HeroEngine Meets StarWars

Hero’s Journey

Long ago in a company far far away, we were building a game called Hero’s Journey.  It was an ambitious game with many wonderful features.  We had our own special way of building games based on a unique process that we had developed while building pioneering online games like GemStone and DragonRealms.  Our goal was to build a modern graphical MMO RPG that allowed our team of designers to continually add new content into the game – new areas, new spells, whatever they could think of.

We took an early version of our game to the legendary 2005 E3 show.  We rented a small room in the back of a small hall, very far away from the giant multimedia extravaganza exhibits of EA, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and the rest of the empires.  We set up meetings with people we knew, members of the press, friends in the industry, and publishers.  We hoped to build enough interest to get a publisher to provide enough funding to expand the team and finish the game.

A few people got very excited, but not the way we planned.

“I need this.”

We showed the game to our friend Gordon Walton.  We had known Gordon for many years, back in the days when he worked for Kesmai, our late great competitor.  Gordon had since been with Sony for its Star Wars Galaxies game among other places.  He knows games, especially online games.

Not only did we show him the game, but because Gordon knew us so well we showed him the development tools we had built around our special process – building the game online, in realtime, with tools for the entire team all in one package.

“I need this,” said Gordon.  “I am about to start a special project and these tools will let us build and prototype fast and get something running in a hurry.”  Gordon is not an excitable guy by nature but this had his adrenaline flowing.  “This is just what I need!  I want to license your engine.”

We had thought about offering our engine and tools to developers but we had expected that we would have to actually ship a game first, like Epic did with Unreal Tournament before they licensed the original Unreal Engine.

“It’s not productized yet,” we told Gordon.  “There are whole sections of code that is only roughed in and not optimized for performance or security.  And there are very few comments and very little documentation.”

He didn’t care.  “We are going to have tons of engineers.  We can finish it ourselves.  We’re going to want to modify your source code for our special project anyway.”

BioWare Licenses HeroEngine For…

A few months after the show we heard from Gordon again.  He was now the co-head of a new online game studio in Austin as part of BioWare.  This was very impressive.  Not only was Gordon a solid guy but BioWare was (and still is!) at the very top tier of game developers, the kind of company that made games that were always great.  Soon the deal was done – soon meaning after months of painful negotiations and many weeks of meetings with teams of engineers who examined every line of our source code and interrogated our engineers.  We were concerned over their making major changes to our engine, but we loved the size of the check that came with the deal.

A year or so later, it became clear to us that BioWare was building a Star Wars MMO.  We had to keep the secret for another couple of years but it was incredibly exciting.  If you watch some of the videos of BioWare developing SW:TOR, you can see HeroEngine and its unique tools and process being used by the massive team on this incredible project.

Our role began and ended long ago, in a company far far away, but we’re still excited over the part we have played in helping BioWare (now part of EA, of course) bring its vision to life.

by Neil Harris, President and COO of HeroEngine

33 Responses to HeroEngine Meets StarWars

  1. Congrats Neil! both for the achievement and as always great writing style.
    Your tech is really one of the best techs specially for bigger teams.

  2. Harower says:

    This explains why the game has been released with Anti Aliasing disabled, high resolution textures disabled, uniform colouring disabled, shadows with edges the size of pool table triangles and animations that cause major conflicts with actual ability use.

  3. Z888 says:

    Your engine will ruin SWTOR. Almost unplayeble on high end rigs.

  4. roflmoa says:

    It is interesting that they bought it knowing it needs to be optimized and yet they did not do so, it looks like BW thought the engine was ready when they bought it and did nothing.

  5. heroengine says:

    I am sure that BioWare had rooms full of engineers who customized the engine for their needs. That is normal for projects of that scale. Because of the way they chose to convey combat and the graphical style, they clearly had to highly tailor the renderer for their own needs. I don’t have much contact with their engineers any more (the last code drop they took from us was about 3 years ago) so I can’t really speak to how much of our rendering technology is left in SW:TOR but I honestly don’t think there would be much.

    On the other hand, from the videos we saw before release it looks like most of the tools and production process are still in place, and that’s what we focus on when we show people why HE is special.

    I think the game is awesome and I am sure that BioWare will release patches that address the issues that people are reporting. They are a solid developer with an amazing track record for making great games that work well.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think the Hero Engine is a great idea. But I don’t necessarily think it was a wise idea for BW to purchase it. It seems like the Hero Engine is more suited for a smaller team. I have some experience working with projects over SVNs, and things can get a little crazy when everyone’s making changes constantly. I can see where overlap of editing can cause massive conflicts. When people don’t know who broke the code, then you have lots and lots of problems to sort out. It seems like a lot of development time was wasted trying to make the Hero engine work for BW’s team, given the interviews we’ve gotten from some of the engineers and the director of the project.

