While I was searching interviews and press releases for my article "Where’s Virtools heading to … ? " I came across the info that Virtools has one or more patents. I was curious so I looked it up, here it is: US 6972765
The text is quite repetitive and therefore not really easy to read but in short it describes a visual system of assembling interactively components to create interactive and animated 3d images. It mentions behaviours, components, operations, links, parametrizable links, etc. So bascially the concept to visually create scripts for real-time 3D content.
We all know that patents are not unproblematic because even though if there is prior-art or it’s trivial, they may get accepted and canceling chose invalid patents costs a lot of money and a lot of time (years?!). Big companies do have a lot patents and they can exchange those among them but small companies usually can’t. They need to cease using that tech or aquire a license – even if they used that for long already.
Now, it’s clear that Virtools approach of using a visual system was very innovative and also the way they designed it is effective and flexible – especially compared to some other approaches. But let’s have look at it: a BB is the visualization of a function! A function has parameters (in, out when working on references, or as return value), it has an entry point and it has one or more exit points. In addition to that it doesnt take long to make out that one needs also multiple entry points (bINs). But as usally, good things that are simple are hard to think of 😉 Alltogether I am not sure if this is something that can/should be protected by a patent or not …
There are some other companies doing visual scripting for interactive content: UnrealKismet , Quest3D , Blender , VisualArchitect , VVVV . Those based in europe might be protected but what if europe will get software patents, too? With such a patent and with Dassault in the back, Virtools has the money and infrastructure to attack other companies, so will they do that for Epic’s UnrealKismet? Something that certainly would affect their image negatively in the industry, but what about other, smaller companies? This also means that maybe there will never be an alternative to Virtools and thus we stay slaves to their price, support, information and release politics (most users unhappy with that). I know also the argument of ‘purely defensive patents’ – a patent that will never be used to attack another company but to prevent the vice versa scenario.
What’s the best thing against competition? To be faster! And Virtools is sloooooooooooow. Its really proving it right now with not being able to deliver offically their bug fixes. Maybe it’s some internal rule for the next big release – whatever – but it’s certainly nothing that helps their users. It’s really no feeling of partnership – it’s a let down.
While we are at this topic – another DEV user once said: nobody wants to deal anymore with outdated tech and inside the company they are certainly more enthusiast about working on the new upcoming tech – called MP (MultiPlatform). We don’t know when this will be available and not under what conditions. We know it’s in development for a while already. Since when?
First time somebody from Virtools mentioned to me something about a coming multi-platform support (‘but not soon’) was january 2004. Some people may remember that there was a job offer for a PS2 coder on the Virtools site. I recently came across a (job offer) posting from a Virtools employee on the IGDA forum dating to december 2002. It says that this was already for the new multiplatform system.
en vue du développement de la prochaine version de notre plateforme de développement en version multiplateforme nous sommes à la recherche d’un développeur PS2 (ayant déjà une expérience sur cette plateforme).
So the intension is at least 3,5 years old. Today I came across the Unreal Engine entry at wikipedia saying that they are working on the 4.0 (!!) Engine already for 2 years (!). Here’s the same info from the UnrealWiki
Epic Games announced just recently that they have been working on the Unreal Engine 4 for the last 2 years. This will be first utilised in the next next generation (Xbox 3, PlayStation 4).
An article on Computer and Video Games features Mark Rein spilling the beans on Unreal Engine 4.0, most notably the fact that it’s already two years into the development cycle!
"Unreal 4 is totally groundbreaking and totally the way games will be done in the future," Rein continued. " I don’t expect it to be staffed up as a team for a while. But when people come to work at Epic, they know they’re going to be shaping the future of the videogame business."
Well our gobs were well and truly smacked at this bombshell, because we’ve seen what Unreal 3 can do already and we’re only at the beginning it’s potential going into the next gen. Imagine what it’ll be like in three year’s time when developers have got a full handle on it and can use it to maximum potential with Epic’s mature toolset.
So if Virtools really wants to be in that Market, they better get some momentum – maybe they really believe that they will compete with that tech and therefore they need that patent for future battles against the big ones from that field. Now – there we are – back to the topic: patents.
[btw. while I am on it: I guess UE 4.0 will have lots of procedural content generation tools, I mean when you look at the game Spore or the demoscene … 😉 ]
I know from Virtools employee websites and fourm postings that some of them are against software patents, too. Now their founder has this patent and it’s certainly under control by Dassault, a big global player.
[ Hm, maybe all the developers stopped working as protest and that’s why we have to wait for public bug fixes, hehe 😉 ]
We will see where this leads to …
Something unrelated: while i was searching for other "interactively-visual-operation-assembling authoring tools for 3d-imaging" I came across greggman’s site, where he mentioned the authoringtool Alice . It’s a different visual scripting style – checkout the video section.