As part of our GDC 2022 coverage, we also reported on the Ubisoft Scalar announcement. Touted as a way to create much bigger game worlds or even much more vivid ones, Ubisoft Scalar is currently in development at Ubisoft Stockholm alongside a game based on a new IP.
After GDC 2022, we had the opportunity to have a brief chat with Technical Director Christian Holmqvist. A veteran programmer, Holmqvist previously worked at Electronic Arts, where his career was almost equally split between stints at Ghost Games (Need for Speed: Rivals and preproduction for Need for Speed 2015), Criterion (Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission), and DICE (Star Wars Battlefront II, Battlefield V).
When the studio started working on Ubisoft Scalar and the new game, were you there?
I was not. I joined a little bit after that.
What was your first reaction when you learned what they had begun working on?
My first reaction was actually 'Finally!'. In a way, it's a step that we have felt for quite a while that it should be possible to take, what we're doing with Ubisoft Scalar now. I was really happy that the investment was happening, that the belief is there to actually make this transition.
It's not the first time that we've read about revolutionary cloud computing that could push the boundaries of game production. First, there was the multiplayer of Crackdown 3, then Improbable's SpatialOS. So far, neither has been really successful. How would you compare Ubisoft Scalar to those technologies?
Yes, the area has been there and it was used in the industry for a while, so it felt like there was definitely enough maturity on the existing technologies to bring it in as an essential piece of our core competence and corporate technology and also within game development.
I can't compare directly to how the other technologies work. The thing that we feel will make Ubisoft Scalar better for us is really the freedom for us to utilize the cloud for the purposes that we see fit. There is a transition phase, clearly, and it doesn't necessarily mean that it's all or nothing. So for us, it's really about getting the creativity and exploration going. Growing the quality of games comes down to how creative we are and how fun you are having when building them. We want to put another set of tools there that should be easily accessible to Ubisoft developers to explore how we can use this to improve some parts of our games or maybe make different types of games.
The way that we see it is to leverage additional compute powers, but we don't necessarily tell game developers using how to use it. We see that either you can go very, very large in terms of large game worlds, or you can also push on making more and deeper simulations and you are less limited by your players' hardware.
To be clear, though, since users often confuse cloud streaming and cloud computing, Ubisoft Scalar doesn't have anything to do with cloud streaming, correct?
Yes. Correct. Yes, you can also combine the two, but it's not streaming, like video streaming that we are focused on.
Are we correct in assuming that there would be a bonus side effect in offloading at least some of the game world's simulations from local hardware to the cloud?
Yes, you will free up resources on the local hardware and can devote more of it to the things that need to be happening on the local hardware, such as graphics rendering, audio playback, and others.
You've also noted that Ubisoft Scalar is not to be considered an engine, right?
Yes. You can view Ubisoft Scalar as a production tool and the glue that makes it much easier to take advantage of the cloud. It's really there to enable developers to leverage the possibilities as quickly and easily as possible. A lot of cloud technology requires a lot of learning and mastering the fine details of it. We all want to bring this much closer to everyday use by engineers who are not necessarily experts at utilizing the cloud.
Can Ubisoft Scalar be easily implemented in different engines, such as Anvil or Snowdrop?
Yes, it is engine-agnostic.
Is it true that Ubisoft Scalar might allow developers to implement game updates without taking down the live servers?
Yes. That's an important part of the vision that we have that we can keep games truly online at all times with an absolutely minimal amount of downtime. Since we can update only parts of the game in isolation, we don't need to bring down the entire simulation or software in order to do an update to only a part of it. So that improves both the local iteration as well as modularity.
What is the status of Ubisoft Scalar? When will it be ready?
We are actively working together with Ubisoft Stockholm who is working on a new IP and we are following the needs of this game. So, we will be ready when the game is ready.
Are you open to licensing this cloud-based production tool to potential third parties?
No, we believe Ubisoft Scalar gives our teams an incredibly powerful creative edge and, for now, will be exclusively dedicated to Ubisoft’s community of developers around the world.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about Ubisoft Scalar?
I would like to give a shout to anyone who wants to join the team and be part of the future of game development. Ubisoft Scalar is actively expanding, check out the job openings!