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18th March 2023
Breaking Down Remedy's Northlight Engine

This week, Remedy delved into the work that goes on behind the studio's in-house engine, Northlight. The move for the first step in a new direction that brings the team's work more into public view. 

Behind the scenes, the engine has powered the studio's games for the past decade, originally for Quantum Break, and later Control and CrossfireX (Campaigns). Development is underway on Alan Wake 2 and future instalments of the Control series using the technology. 

The tools allow them "create games for PC and modern, high-end console platforms. Features include physics, audio, AI, rendering, gameplay scripting, UI design, debugging, and profiling."

With the new direction, Remedy has revamped the Northlight page on their website and published a video with members Northlight team. The page is now packed with information from two articles and a breakdown into what makes the engine special. 

You can view the new Northlight page on the website, HERE


About Game Engines - Is it better to have your own technology for making games, or should you license an engine? (Written by Mika Vehkala)

> Northlight in 2023 - We have realized we should get a lot better about how we talk about Northlight and everything associated with it. (Written by Thomas Puha)

Breaking Down Remedy's Northlight Engine

"At Remedy Entertainment, we have always been committed to using our own in-house technology, Northlight, to power most of our games.

"We spoke with the people who work with Northlight every day, our developers and the people who make Remedy's games, on what working with in-house technology means for them, and how Northlight keeps evolving.

"Northlight is a comprehensive game engine that, like every game engine, has a unique take on workflows and data pipelines. It has modern rendering technology, offers comprehensive solutions for most - if not all - areas of game development, and it can be used to make games for multiple console platforms and PC."

Breaking Down Remedy's Northlight Engine Transcript

Johannes Richter (Head of VFX): Northlight is the shoulders we stand on. It's what makes possible what we do here 

Anssi Hyytiäinen (Lead Technical Designer): Northlight is our proprietary engine and tech stack. 

I don't know, it's the daily friend and enemy.

Katriina Vakkila (Senor Documentation Specialist): For me, Northlight is a piece of software. It's also a team that I get to work with. 

Vesa Paakkanen (Lead Tools Programmer): In the team, we have more than 40 programmers working on the various parts. There's the runtime engine. There are tools. There are some back-end services, conventions, workflows, pipelines, DCC integrations. 

Katriina : But we also have people thinking about the content creation tool APIs. How to bring over content or how to do code reviews, or how to set up a build system that is so easy to use that you don't need a computer science degree to use it. 

Vesa: It's like this huge ecosystem.

Mika Vehkala (Technology Director): So making games is hard. You have all these different disciplines, each having their own specialists. Each individual in our teams has a unique perspective. We are crafting our own technology for our teams and only for our teams, so that they could create, not only good but great games.  Having our own technology allows us to customize and tailor all of the workflows and pipelines to suit our people's needs. And this, in turn, helps us to make games that have unique aspects or features that make them stand out from the crowd.

Thomas Puha (Communications Director): But it's never about just developing technology for technology's sake. The tech is there to support the games and make the games better. And if you look at Remedy's games, y'know, we had really good physics implementation already in Max Payne 2. Then, of course, light and shadow played a big part in Alan Wake. And more recently in Control, we had really advanced destruction through physics. And of course, we had super good, I would say, the best implementation of raytracing in any video game. 

Mika: It's a careful balancing act between short-term goals and long-term goals to ensure that all of our games have what they need. Yet looking into the feature and into the new games that will come and being able to power them with all the necessary new innovations in pipelines, workflows or runtime technology. 

Johannes: The world's your oyster. You can build whatever you can think of. Whatever you can come up with that you want in your game. And we have incredibly talented and smart people to help us make it become real for the players to get excited about. 

Antti Herva (Lead Character Technical Artist): Right now, as we are in a multi-game project organisation. We can, sort of, find that path across our projects, what our projects need and what we want to do. And we can find the solutions that best generalize to all of those projects, and we get the best bang for your buck in those solutions. And it's also about creating the mutual understanding between the different teams, the technology and the art. That tight coupling gets us the most efficient, the best, the bleeding edge features that we need for the Northlight engine. 

Sean Donnelly (Technical Director, Control Franchise): What's the most interesting thing with having our own engine and tech is the human element. Like, for example, if I have a problem with a bit of tech or some feature,  I can actually go and talk directly to the programmer who worked on it. They might not like that all the time, but it's really great. For example, I have access to a whole bunch of experts, who I can have face-to-face discussions with. So, on the game team, that's really useful when you're planning, you're implementing new features, and it's just a nicer way of working as opposed to, y'know, posting a question n an online forum and waiting for weeks to get a response. 

