Havok physics engine comes to Mac, thanks to Blizzard

In what may turn out to be one of the most significant pieces of Mac game news in quite some time, Havok, developer of a commonly used physics engine used in many popular games, announced Thursday that its newest engine has been licensed by World of Warcraft maker Blizzard Entertainment for both Mac and PC.

This is the first time ever that the Havok engine has been licensed for the Mac. As a physics engine, Havok is “middleware,” licensed by game developers who want to incorporate realistic object interaction, character animation and special effects in their games without having to write the code to control such attributes themselves.

Havok is cross-platform and has been used on major PC and console games such as Halo 2, Half Life 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and many other top-selling titles. Its absence on the Mac up until now — rumored to be due mainly to the high cost of licensing the technology — has led to the outright cancellation of Mac game projects such as Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, and has contributed to the demise of other, unannounced projects from major Mac game publishers.

It’s also led to some creative work on behalf of Mac game makers who are desperate to get certain titles onto the Mac without having to use Havok. The PC version of Age of Empires III, for example, uses Havok, but MacSoft’s developers elected instead to replace that technology with Ageia’s rival PhysX technology, which is already available on the Mac at no charge.

“The Mac is an important piece of technology and because of the cross-platform nature of Havok’s technology, the port to Mac was easy to do. Furthermore, Blizzard Entertainment’s commitment to OS X and to the Mac community is a good indication of the growth potential of the Mac as a games platform. Blizzard has always put out great games on the Mac, and we look forward to Havok becoming a part of that tradition,” said Jeff Yates, Havok’s vice president, Product Management, in a statement.

The Havok 4.0 engine was released in July, 2006. The latest major revision to the physics engine is billed as “a modular suite of artist tools and run-time technologies” that enables game developers to incorporate advanced in-game play physics, character animations, behaviors and special effects in their titles.

Blizzard announced that it plans to incorporate Havok 4.0 in “upcoming games.” Blizzard is well-known to Mac gamers for its legendary Diablo and Warcraft series, and the enormously popular online role playing game World of Warcraft. But outside of an expansion pack for that game called The Burning Crusade, which is still in development, Blizzard has kept tight reins on its future game development plans.

Terms of Blizzard’s Havok 4.0 license were not disclosed.

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