Hitman Absolution is the first game released to use the new Glacier 2 Engine
Square Enix has several engines under their belt but the most recently created is the Glacier 2 engine. Glacier 2 is not for license for other studios unlike a game engine like Unreal 3. This engine is only for Square Enix projects and doesn't include the Square Enix projects in Japan for Final Fantasy and other games. The engine currently only has no games currently released under it's belt but it will soon in the form of Hitman Absolution. Other projects are using it as well but I can't quite remember them all.
Why build a new engine?
This is one of the questions the speaker, Kasper Engelsoft addressed. The reason for having a new engine is of course to compete with advancing hardware and methods of rendering, algorithms and structure to put it in a broad sense. He stated that it also had several other important advantages as well.
Kane & Lynch apparently used some messy code in order to get features the dev team wanted
One was to target previously problems with the first Glacier. The first Glacier appeared to have "hacks" where the programmers would just modify the code in messy, unstructured ways in order to make things work. We saw some sample code from a few games such as Kane & Lynch that proved this messiness. Glacier 2 is supposed to rectify this problem and include features that are already built in so that these sorts of hacks don't have to be done.
Glacier 2 hopes to rectify problems in the past Glacier Engine
Another thought that came to mind was why not just use another engine such as Unreal? Well this goes along with the points stated above. Not every engine has all the features a game needs or isn't tailored to do certain things that are crucial for a company's needs. Unreal might lack certain things that most games Square Enix is going to need, so that means having their own new engine will tailor it to exactly what they need.
With those questions out of the way, more content of what the new engine could do came to light. One of the most important parts of using an engine is that if it provides the right tools, it will increase the productivity of those using the engine dramatically.
One of the features the engine had was editing on the fly with the game rendered in a seperate window. Other engines do have this feature though such as Unreal and one audience member did not hesitate to point this out. They must have missed the point the engine is specifically tailored for their needs. Anyways I sidetracked but this feature is of course very useful but the best is when modifying things of the engine on the outside, it actually changed the source code at the same time as well. That means anything added in the visual editor could directly make changes to the source code and make things even faster since you wouldn't have to redefine things inside the source code. This was actually one of the highlight features the engine possessed.
Hitman Absolution uses Glacier 2 to render many NPCs with strong AI
I am going to be honest, from this point I can't say quite as much as I hadn't had much sleep the night before so I didn't hear everything that was said about the engine. We got a look into their code structure which looked very organised and clear in comparison to the code shown from the previous engine. We also got a look into their particle system as well as real time rendering of 500 completely dynamic NPCs with advanced AI. This was a feature brought into Hitman Absolution since Hitman was the one being demo'd at this time.
Unfortunately I wish had more to say and took notes but it was still a very interesting presentation. It was exciting to see the inner workings of a AAA engine first hand and understand the reasons behind its creation as well. It provides great motivation to make our own engines seeing the capability these engines provide.