Using Havok to create a folding dream in 'Tengami'—and maybe even some DLC

by Mike Rougeau

March 6 2014

Here's part 2 of our interview with Tengami developer Nyamyam.

In addition to speaking with Nyamyam co-founder Phil Tossell, I also got to chat with Andrew Bowell, the head of product management at Havok. Havok has provided the development tools for some of the biggest games ever, and Bowell has worked there for 14 years.

He first worked with Tossell when the Tengami developer was still at Nintendo-owned studio Rare, and Bowell said he was excited when Tossell formed Nyamyam and continued to work with Havok.

Havok has traditionally been used to provide advanced physics and other features to triple-A console and PC games, but the team at Nyamyam was able to use it in some creative ways on Tengami. Read on to learn more about Nyamyam's partnership with Havok, not to mention the possibility of expanding Tengami with more content. And don't forget to check out part one of our interview with Tossell.

TabTimes Games: Phil, why did you decide to use Havok for Tengami?

Tossell: I guess initially, like a lot of programmers, I was thinking, 'Yeah, I'll just kind of write everything myself,' which is a bit foolish. Based on my experience from Rare the kind of model that I liked was building the overarching framework ourselves but then plugging in various parts that I consider to be the best of their class in what they do. So there were things that I knew we weren't going to be able to do, like physics and the AI and the animation. And certainly initially I tried to integrate a free physics engine—Bullet—and I think it was then that I was beginning to get frustrated, because I'd been used to working with Havok.

It's just a much more polished, easy-to-use experience. We talked about it and we were like, 'I wonder if I got in touch with Andrew, because we'd worked together before, I wonder if we could come to some kind of arrangement where we can actually use it in the game?' And that's when we started talking to Andrew and to Havok about using it in the game.

"The pop-up aspect of the game, which is what the whole game is built around, we actually spent about a year developing"

The folding engine is one of the most interesting things about Tengami. How much did Havok's tools help with that?

Tossell: The pop-up aspect of the game, which is what the whole game is built around—we actually spent about a year developing the tools and the technology for that. Some of the stuff is done kind of offline in the tools that we have, and then when we run it in the game we use various bits of Havok technology as well as some of our own stuff that makes it happen in the game.

In the game the folding is actually done through animation. We use Havok animation to make that happen. We used Havok because the animation system is really flexible and it's very fast. When we first started making the game we were wondering whether we could actually do the folding in real time and actually calculate the maps and everything, but that was just crazy. So most of that stuff's done offline and then we export, like, a traditional keyframed animation, which we then run in the game.

But one of the really challenging things was: most games you have a 3D world and you kind of move through that world, but with folding you basically have multiple worlds existing in the same space. And that created lots of interesting problems for the pathfinding and the navigation and the physics because we effectively had to be able to swap in and out parts of the environment continually as you fold the various pages and parts of the environment. One of the most interesting things was—it seems simple—but getting the character from A to B, which we used Havok AI for. And I think one of the most interesting uses of it is how we switch in and our various parts of the landscape and how the AI just copes with it and makes it really easy.

Bowell: I'll jump in there a little bit. I think some of the cool perspective from the Havok side is these products were tooled and designed and architectured originally for, I suppose going way back, to PS2, Xbox 360, PS3, multi-core PCs, and so on—and essentially it's exactly the same tech, just ported over to iPad and iOS and so on. And it's really nice that the guys, especially like Phil, who has that kind of experience in the console space, can take the tech, he knows what it can do, and then can apply it to an entirely different point and click adventure game on a completely different type of hardware.

[When we launched the AI product around 2009] the mobile route of gaming was well underway, but it's great that the kernel of these problems—these low level problems like AI, bit of collision detection, animation—that it's almost like we're a commodity now. The guys can just leverage it. We have, hopefully, a low barrier to just getting access to the tech, for small teams now as well, and it just does kind of what it says in the tin and hopefully saves Phil and teams like Nyamyam a whole bunch of time basically and lets them focus back on the important parts of making the game.

"Some of the features that Phil is talking about are features we designed for MMOs"

Is there anything specific in Tengami that wouldn't have been possible without Havok?

Tossell: I think one of the most interesting ones is there's a couple of instances in the game where we have these—it's kind of like a rolodex, where you have multiple pages that you can flip, and you have to kind of figure your way through them. It's like a maze, essentially. You're constantly changing the paths, and that was quite tricky, because you're constantly changing the pathfinding environment for the character, and also the physics as well are constantly changing.

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So every time you flip a page we switch in another collision representation and another navigation representation and that was really straightforward to set up with Havok. And I think it would have been considerably more difficult if we'd done something ourselves or used something else.

Andrew, have you seen the team at Nyamyam use Havok in any ways that surprised you or were unexpected?

Bowell: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the features that Phil is talking about are features we designed for MMOs, where you're streaming in big, huge levels and they're kind of going in in these chunks and you're pathfinding across massive terrains. The features that [Nyamyam] were using were these features that we had initially thought wouldn't necessarily be applicable to an iPad game and the kind of scope that you'd have necessarily on an iPad. But it's great that the guys could find ways to leverage the tech, and I guess in their minds, as Phil says, this could have been stuff they'd ultimately tried to implement in-house, but it was great that we were able to provide some tech that did it.

And yeah, it just worked, so we were pretty happy. I think Phil mentioned that in terms of just being able to not have to worry about performance and that side. It's nice to get that feedback as well from the likes of Phil. I don't know if you want to speak to that, Phil, at all.

"We definitely will be adding more content, probably to the existing game"

Tossell: Yeah, one of the things that we really like about Havok is it's fairly straightforward to integrate into your existing workflow. I'm still amazed at the performance that we get out of it. I never imagined when we started the game the stuff that we'd be able to actually do on an iPhone and an iPad—that we could run essentially the same things that we'd usually run when I was working on consoles—that all this would basically scale down and run on the iPad. And we're doing some pretty intensive things with the animation. The entire background, unlike most games where the background is static, because everything can fold, even if not everything does fold—pretty much everything in the game is animated. And it's a testament to how performant the Havok animation system is that we're able to do that and it doesn't cause any problems at all.

Do you have further plans for this engine and this tech that you've created?

With the amount of time and effort we've invested into it and how unique it is I think it's definitely something we want to use again. Whether we immediately do something with it or whether we kind of go, 'We've had three years of that, we want to do something different'—I mean part of us being independent was being able to explore, creatively, lots of different things.

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But at the same time you also have to make things work financially as well. Otherwise you just can't keep going. There's definitely lots we could do besides a straight sequel. It would lend itself quite nicely to just doing, for example, straightforward children's story books that are much more interactive and visual than anything that is out there at the moment. So yeah, we definitely will be adding more content, probably to the existing game, and exploring other possibilities.

Check out part one as well!

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