    The net code for SWTOR is a bit worrisome. I’m not sure if the Hero Engine’s fault or not, but there is a lot of instancing in SWTOR, PVP tends to be quite laggy and there is a lot of delay for some abilities. But perhaps this is BW’s fault. I would advise the developers of the Hero Engine to, if it is in their power, work on making their tools more effective at streamlining server-client connections.

  7. Harower says:

    I admire that Heroengine is still able to hold there head high. Everyone now knows it is what Bioware/EA has done with it. Bioware took your amazing concepts and production design and the rest was up to them. This is evident in the fact hardly any of the potential of this engine is being used and the current build client quality has degraded over the past few years.

  8. Jony says:

    Hero engine….
    I’ve see that her engine can have 100 000 players in same place in star wars the old republic.
    But….”mass” pvp on ilum with a little 100 players in a fight is unplayable…..
    15 FPS in a fight with 100 players with an I7 2600K , HD 6970 , 8 go DDR3 , game on SSD.
    Your hero engine sucks or what ?
    This is not a shame to annonce 100 000 players when 100 players is completly unplayable ????

  9. Neil says:

    HeroEngine can hold more than 100,000 players on a cluster… but we would not recommend having 100,000 players in the same room. No graphics card on earth could handle that.

    Regarding SW:TOR, we have no way to know how they are handling graphics detail, shading, or other factors that impact frame rate. An engine is the first step, and then it’s up to the engineers and art directors to manage the technical steps necessary to implement their game design.

    So, we can’t really give you any insight on how their game is performing in that way, and I’m sure they are working hard at improving any specific issues they are seeing. BioWare is responsible for their own game, we gave them the tools.

  10. Icnfde says:

    Good to see that Bioware made the choice of using the Hero Engine for its superior technological capabilities and well-functioning design and not because it was made by a friend of the guy running the company… oh wait.

  11. A TOR Player says:

    I truly feel sorry for Neil Harris and everyone HeroEngine as your getting a bum rap here having to defend a decision that was taken out of your hands years ago.

    Bioware fanbois are looking for anyone and anything to blame and use a scapegoat to avoid having to put the responsibility where it belongs on Bioware for the problems people are facing while playing The Old Republic.

    Bioware have had six years almost to play with the Engine, it is not Mr Harris or anyone at HeroEngines fault that problems on the scale that do in The Old Republic exist.

    You can not blame a dealership you purchased your car from six years later for your car suddenly breaking down regularly with different problems. I’m sorry but that is how the real world works.

    Once Bioware purchased the license and refused HeroEngine and Mr Harrss and his teams further help then they took complete responsibility and ownership for the problems they created with the engine during the six years they played with it and beefed it up for TOR.

    As one of the saner and objective members of The Old Republic I deeply apologise on behalf of the community to you Mr Harris and HeroEngine for being in this position by a few rabid fanbois.

  12. Zidana123 says:

    Hero Engine devs, listen, you need to take this page down, NOW. It’s not your fault that the mismanagement of Star Wars TOR is leading the game to devour itself in one of the most entertaining failures of a cash-in ever. But when the dust settles, Hero Engine will be remembered as the thing that led to the failure of TOR.

    Yes, I know that the Bioware guys purchased a prototype version and yes, I know they modified it heavily. But your involvement with this catastrophe isn’t something you want to shout out to the world. Not anymore.

    Bioware and EA are sinking into the muck and if you don’t get away they’re going to take you down with them. It will only hurt you to continue to keep this web page up.

    Please please take this advice and take down this page before it’s too late!

  13. NT says:

    How anyone could possibly blame the people behind HeroEngine for the failure that is TOR is baffling.

  14. Robert says:

    Hero engine effectively ruined SWTOR. Sharding of areas because it can’t handle people in one spot. Ability lag, graphics, you name it.

  15. Bobby says:

    Thanks for posting this, it explains a lot. I constantly hear how bad the heroengine is because of the epic failure SWTOR is. I hope the negative publicity doesn’t affect the future of the heroengine, I’d like to play a AAA game with it at some point to see how good it is.

  16. Neil says:

    As I’ve said before, it looks like BioWare is continuing to address and fix technical issues. The launch of SW:TOR seems to be smoother than most massive MMO games — I remember huge issues at launch for WoW and others. SW:TOR has been launched for less than a month!

    In the meantime, we’re very encouraged by the progress that our other developers are making on their games. I recently visited PitchBlack Games, whose game Dominus is really looking great. We expect to have a lot more to show and to talk about at GDC in early March.

    • Edmar says:

      It is impressive how smooth SWTOR launch was in comparison with other MMO’s, they are handling it ‘really well’!
      For instance, Blizzard has almost 8yrs of WoW, and their launch in Brazil had more bugs, disconnections, disappointment and mass rage quit.
      But it is unfair to have lower expectations because of others fails. BioWare should have thought better about how they would use community feedback on their PTR.
      Nevetherless, it is a very good game, and HeroEngine contributed a lot with an awesome engine proposal.

