Microsoft acquires Havok, the Second Life physics engine

Haovk: acquired by Microsoft
Haovk: acquired by Microsoft

News has been spreading about Microsoft’s acquisition of the Havok physics engine from Intel for an undisclosed sum.

Ciaran Laval was perhaps the first SL blogger to report the news, which has been featured on the likes of the IGN website, Engadget, Venture Beat’s Gamesbeat, and other on-line tech news outlets.

For those unfamiliar with Havok, it is it the physics engine that drives a vast number of computer and console games. It allows these games to simulate effects such as gravity, friction, collisions between objects and other natural forces, without the need for them to be individually coded and accounted for on a per-game basis.

Within Second Life, Havok is used for the purposes of physics simulation, and Havok sub-libraries licensed by the Lab are also used in such aspects of the platform as pathfinding (remember that?) and the official mesh uploader.

As well as being used for in-world physics, Havok libraires are also used within the official viewer (and TPVs which have signed a sub-licence agreement) to handle aspects of pathfinding and mesh uploads (shown here)
As well as being used for in-world physics, Havok libraries are also used within the official viewer (and TPVs which have signed a sub-licence agreement) to handle aspects of pathfinding and mesh uploads (shown here)

Microsoft has been a Havok partner for a number of years, and as a part of the acquisition has promised to allow developers elsewhere to continue to use it, stating:

Havok is an amazing technology supplier in the games industry and the leading real-time physics creator. We saw an opportunity to acquire Havok to deliver great experiences for our fans. Throughout the company’s history, they’ve partnered with Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and many others to create more than 600 games including Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Destiny, Dark Souls and The Elder Scrolls.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Havok continues our tradition of empowering developers by providing them with the tools to unleash their creativity to the world.   We will continue to innovate for the benefit of development partners.

But, if a long-term partner with Havok, why take the step of purchasing it outright? Jeff Grubb, over at Gamesbeat takes a lead from a part of Microsoft’s announcement of the acquisition, to suggest the company are looking a the potential for cloud-based physics capabilities within multi-player games, as recently demonstrated in the upcoming Crackdown 3 sandbox-style third-person shooter title:

For that open-world crime game’s multiplayer mode, Microsoft is enabling players to go in and destroy skyscrapers and everything else in the world. That mode is only possible through the power of Azure, which means Crackdown 3 developers Sumo Digital and Cloudgine are building a cloud-based destruction engine that probably runs on Havok. Once that’s built, and now that Microsoft owns Havok, it could potentially license that destruction engine out to other developers.

In August, IGN had a demonstration of these capabilities within Crackdown 3, and the results are impressive:

It’s unlikely the Microsoft’s acquisition of Havok will have any immediate or medium-term inpact on Second Life. As it is, the platform currently uses the Havok  2011.2, and so far as has been indicated at various in-world meetings, there are no public plans to update the engine at the moment. Longer-term, it will be interesting to see if / how any new / additional capabilities brought to the engine might come to be deployed in Second Life and / or “Project Sansar” (assuming Havok might be the physics engine used with that platform, something that the Lab has not as yet revealed).


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