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By David R. Lorentz
Bright and early this morning at FITC Toronto, I saw a presentation on Scaleform GFx, which is a Flash player optimized to run natively on video game consoles like Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3. The presentation was titled “Flash Interfaces in Console Games,” and it was presented by Brendan Iribe from Scaleform, along with Grant Skinner, who helped develop some of the Scaleform design tools. I’m a game developer and I have some background in the type of huge console games that Scaleform is made for, so needless to say, this presentation was very interesting to me.

Brendan began his presentation, speaking about the past and future of Scaleform, in the form of what appeared to be a visually appealing Flash swf. But then… he backed up and looked around.

It turns out that his entire presentation was running inside a 3D level in the Unreal Engine, with the slides simply projected on a wall in the 3D environment. From time to time he moved away from the wall to demonstrate other Scaleform-driven toys in the environment. This on an ordinary-looking PC laptop, with a flawless framerate. Pretty amazing stuff.

Brendan was careful to point out that what Scaleform does, essentially, is create Flash players for specific platforms, including all the major game consoles. Because game developers typically need all the CPU cycles they can get for their gameplay, and systems like Wii and PSP don’t have a ton of horsepower to offer in any case, Scaleform’s task is optimization, optimization, optimization. From the 3D game engine’s perspective, once a simple interface is made with Scaleform’s API, Flash movies can be treated essentially as 2D textures to be applied to any surface in the 3D environment—walls, TV screens, spheres, anything. Brendan says he hopes someone will use it to create animated tattoos on characters.

The ultimate goal is to allow Flash designers to make pretty Flash content using the tools and tricks they’re accustomed to, and then integrate it into the game engine with a minimum of fuss. Brendan points out that his presentation engine was made by exactly two people: a Flash designer for the UI and other Flash bits, and a 3D modeler for the environment. Of course, ordinarily you’d also need a programmer to connect Scaleform with the gameplay engine, but Scaleform’s engineers have already nicely integrated Scaleform into Unreal Ed (the 3D editor for the Unreal engine), including integration with the Kismet visual scripting service.

As someone who does 3D game work and also does Flash, I’d really, really love to get my hands on this Unreal+Scaleform combo. This would be a hell of a lot of fun to play around with, if nothing else. Of course, Scaleform will not let anyone play around with its stuff, short of purchasing a license which costs thousands of dollars. Brendan mentioned that they’re thinking of setting up some sort of academic licensing in the future, but there are no details on that yet. Come on, Scaleform! Don’t you realize indies are making all the good stuff?

I had no idea how widespread the use of Scaleform is. I’d known it was something game developers use from time to time for UI work; little did I know that it’s pervading the industry, and being used for everything from studio logos, to UI, to entire HUD systems. In Mass Effect, for instance, all of the UI and HUD, including the targeting reticule and the sexy circular interfaces you use to do everything, is Flash. In retrospect, this makes sense—of course those beautiful interfaces were created in Flash! Other games that make extensive use of Scaleform include Crysis, Dawn of War II, Halo Wars, and the pub games in Fable II. Interesting note about those pub games: they were originally released on Xbox live (the Xbox 360’s downloadable content service) before Fable II itself was released. These games were done entirely in Flash with Scaleform. This means that Flash games were released on Xbox live arcade. I’ll say it again: Flash games on the Xbox 360. This is very interesting for us game developers who have been trained to believe that Xbox live arcade will never host Flash games. Again, once I get my hands on this technology, I’m gonna—oops, I forgot, Scaleform doesn’t offer indie licensing. I say again, come on, guys!

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2 Responses to "FITC Day 2: Flash in Console Games"

said this on 04 May 2009 11:27:17 PM CDT
what a damn technology ^_^... could you add Brendan video presentation here? ;p

said this on 23 Oct 2009 7:13:49 AM CDT
Scaleform! Don’t you realize indies are making all the good stuff?

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