Monday, November 5, 2012

Havok - Friend or Foe? ~ Learning Havok

Havok is one of the tools we were provided with this year in order to create our GDW games. One should be excited at the prospect of having a chance to use a top quality, triple A engine. However once you get into it, you realize it won't be as easy as it seems to get Havok fully running and doing what you want it to do. Not to mention we aren't getting the real version of Havok, rather we are getting a free student version that doesn't have all the tools that we might be hoping for. One should think that simply having Havok would be only advantageous and it should be but when it becomes a requirement to have and it's not so straight forward to do, it begins to look more like foe then friend.

First off let's just see what Havok provides.

  • Realistic Physics simulation, velocity, acceleration and forces
  • Collision detection and collision response with objects of any shape and size
  • Animation and skeletal animation
  • Creation of it's own objects to be rendered
  • Compatability with Maya for 3D modelling
  • Sensors, events and callbacks
  • Vehicle dynamics
  • Rag dolls
  • Constraints such as rope attachment
  • And many others...
Now that's a lot of features it has and that means the engine has a ton of potential to do amazing things. The problem is that the documentation provided is while very long (1000+ pages) it is not very easy to understand and not very helpful. Many have agreed that the documentation Havok provides to learn it's tools is anything but straight forward. There are also so many things you have to learn about the whole system, that even implementing one of the tasks listed above is anything but easy. In order to correctly implement something, you either have to read through a ton of documentation and might still miss some things, or you're told by someone else.

The documentation isn't exactly straight forward even though it looks like it would

Sooooooo Complicated!

The free version of Havok did not really provide any tutorials to help and any online searching for such help  is extremely difficult. For example, I wanted to figure out how I would get collision response in our game so that when a player attacked an enemy, the enemy might lose health. First of all I looked into the Havok documentation for collision detection. It listed for me, at least a half a dozen things and didn't really fully explain which I should be using, nor how to implement them. So after searching that for some time, I gave up due to how difficult it was to comprehend.

They don't provide proper examples of how to use these for collision detection
I then went to search online for any help in how I might get collision detection in Havok. Again I was frustrated by the lack of any help online due to the wording I needed to use, or just otherwise lack of resources. Havok by itself does collision detection between it's "rigid bodies" but I needed to know how to access when they would collide. Havok would not provide for me a decent answer even with looking for all these resources. Nor do I remember seeing any obvious tutorials that would help show me.

But Demo Samples are useful

Havok demos are the main method of learning Havok

Thankfully not all hope was lost for the samples they provided were actually very helpful. These were pretty much the only way I learned how to use Havok. I finally managed to find out how I would implement my collision response after much searching through the demo samples. They provided source code in these samples so I was able to extract it, figure out how to use it and put it in my own engine. Thankfully this process itself wasn't too difficult as it mostly involved using inheritance and overriding certain functions. It's not that obvious at first though and takes a bit of time to figure out. You also have to take the source code from these projects and import it into your own projects.

The demos finally helped me learn how to use collisions. I turn the objects to blue when they hit.

Through this method I managed to figure out several useful things for our game such as collision detection, collision filtering, attaching rigid bodies to a set path, and a few others. However I wish there was an easier way to learn these things through tutorials or more resources from Havok. From what I've learned it seems like they simply provide the documentation for free students. But for those that pay the full price for Havok they get all features of Havok along with tech support to help teach people. That's the benefit they get while we are stuck with having to figure out everything with Havok by ourselves. Granted its a good learning experience but it makes things dreadfully slow to learn.

Also Havok Demos are very fun, particularly the vehicle demos

The only saving grace was the samples which were very helpful indeed. I know this blog hasn't been about actually learning much today and mostly more of a rant but this just highlights of what to expect if you ever get Havok. Be excited by the potential the system has but be prepared to have to learn a lot and use the samples a ton in order to fully use it.

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