Valve: No Plans For A Next Generation Source Engine

Valve: No Plans For A Next Generation Source Engine

Valve is constantly and consistently working on the Source engine, which is the reason why it continues to look fresh despite the fact it’s been in use for seven years now. According to Valve there are 20-30 people working full time on incremental upgrades, which apparently negates the need for a fully blown redesigned engine built from scratch.

According to an interview in Develop magazine, the team are constantly evolving the tech.

“I think that incremental updates model has worked really well for us,” claimed Gabe Newell.

“Does that mean we’ll reach some architectural tipping-point where we’ll need to change? No. I mean, if Larrabee had shipped that would have probably necessitated some fairly dramatic changes in order to take advantage of it. But, so far we’ve been able to keep the engine moving ahead, robustly. I mean, I think it looks great.

“I think, when you see a game like DOTA 2, you’ll see how developers can get a lot more out of Source than most companies can get from a scratch-built engine.”

It’s an interesting strategy. I think on some level we would all love to see a Valve game that completely redefines the parameters of what is possible, like Half Life 2 did, instead of having the Source engine merely keep pace – but if it makes sense for Valve to continue this strategy, then it makes sense.

Personally I felt like Portal 2 looked as good as any game released this year, but the constant load screens were jarring, particularly when the action moved out of the testing chambers. If Valve put that at the top of the “incremental upgrades” list, I’ll be happy!

Valve: No existing plan for ‘Source Engine 2’ [develop-online]


    • It was only like that because Valve had to cater for the PS3, since it is crossplatform.

      The chambers itself are possibly even smaller than gm_flatgrass (Garrys Mod), and that is almost one loading screen per chamber.

  • They always wrote Source to be incredibly modular, so that as the technology evolved they could simply swap parts in and out. It’s a good approach but it probably makes it harder to market than having standardized engines etc. the way that Epic does. You’re better able to know what you’re going to get if you license Unreal Engine 3.

    Seconded on the loading screens thing though! They were the one technical element of Portal 2 which really took me out of the game. Loading screens between levels have been increasingly disappearing in modern FPS, either by creatively hiding them or streaming them in. It really should be something that they give some priority to. Especially if they do want Source to continue to be used externally, given that large streamed areas are one of the big selling points for id’s Tech 5 (Rage) engine.

  • I was very surprised at how good Portal 2 looked. It’s a very Valve thing that works for them, and it gives them a nice consistent benchmark so people almost know what to expect graphically but are still pleasantly surprised.

    The load screens were probably my biggest negative with the game. I know they’re a necessity and all that, but the more ‘seamless’ load screens of the first kept me more immersed.

  • Valve seem to really be slipping into ‘incremental improvement’ as a modus operendi in all areas. I mean, what is Valve at the moment? Portal 2, DOTA 2, and waiting for either Episode 3 or Half-Life 3. Its all incremental stuff, nothing started from scratch from the creative side either. Kind of disappointing. Getting to be as bad as Blizzard!

    • Hahahaha. Portal was an amazing original IP, released only 4 years ago. A year after that was Left 4 Dead. And soon they’ll release DOTA2, which is not a genre that’s ever existed for full-blown games before last year.

      Blizzard, on the other hand, havn’t done anything significantly creative since 2004’s World of Warcraft…

      • I know this is a potshot at Starcraft 2, but it’s still a silly comment to make. If you think a game like that, with that much polish and a colossal need for balancing does merit the label of creativity, you’re dreaming.

        • Pfft balancing, half the game doesn’t even exist in MP for the sake of balance.

          Not to mention that Blizzard is going to release SC2 3 times.

          Everyone hates the terrans so of course they were released first so that if you wanted to play MP you had to buy the Terran copy.

    • Portal and DOTA are both not the kind of ‘creations’ I’m thinking of though. Portal was utter serendipity and they totally deserve praise for it, but the way Valve are touted as God’s gift to gaming, they should do more stuff like it, not just the same again. DOTA wasn’t a Valve creation at all, they’ve just bought the rights to develop it. Will it be around in another year?

      To be fair I forgot about Left4Dead, but again, its such a small game I genuinely don’t understand how its gained such a following.

      Valve seem great (lately) at taking really small ideas and blowing them up into (almost) full games.

    • No, it’s not using the “Steam Engine”. The Steam Engine is reserved for locomotives (trains). The Steam Software is not an engine either, but a User Interface and Digital Product Integration & Consumer store.

