Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Name Game Trap (TNGT?)

Marketing your game is usually a pretty drab affiar but when the developers get involved in marketing their technology, things get really interesting. Take Epic for instance and their proprietary Unreal Technology. They're up to version 3 now with 4 coming out relatively soon and their engine boasts a number of confusedly named components. Gemini, Cascade, Kismet, PhAT, Swarm, Matinee, and now Lightmass and MCP. If you've worked with Unreal Tech some of these may sound familiar, but if not, you're probably pretty confused right about now. Who would guess that Kismet is their visual scripting tool? Or that MCP (named after the antagonistic A.I. in Tron) would be their gameplay statistics tool.

It's an interesting brand marketing strategy especially since most companies just use acronyms. For Mark Rein it probably makes things easier for him to be able to spew out cool sounding names like PhAT or Swarm during a press event and I'm sure the public eats it up. For the developer interested in licensing their technology, does it really matter though? Sure, Matinee makes sense as their camera scripting tool but does cascade bring to mind at all particle systems and effects? Does it describe in any coherent way what it as feature does or how it can be utilized? The value it brings to a project?

We did something similar at Raven with names like Icarus (our scripting system), behavEd (the scripting system editor), Ghoul (the dynamic dismemberment system), confuseEd (dynamic object destruction), vertigons (surface sprites), etc... In the end it  becomes something cumbersome and annoying to have to deal with the ambiguity but it does add a bit of extra flavor to an otherwise drab sounding feature.

At id, naming engine iterations with the idTech prefix makes a whole helluva lot of sense but outside of a few interestingly named systems (like AAS - area awareness system), the idTech 5 renderer is just, the renderer, not Lightning or Talon or some other pointy sounding name.

At home I tend toward the simplistic. Right now the engine I've been developing on and off the past 9 years is called the AREngine (which I do plan to backronym as some point). I'm just finishing up a shader graph based permutation system which I blandly call MaterialV2 (Material version 2, despite this being the 4th iteration of my material system - it's the first one I've developed in-place with the previous still functional). Here is a feature that could be a key selling point of the engine and it ends not in an exclamation mark but a period.

If you want to get excited about what you're working on (and get other people excited as well) you usually have to add a bit of edge, which is I think what Epic has done. Having said that, attaching a catchy name that represents what a feature is about is the hard part. The easy part is falling into the name game trap.


Unknown said...

Actually, GHOUL and ICARUS both stood for something, I just don't recall what they were. :) GHOUL actually encompassed the skeletal mesh/animation and surface systems, rather than "dynamic dismemberment", as we really had no dynamic dismemberment. Just an elaborate (or less elaborate in Jedi) set of surfaces and caps to turn off and on. SoF also had some bits they liked to bolt onto bones or bolt points.

BehavEd was more specifically the visual, primarily AI, scripting tool, editing, in most cases, behavior. So that made plenty of sense. Vertigons were...vertical polygons stuck to a surface. There was also ShaderEd (editing shaders), and EffectsEd (editing effects). "ConfuseEd", I don't recall ever using or hearing about. It isn't in the Jedi SDK and I don't recall anyone on either Jedi game or SoF2 using it, but maybe it's an X-Men/Q4 thing? Dunno.

But in any case, most names were pretty straightforward, and the ones that weren't actually were acronyms for something. I wouldn't really compare it to Epic's situation. :)

Rick Henderson said...

I think the cool names are important, because you never know when something might hit it big, or become a tool that will be so useful, others will want to use it. I'm just guessing here.

When Microsoft Silverlight was released, I was stoked, mainly because of the name. They also had a great logo for it. Sadly, I'm much less enamoured with it now, even though I don't program it at all.

Having a data collection system that you call DCS just screams lack of creativity in my mind (previous employer's product actually).

I like what I've seen on your blog... interesting stuff. I'm a bit of a graphics geek.

dust said...

What's in a name?
I always hate having drab names, although it's hard to come up with names that are informative and poetic at the same time. I've got Bard for my logging mechanism and FIRE [or Fire Is a Rendering Engine] :D guess which system...