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Helldivers 2 was built on an obscure Swedish engine discontinued in 2018: 'Our crazy engineers had to do everything with no support'

 Helldivers posing.
Helldivers posing.

You've heard of Unreal Engine and Unity, two engine juggernauts that power most of your Steam library, but you've probably never heard of Bitsquid. It was an obscure game engine used in a handful of notable Swedish indies of the early 2010s. In 2014, Autodesk bought Bitsquid, renamed it Autodesk Stingray, then discontinued it in 2018.

One of the last games released using Stingray was Fatshark's Warhammer 40,000: Darktide in 2022. The newest Stingray game is Helldivers 2.

Responding to an article on game development blog 80 Level, Arrowhead Game Studios CEO Johan Pilestedt confirmed that their smash hit, PlayStation-published co-op shooter is running on abandonware.

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"The project started before it was discontinued," Pilestedt tweeted. "Our crazy engineers had to do everything, with no support to build the game to parity with other engines."

One might reasonably think that if Helldivers 2 was still early on in development when Autodesk hung the "closed forever" sign on Stingray, a good option would have been to start over on a different engine, but it's not that simple—Stingray isn't just the Helldivers 2 engine, it's the engine Arrowhead has used in most of its games over its 16-year history, including The Showdown Effect, the 2014 Gauntlet reboot, and the original Helldivers.

Stingray is what the studio knows, and when you have an experienced group of experts in a specific set of tools, you don't give that up lightly. Just ask the fellow co-op shooter aficionados at Fatshark who also stuck with Stingray for Darktide despite starting development after Autodesk killed it.

Loyalty could be a factor, too. Arrowhead and Fatshark seemingly have a close relationship with the original Bitsquid founders Niklas Frykholm and Tobias Persson, two Swedish industry vets who founded Bitsquid after the closure of Grin (Bionic Commando: Rearmed) in 2009. The two Swedish outfits were the earliest and some of the only studios to ever use Bitsquid/Stingray in commercial projects.

Six years after its obsolescence, Arrowhead and Fatshark are still holding a torch for the defunct engine, and supporting its founders. After Frykholm and Persson left Autodesk, the two studios were early investors in their next engine project, Our Machinery. Oddly, a year into the public release of their Machinery engine in 2022, Frykholm and Persson suddenly ceased development of the engine and insisted that all users wipe it off their hard drives.

That makes the pair 0-2 on creating game engines and sticking with them for the long haul. Thankfully, it sounds like Arrowhead were able to make it work with Stingray over the years with their own modifications and modernizations, which begs a Ship of Theseus-like question: at what point does the Helldivers 2 engine stop being Stingray and start being its own thing?