      What I think you’re after is “Is Portal 2 still using the Source Engine?” It is using a modified Source Engine – It was originally released as Source in Half Life 2, then modified for Team Fortress 2, then again somewhere in the middle just prior to the hats/itemisation and upgraded weapons systems in TF2.

      So yes, it is still using the Source Engine.

      • Pretty sure that there’s been more enhancements made to Steam than that. There’s the addon software they use to make videos in the engine (like the ‘meet the team’ videos for TF2). The old Lost Coast addon stuff for HL2 added HDR lighting, for example. Orange Box enhanced particles, improved facial animation and added multiprocessor support. I think they’ve said DotA2 is going to add Cloth animation.

        Incidentally, in the dim dark past, Source was a fork of Quake. They modified it heavily for Half Life (the first one) and then at some point it got too risky to add experimental new changes to Half Life’s code, so they forked it again, which is where the ‘Source’ name came from (‘Gold Source’ for the to-be-shipped-as-half-life version, ‘Source’ for the in-development experimental one).

        Valve’s real problem is that Source is an absolute nightmare to use. It’s full of arcane commands and wierdness and lacks a proper supported GUI. I think that’s why so few companies other than Valve have released games using it. Only ones I know off the top of my head are Vampire: The Masquerade and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Compare that to an engine like Gamebryo or Unreal or id’s Tech 3 or Tech 4.

    • Steam isn’t an engine, it’s their digital distribution platform. Portal 2, as mentioned above, used the Source engine.

  • Sure source is good and all but cmon Gabe…you can’t stay on the same engine for too long.


    • Why not?

      It’s 15 years since quake was released, and VALVe has been keeping pace rather well.

      Source is maintained, so the code base would constantly being cleaned up and updated, and has who knows how many bug fixes for different platforms and hardware configurations implemented?

      Source was never a new engine. It came from goldsource, which came from quake. It just had 6 more years of development on it.

  • What I think is the best part about this ‘incremental updates’ thing is that they sometimes trickle down to older games. TF2, for instance, takes advantage of HDR and other features that were developed for source after it’s release. It means that even today it still looks great!

    However, contrary to what Valve says, I believe there WILL have to be a tipping point – basic rules of coding dictates this – it was shown as people have said by the constant loading screens in portal 2

  • AFAIK the engine is still using a weird mix of BSP-graphed solids along with an increasing amount of mesh geometry to store and render the game world. The mesh stuff was originally used for props, but now constitutes a large part of the level geometry (as they state in the L4D2 dev commentary).

    BSP is really constrained to static (unmoving), low detail stuff. Displacement surfaces (natural terrain) use meshes as well, so the use of BSP solids is limited to only the simplest walls, floors and ceilings. Surely it’s about time they shrugged off the baggage of their mesh/BSP-solid hybrid and replaced it with some kind of more unified approach?

    Also with respect to the frequency of loading screens, this is due to the fact that Source does not ‘stream’ world data from the disk, which is essential on the consoles (as they have very limited RAM) unless you want to have to stop for loading screens frequently. Criterion worked this out way back in the early 2000s with RenderWare (without which, the sprawling PS2 GTA games would have never been possible). To reduce the development workload, PC gamers get the same heavily divided versions of the maps as the consoles.

  • If the load screens are an inescapable part of the source engine, then the tipping point will arrive sooner or later as progressive loading becomes more mainstream.
    While not the only engine with load screens, newer ones are becoming less and less reliant on them.
    Larger areas with more content are becoming more common, and if source can’t manage that, it’s time for a change.

  • I suspect that a lot of new engines are the result of programmers preferring to work on new code rather than maintain existing code. I know I am like that. The thing is that it doesn’t always result in better code and can often result in regressions.

    While there are some changes that may seem more difficult to do without a full rewrite, it usually is possible to do in an incremental way. I’m sure the Source engine code today looks quite different to what it did at its first release.

  • He hasn’t noticed that recent games like Left 4 Dead 2 look they were made at the same time as Episode 2?

  • Source engine games don’t require that I buy a brand new laptop every couple years to play awesome games on 😛 Therefore I am a fan.

    But even if someone’s coming from a strictly “graphics are all that matters” standpoint, I don’t think Source games look bad at all. When properly used I think it’s great at representing both stylized and realistic environments.

  • Source engine still looks amazing after all these years.

    Did a test recently with my non-gamer girlfriend – booted up HL2 and a more recent game and she couldn’t tell the difference.

    I agree with this, the source engine is impressive. Sure it has it’s downsides but it’s power is something to be commended.

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