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COLLADA: The game developers' open source data exchange format

by Jon Peddie on 7 September 2006, 11:30

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Introduction to COLLADA

Jon Peddie gives us an interesting perspective on the games industry and the efforts being made to make asset exchange as easy as possible.

One the face of it, it should be a simple thing to own what you create and to exchange it. In practice, it doesn’t work out so well.

The game industry has been plagued by rising costs, missed deadlines. Some of the blame can be laid to competitive pressures drives developers to add more. Some of it, honestly, has been the result of a lack of discipline. And, a lot of it has arisen out of the complexities of working within several different disciplines and this is when people find out that they really don’t necessarily own their own data.

Software content creation tools have not necessarily been created to facilitate data exchange and often software vendors constrain the type of data that can be exchanged. In 3D modelling and animation the most commonly used format for exchange is Autodesk’s FBX which has proven to be a very useful format. However, the fact that at the end of the day FBX is in the control of one of the most powerful competitors in the industry makes users decidedly uncomfortable. The fear is similar to that inspired by Microsoft and its many standards including DirectX and it goes like this: If data is locked up in a proprietary standard; if development is dictated by one company, how much control and ownership do creators really have?

As a result, an alternative movement is growing among customers who find their ability to work being hampered by difficulties in exchanging data. In the case of game development Sony became concerned bout the problem as it hustled to get games developed for the Playstation 3 console. The game development team at Sony developed COLLADA to facilitate file exchange but they quickly realized that a file exchange strategy is valuable in proportion to the amount of people able to use it and for that reason Sony took COLLADA to the Khronos organization to further develop it as an open source technology.

Since then developers and artists have been actively adopting COLLADA. For instance, Konami recently announced at that COLLADA would be used in the development of their titles Metal Gear Solid and Winning Eleven. In addition, Crytek is has opted to use support COLLADA for its Far Cry engine. And, because it is an open technology, it is very likely that COLLADA is being more widely used than anyone knows. Game developers and production houses often prefer to keep their working procedures to themselves figuring their little advantage in helping out the competition. (We could go on and on about how this attitude also means that closed houses don’t get the benefit of others’ experience but we’ll restrain ourselves.)

Yet for all that, COLLADA is not necessarily well understood by people who aren’t actively using it. For that reason we got together with Remí Arnaud and Mark Barnes, the two people most knowledgeable about COLLADA in the world and we pulled together this question and answer session developed from our own questions and those from the developer community.

For even more detail about putting COLLADA to work, Arnaud and Barnes have published a book, COLLADA: Sailing the Gulf of 3d Digital Content Creation by Remí Arnaud, and Mark C. Barnes. Published by AK Peters, Ltd. ISBN 1568812876. It just hit the shelves on August 30, 2006 so it’s not exactly readily available but it can be ordered on Amazon.