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GDC Spotlight Interviews: Microsoft and Havok

| December 2014

In This Issue:

  • Microsoft - Mark Seminatore, principal development manager, Xbox Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, talks about DirectX 12, buying Mojang, and how the best coders can win prizes in the QuickStart Challenges at GDC.
  • Havok - Andrew Bowell, head of product management at Havok, discusses the assortment of job openings at Havok and what skills are most in demand, plus what will be his company's main focus at GDC 2014.

Unity Technologies


Mark Seminatore
Mark Seminatore

Mark Seminatore, principal development manager, Xbox Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, talks about DirectX 12, buying Mojang, and how the best coders can win prizes in the QuickStart Challenges at GDC.

Q: Mark, last year, at GDC 2014, you announced DirectX 12. Is that still scheduled to be released in the second half of next year? And what will be Microsoft's big focus THIS year? What will you be talking about? Any hints?

Mark Seminatore: We've announced that Windows 10 will ship with DirectX 12 included, and for those of us familiar with DirectX 12, we are very excited. We love connecting with game developers, sharing ideas, seeing what's new, and hearing about what they're working on. We will share some new things about what's in store for developing gaming experiences on Microsoft platforms. We will share additional details about what we'll be talking about at GDC this year as we get closer to the conference. Stay tuned for more.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the latest big news out of Microsoft seems to be your buying Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. What would you say is the importance of that move cultivating a younger demographic or having a property that plays well not only on desktop but also mobile? What's the strategy here?

Seminatore: We couldn't be happier about bringing in Mojang. Mojang was in search of a partner to help carry Minecraft forward, and the studio's talent and passion are a perfect fit for our family of world-class developers.

Minecraft also aligns with our focus to grow our top franchises, diversify our portfolio of games, and reach new gamers across multiple platforms. We understand that gaming is a top driver of consumer usage across PC, mobile, and tablet. The value of Minecraft is that it's currently the most used and one of the most loved gaming properties in the world. There's a tremendous amount of engagement and loyalty from Minecraft players. We love Minecraft and we're really excited to help grow the Minecraft community, nurture the franchise, and make Minecraft more accessible to more people on more devices.

Q: This year at GDC, I know Microsoft is sponsoring the Microsoft Lobby Bar where not only can attendees meet up with friends, grab a drink, and check out the latest Xbox One blockbusters, but I understand you can also learn about Windows Platform development tools and code for a chance to win at the Windows QuickStart Challenge. So what's the Challenge all about and what do the best coders win?

Seminatore: QuickStart Challenges are fast-paced, bite-sized, hands-on exercises that enable game developers to roll up their sleeves and try out some of the most important development scenarios building games for phones, tablets, PCs, and consoles. Any participant who completes one or more challenges will have an opportunity to win one of a variety of prizes who knows, perhaps even a device.

Q: Microsoft is a long-time sponsor of GDC San Francisco. Why is the conference so important to your marketing strategy?

Seminatore: GDC provides an amazing opportunity for Microsoft and game developers to meet, discuss what's working (and what's not), and share information with one another. It's a chance for us to hear directly from people making games for our consumers, and it lets us answer questions or find solutions to challenges they face. It also lets us share tools and services updates with the developers who live and breathe game development every day.

There are very few chances for us to have this kind of access to the creative people building amazing experiences across all of our platforms, something we value highly.


Andrew Bowell
Andrew Bowell

Andrew Bowell, head of product management at Havok, discusses the assortment of job openings at Havok and what skills are most in demand, plus what will be his company's main focus at GDC 2014.

Q: Andrew, last year, at GDC 2014, Havok was talking about the issues of the next-gen hardware and where Havok fits for developers in what was then a transitional period. What will be Havok's main focus one year later at GDC 2015?

Andrew Bowell: It has been an amazing year for Havok. Our support and engineering teams have been working closely with our customers on their next-gen titles and we are proud to see Havok-powered titles -- such as Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Alien: Isolation, DriveClub -- prove out the capabilities of next-gen hardware.

As we enter this post-launch period, we can start to release tools and technology to address new themes for next-gen game development. At GDC 2015, we'll be showing off both brand new technology and major enhancements to existing technology that will allow developers to create new gameplay experiences and be more productive than ever. Some of our new technology is still under wraps, but there are sneak peeks out there if you look closely. But we can definitely announce that we will be showing major enhancements to our toolsets for our bestselling Physics, Destruction, and Cloth products.

As ever, GDC is all about connecting with the industry and the middleware ecosystem, and we will be showcasing the latest integrations with some of our biggest partners.

Q: Havok seems to have plenty of job openings  not only in your Dublin headquarters but also in Germany, San Francisco, Seoul, and Tokyo. What sort of skills are you looking for these days and why should devs be interested in joining the Havok team?

Bowell: Havok continuously hires exceptionally talented engineers for both core development roles and developer relations engineer positions across a number of our offices. The advantage of our multiple offices is that Havok is a 24/7 company with a very international feel and constant energy and dynamism.

We recruit very bright, passionate C++ engineers with a strong knowledge of 3D mathematics. Havok developers work with teams like Bungie, Naughty Dog, and Insomniac, and alongside brilliant colleagues who are passionate about pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge technology for the games industry.

Q: I've heard you talk about there currently being a renaissance, not just for physics, but for the ideas and potential to impact gameplay, parallel game systems, and the creative method of environmental artists. Talk to me a bit about what you meant by that.

Bowell: When Havok shipped our re-architected Physics engine, it provided developers with a new basis for creating and populating their worlds with dynamic systems. Havok Physics is more performant, uses less memory, scales linearly over many cores. but most importantly is rock solid and robust from a stability standpoint. Today game developers can take it for granted that their setups and scenes will just work from a Physics standpoint. What we have found is that this has taken a while to sink in, and it's now about game designers finding ways to add more Physics, create more interesting setups. and bring Physics-based gameplay back, front, and center. Now that this next-gen Physics core is in place, we can design new technology that both leverages and extends what Physics can do in-game. An example is our Havok Destruction product that lets developers architect brand new gameplay use cases from the brash and loud, smash and crash of explosives to the more subtle bending and deformation of metal under stress and strain. At GDC 2015, Havok will be showcasing a new product that enhances further the gameplay visuals offered by Physics and Destruction bringing an order of magnitude more fidelity to simulations .

Q: Havok has said that, with all of the power offered by the PS4, the Xbox One, and today's modern PCs, there needs to be a new consideration that the smaller things dust, debris, particles, fire, etc. are as key to making next-gen scenes look immersive and real as do the traditional areas, such as polys, resolution, and frame-rates. What would you say to the devs out there to convince them of that?

Bowell: Exactly. Havok has always been about helping developers create that sense of immersion and suspension of disbelief. If you look at the movie and visual FX industry, the extent to which movies draw you in with atmospheric effects like smoke, mist, and fire, scare you with swarms of insects, and deafen you with earth-shattering explosions, the same is true for gaming. However, in the past, game developers focused on using purely visual effects to achieve this atmosphere. The next shift that Havok's latest technology will enable is making purely visual effects fully interactive. At GDC 2015, Havok will be showcasing new technology to allow game developers to achieve this.

Q: Once again, Havok is sponsoring a booth actually a business suite at GDC 2015. Why has the conference become such an important part of Havok's marketing strategy?

Bowell: This is our 15th year at GDC! We are also having our 15-year anniversary as a company! GDC has been an integral part of our company's planning and execution. We launch new tech at GDC, we talk with key customers around the world about what technical challenges and needs they have, and we party at GDC! GDC is at the heart of things for us!




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