SAN RAFAEL, CA — Autodesk has acquired certain technology-related assets and hired individuals associated with GRIP Entertainment, a privately-held artificial intelligence (AI) game middleware company, based in Montreal. This acquisition accelerates Autodesk’s strategy to offer a more complete, simplified solution for the creation of believable interactive characters. The technology and expertise acquired complement Autodesk’s existing Gameware offerings and will enable the company to offer a more comprehensive AI solution.
The following is a Q&A, provided by Autodesk, that answers some of the questions that have come up regarding the acquisition:
Q: What has Autodesk acquired from GRIP Entertainment? When?
Autodesk has acquired certain technology-related assets and hired individuals associated with GRIP Entertainment. The transaction closed in November 2011. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. GRIP develops two AI middleware products for video game development: GRIP Character Control System and GRIP Digital Extra System.
GRIP Character Control System is an implementation of behavior trees — a method to encode and visually represent behavioral logic for nonplayer characters (NPCs). The behavior trees are containers for the atomic behaviors an NPC is capable of exhibiting, as well as a control mechanism for selecting behaviors.
GRIP Digital Extra System is an AI software module for creating and managing large numbers of NPCs in a video game. It helps game designers to more rapidly create vibrant worlds and game effects that require tens to hundreds of extras.
Q: Why did Autodesk buy GRIP Entertainment technology?
The acquisition will help Autodesk accelerate reaching its goal of providing a more complete, simplified solution for the creation of believable interactive characters. One important component of this solution is AI; therefore, Autodesk seeks to address the three links in the AI chain: reasoning and decision making, perception and information gathering, and movement. To do so, it must provide high-level AI authoring tools, pathfinding and spatial reasoning capabilities, and an animation engine.
GRIP Entertainment technology addresses the first link in the AI chain by providing production-proven high-level AI authoring tools to help define and control NPC behavior. Using its implementation of behavior trees and its bank of atomic behaviors, programmers and designers can efficiently encode and visually represent behavioral logic for these secondary characters.
Behavior trees offer programmers, designers and even producers a mechanism to communicate design concepts and debate implementation options, resulting in less rework and iteration. Moreover the design itself is mirrored in the actual code implementation, limiting the AI programmer's need to interpret the design.
GRIP’s implementation of behavior trees also provide a more extensible framework by allowing individual behaviors to be added to the overall control structure in such a way so they are isolated from other portions of the tree. This enables behaviors to be analyzed and tweaked discretely.
In addition, Autodesk envisions that its comprehensive solution would include AI and animation consulting services. To this end, Autodesk will benefit from the GRIP team’s expertise in artificial intelligence, along with its experience in delivering and supporting middleware, as well as developing video games.
Q. How do GRIP Entertainment’s AI solutions differ from Autodesk Kynapse middleware?
Autodesk Kynapse middleware provides a high-performance, production-proven solution for low-level AI — the “perception and information gathering” link in the AI chain. It helps to simulate advanced dynamic 3D pathfinding, environment perception, and large-crowd movement in complex terrains. It also enables simulation of spatial reasoning and team coordination.
GRIP Entertainment technology provides a solution for high-level AI authoring, offering an implementation of behavior trees — a method to encode and visually represent behavioral logic for NPCs. The behavior trees themselves are containers for the atomic behaviors an NPC is capable of exhibiting, as well as a control mechanism for selecting behaviors.
Q: How does Project Skyline fit into Autodesk’s solution for the creation of believable interactive characters?
Project Skyline is proposed future technology that was publicly unveiled for the first time at Game Developer’s Conference 2011. Autodesk demonstrated a set of game content authoring tools that could enable the creation of high-quality character animations faster. The technology can be broken down into the following three components:
Live linking: Character animators will be able to see and play with their characters in a game engine while they work in the familiar Autodesk Maya software environment. Previously it may have taken up to weeks before artists could validate their work; with Project Skyline this could happen almost immediately.
Visual programming: Using a node-based visual programming environment, technical artists and directors could more quickly build and edit custom interactions without coding. Live linking would make it easier to debug complex animation setups, which can be edited more quickly without coding. Programmers will be able to build custom nodes that can be used by the team to achieve specific results.
Middleware integration: Project Skyline is expected to include an animation engine that can be integrated into a game engine with minimal effort, freeing programmers from writing low level animation code and data translators.
In the future it is possible that Project Skyline will address the third link in the AI chain with its animation engine component. With the technology, animation behaviors can be built to translate high-level AI intentions into believable motion.
Q: What are Autodesk’s plans for the GRIP Entertainment technology? Autodesk anticipates that the GRIP Entertainment technology will be integrated into new or existing Autodesk products as part of a comprehensive solution for AI.
Q: How many people have joined Autodesk as a result of this acquisition? GRIP Entertainment co-founders, Dr. Paul A. Kruszewski and Aaron Davey, along with all developers currently working on the GRIP technology will join Autodesk.
Dr. Paul Kruszewski is an experienced technical visionary and entrepreneur in the video game industry. As President of GRIP, he drew on his experience to manage external relationships and define the company culture. Prior to GRIP, he founded BioGraphic Technologies, creator of the artificial intelligence video game technology AI.implant, which was sold into some of the world’s largest video game publishers such as Electronic Arts and Vivendi Universal Games. In 2005, BioGraphic was acquired by Engenuity Technologies, a Montreal-based simulation company where Kruszewski became CTO. Prior to BioGraphic, he was Artificial Mind & Movement’s (A2M) first CTO, where he managed the transition from PlayStation 1 to PlayStation 2 game development.
As Vice President of Production at GRIP, Aaron Davey was responsible for product development, custom services delivery and operational best practices. Prior to GRIP, Davey was the Director of Operations, Games & Entertainment for Engenuity Technologies in Montreal, where he managed the business unit responsible for the artificial intelligence product AI.implant. Prior to Engenuity, Aaron spent over four years at NGRAIN Corporation in Vancouver where he held the roles of Director, Product Management, and Director, Strategic Planning & Alliances for the NGRAIN 3D simulation and visualization technology.