Making games is hard. In the early years of the industry, developers would have to code everything by hand, from environments to character models and everything in between. But, as the years went on, developers began to seek out ways to refine the game-making process, eventually leading to the creation of video game engines. These tools streamline the development process significantly, allowing developers to tweak their games on a larger scale, much more easily (if not exactly “easily”). These engines have evolved drastically over the years, to the point where the likes of Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine can produce massive open worlds, like the one in its upcoming starwars game.
Most major video game publishers have their own game engine, with some even having a few to choose from. Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is a go-to for many developers, due to its ease of use, while the CryEngine and Frostbite Engine offer some of the best physics systems around. But while it may be relatively new, Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine still has a lot to show off, with quite a few upcoming titles using it.
What Is Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine?
Originally coded in programming language C++, Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine began development in 2009. Created by Massive Entertainment, the studio behind The Division series, the Snowdrop Engine was originally intended for sole use on the PC. It has since been adapted to work on just about any modern console, from the PS5 to the Nintendo Switch and even Amazon Luna.
The Snowdrop Engine prides itself on being a dynamic and accessible tool, giving developers immediate access to all the systems they require, and providing an unprecedented range of options when it comes to customization. The engine achieves this through a node-based scripting system that links all facets of development together, from the menu UI to the NPC AI.
The Snowdrop Engine has a few key defining traits that set it apart from its competition. One such trait is that games using the engine will have a realistic day and night cycle, with smooth and realistic transitions between each. This is achieved in large part due to the engine’s global volumetric lighting, which gives games a naturalistic look. Procedural destruction is also a highlight of the Snowdrop Engine, along with an advanced particle system that makes explosions, gunfire, and other visual effects look impressively realistic. This is all coupled with the engine’s dynamic material shader, which helps to make objects like furniture and weapons look more life-like.
Games That Have Used/ Are Using the Snowdrop Engine
Though work began on the Snowdrop Engine in 2009, it wouldn’t be officially revealed until 2013 when it was shown off in all its glory during The Division‘s E3 presentation. Thanks to the Snowdrop Engine’s powerful presence, the trailer became a pretty memorable one. Though some visual and physics elements of The Division had to be compromised before its 2016 release, leading to a bit of criticism, it was a solid first outing for the Snowdrop Engine and helped developers get a better idea of how the engine should be tweaked for future use. Just one year later, two Ubisoft games would release, both of which used the Snowdrop Engine.
First up was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battlea bizarre crossover that worked surprisingly well, taking the tactical gameplay of XCOM and marrying it with the more cartoon-y style of both Mario and Rabbids. With the successful release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battleit seemed as though the Snowdrop Engine had come itself on the Nintendo Switch handheld, which is not easy feat.
South Park: The Fractured but Whole was the next game to feature the Snowdrop Engine, moving on from its predecessor’s Onyx engine used by the vast majority of Obsidian Entertainment games. Here, the Snowdrop Engine proved to be extremely useful when creating 2D environments as well, showing once again just how versatile the engine is.
2018 saw the release of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the last breath of the Toys to Life phenomenon. While the game itself wasn’t received all too well by critics or general audiences, it wasn’t the Snowdrop Engine’s fault, which actually did a pretty great job of keeping each version of the game near-identical to one another.
The Division 2 dropped in 2019, now boasting an even more refined version of the Snowdrop Engine. As such, visuals had improved, animations were smoother, lighting was more realistic, and environments felt more lived-in. The sequel’s physics and destruction systems were also greatly improved, leading to an all-around better experience than the first game. While The Division 2 was the last game made with the Snowdrop Engine to release, there are a slew of games releasing over the next few years that will use the engine. The new guitar-learning tool rock smith+ is using the engine, as is the sequel to king battle, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.
The highly-anticipated Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is also using the Snowdrop Engine. Though only a few images and trailers have been released so far, the game looks absolutely stunning, using the Snowdrop Engine’s advanced lighting systems to imitate the otherworldly beauty of the planet that’s present in its movie counterpart.
Of course, Ubisoft’s upcoming starwars game is also using the Snowdrop Engine. While no gameplay, plot, or world details have been revealed just yet, it is confirmed that this title will be an open-world one. Although the Snowdrop Engine has handled large-scale games before, Ubisoft’s open-world starwars game will likely push it to its limits, right alongside Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Fans should expect to see some impressive visuals and some incredibly smooth animations that are truly worthy of the phrase “next-gen.”
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