Game Development Tools: Autodesk Stingray

Staff Writer By: Sergio Rosa (nemirc)

Last year, Autodesk released their game development engine Stingray. According to Autodesk, Stingray is being aimed at "indie pros," people who have experience making games but may want to make something bigger, and they want it to be an alternative to those developers currently using Unity or UE4. In this article I plan to give you a brief introduction to the engine, so you can decide if it could be your next tool.

I am getting the obvious part out of the way since this is pretty much one of the first things you see. Stingray can produce gorgeous graphics. It is designed to be a photorealistic engine, and it completely shows. When comparing Unity and Unreal Engine 4, UE4 wins in the graphics department any day. However, when it comes to comparing UE4 and Stingray, I'm finding it difficult to decide which one has better graphics.

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As you may know, I'm a big fan of Allegorithmic Substance Designer, since it offers the ability to create amazing materials for your games. I should mention that Stingray does not support Substance files at the moment, so you can't use materials created in SD unless you bake them into textures that are manually imported into Stingray.

Using Stingray feels very familiar to using any other engine. You have your viewport, assets browser, and a window to see the objects' properties. Also, adding objects is a matter of drag and drop, and transforming them is second nature if you've used 3d applications in the past.

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Programming uses 2 different methods: Flow, a node based programming language; and LUA scripting. This may sound similar to what you have in UE4 (Blueprints + C++), but they are used for different things. LUA scripting is useful to program game-wide aspects while Flow is meant to be used for in-level functionality. Basically, this functionality is more comparable to that from UDK than UE4, since it's used mostly for in-level functionality.

Creating user interfaces in Stingray requires you to use Scaleform Designer. The tool is included with Stingray, so you don't need to install another program for this. In my experience using Scaleform, you're required to build your interfaces in Adobe Flash, then import that Flash movie into the engine and connect it to Scaleform. Scaleform Designer doesn't do this, though, since you create your interfaces directly into that application using vector-based graphic assets. This is important because vector graphics can be resized without pixilation, meaning that user interfaces can fit different screen sizes and aspect ratios without distortion.

Besides Scaleform, Stingray includes other middleware including Wwise, HumanIK, and Navigator. I understand you're already free to use all that middleware, regardless of the platform and nature of your project, since it's already included in the engine.

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When I used UDK, I had to deal with the frustration that was compiling a game, since it required the use of an external tool to do that (Unreal FrontEnd), while Unity had the game compiler built into the engine. Stingray follows this trend of having the compiler inside the editor, no external tool required. Compiling the game is as easy as opening a tab and selecting a folder to store the build of your game. An example project featuring a subterranean train station compiles into a 250mb build (it features top notch graphics and audio). This is massively better than UE4 when you consider that a sidescroller project in UE4 featuring a small level made of cubes and a default character (no textures at all) was around 700mb. Although every project is different, this test makes me think that projects in Stingray may not result in huge binaries.

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During my first tests with Stingray, I would always run into this problem where I got an error message stating that "The connection to the back-end server was lost or can't be established" and it would disable parts of my user interface. I am not really sure what the message was, but I am assuming Stingray constantly "calls home" for some reason. What I can tell you is that it was extremely frustrating, because it turned the engine useless, and at some point made me quit the software completely because the error messages were too frequent. In later sessions, I barely got the message, and now I never get it, so my Stingray sessions are extremely smooth. Still, this is something you should keep in mind, or find out more about since it sucks to have an application and not be able to use it due to some server connection issue.

When making games, what engine to use is not something you should take lightly. Stingray is a very special case since it's a new engine, so there are not tons of developers using it that can give you testimonials. My advice, as with most applications, would be this: if you're about to begin working on a mid-to-high-end game, or you're looking for an engine for such future game, you should give Stingray a try and see if it fits your needs. On the other hand, if you're working on simpler games (like 2d games, or games with simple cartoon graphics), maybe Stingray is not for you.

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You can get Stingray for $30 a month (or $240 a year). If you get Maya LT via subscription, you can get access to Stingray for free. The software does not include an option to buy a stand-alone non-subscription-based license.

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