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Jason Hall Talks Xbox Graphics Engine
LithTech has updated its popular graphics engine, and it's looking to make a splash on the Xbox.

One of the best PC games of last year was Monolith's cool first-person shooter No One Lives Forever. It was just one of many games over the last few years to use the LithTech graphics engine. This engine has fought for ground in the extremely competitive field of PC graphics engines against id Software's Quake 3 engine and Epic's Unreal engine.

The battle has now moved to the console world, and LithTech has just upped the ante by upgrading its graphics engine to the new LithTech Development System version 3.0. We talked with LithTech frontman Jason Hall about his new engine and what it would look like on the Xbox.

Daily Radar: It seems like not too long ago No One Lives Forever was using LithTech 2.5, but now you guys are already up to 3.0. What are some of the cool features in the new version?

Jason Hall: There are a lot of new features! This is a few that we list:

The LithTech Development System version 3.0:

  • Delivers greater flexibility to exploit the capabilities of various gaming platforms [Ed Note: including Xbox]
  • Allows developers to explore a wider variety of gaming genres (not just first-person shooters)
  • Features new modular and extensible architecture
  • ALL NEW re-structured physics architecture (better-looking environments)
  • Allows programmers to control and customize their physics behavior more precisely
  • More advanced lighting techniques allow for custom attenuation and variable resolution
  • Includes an all-new "RenderStyles" editor

DR: Can you briefly describe in layman's terms the new 3.0 RenderStyles Technology?

JH: Sure. RenderStyles is really a great example of our strategy with regards to our continued tools and technology development. As you may know, the LithTech Development System (LTDS) gets updated EVERY three months across all supported platforms simultaneously -- and in our latest release, we have added this concept of RenderStyles.

RenderStyles is a collection of lighting and rasterization techniques which are defined as an abstract aggregate [joined together as a single light source] and then applied to surfaces. For this first release, it supports a variety of lighting effects and vertex shaders a la DirectX8, with multi-pass support and the ability to write custom shaders in D3D assembly.

In addition, the RenderStyles Material Editor tool provides a fairly high-level interface for artists to experiment with a variety of effects (including those D3D assembly routines written by a programmer) and see instantly how they will show up in the game. Once the RenderStyle has been set, it is saved as a separate data element for the game and then applied at run time.

The RenderStyles Material Editor tool that ships with LTDS 3.0 can expose portable functionality, which will be available on Windows, PS2 and Xbox, or can allow the features which are available on one specific platform.

DR: Would you say that this engine has been specifically designed to take advantage of the NV2A chip in the Xbox?

JH: Well, not only are we working on key components that take advantage of the NVIDIA chipsets, we are also expecting to fully exploit the ENTIRE architecture of the Xbox over time. The first release will probably not support the HDTV stuff, but it will specifically support the rest of the system, including sound, UMA, processor instruction set, and also have a pretty solid attack on the video. This is typical for the Development System, and as the RenderStyles technology demonstrates, subsystems will exploit system-dependent hardware through an interface that preserves as much generality as possible without being lowest common denominator.

DR: We've heard that Shogo 2 is already well underway. We're guessing that it will also be for the Xbox, right?

JH: If Shogo 2 were underway, it could likely be an Xbox title, but the fact is that the images on the net that are creating that perception are just LithTech Inc. supplied images that are using some art assets to demonstrate RenderStyles. Those images happen to partially contain some Shogo 2 concept stuff. The shots do not come from Monolith, actually they are coming from LithTech Inc.

I cannot confirm or deny a Shogo 2.

DR: LithTech is a very versatile engine, but it has been used primarily for shooters. Can you talk about some of the other games in development that use your engine?

JH: There are several games out there that are using LithTech, such as Disney's Atlantis and Fox's AvP2, but I have made it my general policy not to talk about our licensee's games without their permission. Some of them haven't even been announced yet! One final thing I'd like to add is that we are showing all this stuff at our GDC booth! LithTech Inc. is in booth #522, so come by and visit if you get a chance!

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