  17. Revanchist says:

    The engine itself is good, especially for its time, and as much as I love bioware, them choosing not to fix problems with a prototype(or whatever you wish to label it) engine is not your fault. Ultimately, unless they decide to suddenly change course and fix these problems much quicker than i expect(within a year id say theyd need to do so), I wouldn’t be so hyped to be showing everyone that you were involved with this(despite it not being your fault)

  18. Neil says:

    We’ve received a lot of comments to this article. They fall into two main categories:

    1. It’s our fault, and
    2. It’s not our fault.

    It’s clear that there is a lot of passion around this issue! We’re going to refrain from allowing more comments playing the blame game here and let’s see how the game goes as time passes.

  19. JeT says:

    Lots of people are getting out of control with these responses. Quick to jump the gun in my opinion, the game just launched it has not even had a few months to be tweaked and fixed up. People have been rushing the game from the beginning and this is what happened because of that. Illum is indeed bad at the moment, but you guys have not even realized that illum was barely tested if tested at all, and this was only by a small minority of people. Bioware made sure their story telling was in order and then thanks to all the crying and them wanting to make people happy ended up releasing the game earlier then they really wanted to, im sure. I remember getting into an October beta and illum was completely empty, nothing there. This goes to show you illum was not added to the game until just about release. Testing was probably done internally only on illum as there were barely any high level toons with all the wipes Bioware did at least until they made a high lvl server where u start at 40.
    Although i do agree with the people on here saying its not heroengine’s fault for whatever happens in SWTOR, since it is Bioware that took that code and modified it to their liking. This just leads me to be more confident in Bioware and their engineers when it comes to them tweaking the game and optimizing it. Which im sure will happen soon enough.

  20. alex says:

    Don’t listen to the haters. SWTOR is good and fun to play. Yes there are bugs and problems, but they are realeasing fixes each week. The haters don’t understand how complex can be to understand some bugs and how to fix them. They blame the engine because it’s the only word they understand and probably they think there is a actual car engine inside the game. Sadly the official forums are a terrible place because all of these people, but there are a lot of players happy with the game, I can even do warzone at 4 am in the night…

  21. Jyiiga says:

    I think Bioware is doing a fine job addressing issues. We are getting a patche on a weekly basis.

    Just yesterday they patched in improvements to both UI responsiveness and Fleet lag.

    People have reported back on the patch on several forums now. Players in pvp and pve settings have noted a marked improvement in the “feel” and “responsiveness” to using abilities.

    I logged in last night and was very impressed with how well the Fleet area was working. The FPS was way up and lots of people on the boards were making similar comments.

  22. erin says:

    Please…..every mmo ive played, you always lag when theres a consolidation of players ( regardless of the engine they choose to use ).

    its funny how there are many many players with no problems what so ever and very few with the so called FPS issue. sounds more like a performance issue with your personal systems than with the HE or how its coded.

    sorry but true!!

  23. Boom says:

    So I have to ask of HeroEngine developers. Is your engine capable of large amount of players per zone or not? What I am alluding to is the way TOR shards zones into multiples of itself. I never liked that when it was in GuildWars (but that was free to play game so you couldn’t ask for more). Or was this whole idea Bioware’s?

    Sharding of same zone into multiples of itself ruins immersion makes it harder to get community going. We all know that MMOS live or die by the amount of social interaction and sense of community in them and subdividing zones doesn’t help with that.

  24. Gallows says:

    SWTOR runs great on my machine. It is the most fun MMO I have played in many years. It peaks the most fun I’ve ever had in WoW, DAoC and other great games. And it runs smoothly. There are some minor issues, but generally the game is smooth and brilliant. As an end user I like the engine. I don’t really worry about it, but fact is, that it has helped deliver the most fun I’ve had in many many years of gaming.

  25. Commander Shepard says:

    I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite engine on the citadel.

    Seriously though; SWTOR is a lovely game. All this talk about SWTOR and Bioware ‘sinking’ is probably mostly a result of hyperinflated anticipation in some players who were let down when reality didn’t meet their fantasies.

    Warcraft didn’t have this problem to the same degree as MMOs weren’t so mainstream when it launched. In fact, WoW’s launch was a lot more problematic than SWTOR, with days and days of downtime. In the original game Ironforge was unplayable on all but the highest end machines, too.

  26. Gittyup says:

    I won’t play the blame game but I will say this.

    If I was you I would be worried. Obviously you are a bit or you wouldn’t have made this article explaining your relations with TOR and what the engine is/was like prior to them getting ahold of it.

