because of which you couldn't suggest the usage of the WME for the development of an adventure game?

Hmm, that's a tricky question. If I knew of such restriction, I'd probably try to remove it, hehe. So no, I can't say. It seems to me the biggest issue for some of the developers (mainly those dealing with commercial games) is currently the lack of some of the advanced eye-candy effects (shaders etc.).

Is it possible for someone to use the WME just by the written instructions provided, without having previous knowledge of the domain or the help of an experienced person?

I've seen several cases of people with minimal game development experience building rather complex games, so it's definitely possible. I'm not saying it's easy (game development is never easy, no matter how experienced you are), but it's possible. Actually, if someone is considering entering the world of game development, and they are willing to learn, simplified tools such as WME are ideal for the job. They introduce you to the basic principles which you will use while developing ANY game in the future. In fact, as far as I know WME is being used for educational purposes already.

How come did you decide to distribute WME for free?

When I first released WME, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go in terms of commercial use. So initially the engine was available for free for hobbyists and there was a separate commercial license. During the years I realized I should choose whether I want WME to be a hobby or a commercial venture for me. Dealing with licensing cost time and energy I wasn't willing to sacrifice. So eventually WME became donationware, which means it's completely free for everyone, but people who want to support its further development are encouraged to make a donation.

Last month was the 6th birthday of the WME. What is the overall feedback you've been getting all these years? Do you feel you have done your part for the game design industry or do you want to do even more?

The overall feedback has always been great. And of course the ultimate fruition is the games built using WME. In retrospect, those were great 6 years. I got to know many creative people, I found several good friends, I learned a lot of new things... I'm not done yet, though. There are always more ideas to explore and more goals to achieve so I still do expect to contribute a thing or two before retiring :)

Since you have created an adventure game engine we can suppose you are an adventure games fan yourself. Is this a fact; and what are your favourite games?

I do consider myself an adventure game fan, even though I haven't played many pure adventure games recently. My all time favorite is the Gabriel Knight series so I'm eagerly awaiting Jane Jensen's new game. I love the Monkey Island series (especially MI2), Sam&Max, TLJ/Dreamfall... no big surprises here, I guess. From the less mainstream games, I really loved KGB (aka Conspiracy). I wish there were more games as deep and complex as this one.

Although through your engine you have actually participated to the development of various games, as far we know you haven't been part of any game development studios or independent teams. How come you have never participated to the development of a game yourself as a programmer? No time or no interest?

Well, developing WME is definitely a very time consuming hobby. Combined with my day job, the time really is an issue here. I am interested in game design though, and I'm cherishing several game concepts. So maybe one day... :)

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

I'd like to encourage everyone considering developing a game - go for it! It's an ungrateful tough job and you'll often hate it :) but in the end it's a beautiful creative process and it's well worth the effort. Thanks for reading.

Thank you for your time. We would like to congratulate you for both creating the WME and distributing it for free. We wish you the very best to all your future projects.

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