Katriina: Our developers and users are never really that far away from each other. That takes a lot of the guesswork that is usually involved in software development away. 

Thomas: It just really enables our game development; teams work very closely with the Northlight team. Collaboration is always the key to success. 

Tatu Aalto (Lead Graphics Programmer): Aim is to build a sensible and clutter-free environment where lighting artists and visual effects and environment teams can build the worlds that they envision. We are always trying to pick a small subset of tech that we focus on and what people love building. Making a game is a long road. It's important to do fun things.

Mika: The key is that we have to make things simpler and more straightforward so that we can service all of the various game projects at the same time. It can mean removing deprecated code, paying back some of the technology debt, and working on decoupling systems, so that we can easier integrate our changes to the game projects or deploy all of our tools and pipelines to the content users. We're also working on developing and improving on our DevOps. So this means that we can easier deploy and deliver all of the various parts of our Northlight development environment inside our studios and also to our external partners. So, there are very many aspects in what you have to do when you go from a single-project to a multi-project studio. And this is something that we are quite happy and excited to work with, also here at Northlight. 

Anssi: We are retiring our old legacy editor which is almost 20 years old now, and we are replacing it with a completely modern and more flexible tool that allows you to edit everything in the game engine directly. Basically, the entire philosophy of how the game world gets laid out has been completely rethought. Instead of having very many legacy concepts, like you usually have levels, and prefabs, and archetypes and spawnables, and what have you. We have generalised that into just completely general concepts of bundles with completely free ability to do overwrites. Even the entire levels are just bundles you choose to load, the entire game is just ta bundle. So, it's just bundles all the way down to the turtles basically. The concept of bundles maps almost one-to-one with what USD (Universal Scene Description) provides us already. So NWED (New World Editor) is the bundle editor that we are going to use to actually define the game world. So it's replacing our old legacy editor. This is just a generalised bundle editor and you work directly with the game, live editing everything. NWED stands for New World Editor because our old world editor was called World Editor. *Laughs*

Mika: We recently adopted USD as a foundation for our new content pipelines and we are also working on a new game object model that is powering the runtime of our games. 

Sean: For me, what's great about USD is it solves a bunch of problems in areas I've seen come up again and again through my career, over the years. Mainly around the space of being able to override and extend functionality in specific contexts. So. it's a very strong base for us to build on, and then we can focus on what we're actually good at, which is creating workflows which suit our people and our games. 

Kristof Minnaert (Principal Technical Artist): So, I think USD is one of the coolest pieces of technology, I've ever had the pleasure of working with. It's being integrated into Northlight so deeply is extremely exciting, and Remedy, I think, is at the forefront of adopting USD within the games industry. 

Sean: Our game object model is very modern and efficient in that it's data-orientated rather than object-orientated. So, at the lower level, that gives us a better handle on things like cache coherency and scheduling, which then allows us to do more complex simulations, have more entities, more stuff, to put it simply. Our gameplay coders love it because it's very fast, very easy to make features in it, but it's also very robust and safe. For example, we have to compile time memory access validation as a feature. 

Johannes: Anyone who has ever tried to pick up a new engine, it feels like I'm writing suddenly, I don't know, with a different pen or something, or I have to speak a different language. But in the end, it's not as scary doing it when you're there, as it might seem from the start because in the end, the fundamental principles are the same, and they're just being solved with a different mindset. Maybe a mindset that means we are much closer to the technology that we are using and not so far away, like a product. And that gives us more intimacy with the engine we're working with. And once you get over the initial hurdles, that some things are in places where you never suspected them to be, everything else can feel very comfortable very quickly. And there's always someone next to you, behind you, downstairs, who is there to help. 

Katriina: It's the first company where I've worked with that, going into a meeting with people, most people lean in, on a meeting. They're so into it, what they're talking about. Those are the great kind of meetings to attend. 

Mika: It's very important for us to keep our technology competitive and meaningful not only today but all the years to come. Every Remedy game is a proof of our commitment to our technology. Each game project has unique needs and requirements that will set some of the direction where we're taking our Northlight development. And in turn, the things that we deliver will help the games to realise their creative vision.  


Formerly "Vanguard"

The Crossfire Series

The Control Series

The Quantum Break Series

The Alan Wake Series

The Max Payne Series



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