    I would also be beating on every BW door saying let us help you. This is by no means your fault, nor do I think it is a the complete failure of BW. You are right the game is great and they are rolling out tweaks and fixes constantly. But anyone be it player or developer knows that games anymore seem to either live or die in the first few months. That said this game has your brand attached to it. IF it turns into a sort of halfway game that is amazing to play for a little bit just to see parts then people leave that will come back on you no matter what. If it continues to grow, especially with your guidance then that will also come back to you, in good ways though. I am sure you know all of this though. I may be naive for thinking that you would want to or feel obligated to try to speed up the fixes but I know if it was me, I would want my baby to not only do well but blow the roof off. That way you can continue to get those big checks and we can continue to get quality games. But I am sure you want the same :P

  27. Neil says:

    This article was written in the summer but we held it back because it seemed more relevant once the game was ready to launch. It was not in response to any particular situation.

    We are under NDA with EA so we can’t discuss parts of our relationship. If we thought they could use our help I can guarantee we would offer it.

  28. Lars says:

    I can’t believe that Neil decided to reply to the obvious trolling going on by people who have no idea how game development or engines work.

    If Bioware had started from the ground up the would have had to spend 1 year writing the engine and tools just to allow any kind of world design or model development.
    They could have selected a generic graphics engine like idSoftware, Unreal or Crytek, but it has been proven over and over again that adding mmo structure to a instanced game does not make a good mmo engine!

    The fps problems being experienced in Ilum is an result of several complex issues with a solution in sight, otherwise they would have designed around it or fixed it by now.
    The range of fps reported in Ilum going from 2fps up to 20fps comes down to a person’s hardware, the is no usable level of detail on the characters in swtor, that is why any area with alot of characters lag, too many poly and too many textures in the same area!
    There is a reason as to why the combat log is not enabled, even the server side log seem to have problems keeping up in Ilum and the mission updates also gives noticeable lag.

    It’s a mmo… It’s the MOST POLISHED mmo launch i have ever experienced, with the most content, you cannot expect 7 years of mmo content in a new mmo, it just doesn’t work like that.
    People burning through the content in less then 1 month were warned not to do so unless they were living under a rock, now your stuck leveling pvp ranks using a open world system that were never meant to have hundreds of people going against each other in the same area.

    Also, coming here and blaming HeroEngine is just stupid, it really shows how ignorant many people are!

    Then again, i can’t believe that Neil decided to reply to some of these comments, in one reply i had the distinct image of someone being thrown under a buss…

  29. KAYJAY says:

    Personally I think you should sue EA for defamation of character.

    Them not coming out and stating in big bold letters “ITS NOT THE HERO ENGINE IT WAS OUR OWN INEPTNESS” is the same and shoving off the blame onto the engine. I do hope your lawyer was bright enough to include some clause in the contract you signed years ago.


    You mentioned many times how Bioware is a great development house with a great track record. Were you aware that BW:Austin was not even part of BW? It was created specifically or rather initially for this project and developers were hired from well where ever they could find them. About all that BW actually contributed from BW offices was Miss Hamburger Hepler. aka story writers.

    You were someone who was at the time at least in-tune with on-line game and for some reason you thought BW track record for story could translate to an MMO? No offence her, and I would have took the money too, but this did not give you pause? really?

    SWTOR was not developed by a studio with a great track record. BW:Austin is a cobbled together group of former devs who’s other games had failed. ie) Warhammer. which is owned by EA, which has about the worst track record ever. They only care about making a quick buck and an exit. I cant even name a single EA game with ‘staying power’

  30. KAYJAY says:

    Too add to my previous post.

    You have a very strong case against EA. Simply do some research and copy/cite all the “You had me until Hero Engine” posts about TESO. Any judge in any circuit will see it as a no brain-er and award you damages.

  31. Unoman49 says:

    EA/Bioware’s failure is not going to kill HeroEngine. idk how old this is and i dont really care, but The Elder Scrolls Online is using Hero – a complete version. so if anything Bioware/EA opened doors for HeroEngine.

  32. val says:

    Swtor is failing mostly because the game design is atrocious. Its not entirely the engines fault, its more than likley the noobs coding within the engine. The game it self is failing because people were/are burnt out on WoW and swtor is simply another failed wow clone. I knew in beta swtor would fail and its not entirely the game engines fault. Its the linear theme park design that killed it.

    What it needed to be was more like swg which was a very social and addicting game with complex designs and real economy. Swtor just had bad management from top to bottom. Bioware is not the old bioware, its EA now, and EA consumes and destroys game studios.

    If swtor had of been lead by Raph Koster and the old swg devs, with that massive budget and bioware story, you would have seen the greatest mmo ever developed.. People give swg a bad rep because it was made with a 15 million dollar budget in like 2 years… yes 2 years… I wish people could have experienced the social aspects and real crafting/economy in swg.. SWtor would have been a much different game even with the hero engine..

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