The little history of a babel tower in 3ds Max : The plugin system.

I have been thinking about this for a time, and although I haven`t verified it, I’m pretty certain I’m not far from the truth. It goes like this: Once upon a time, a while ago, the Yost group wrote 3D Studio Max and fell short in time. They thought that, by the mean of an extensible infrastructure they would finish up the product after its release and monetize any extra work required.

Back in 1994, as I recall, I was very much amazed by the additions available such as Metaballs, hair, PRS randomizer, early skinning, etc.

Product Resilience

At the time, 3D Studio Max was very successful: it had a potent mix of flexibility and extensibility which was demonstrated, proven by the very maker of the software itself. A viable plugin industry emerged and gave a lot of resilience to 3ds Max until today. Resilience because all kind of issues and mishaps happening to the product would be dampened by the “hive” of third-parties that made Max their own.

  • Anything Autodesk would miss or wouldn`t invest in was undertaken by third-party.
  • Autodesk so far used the third-party has a risk management device and has this habit of acquiring the successful valuable ventures and integrate it to the product.

User Entrapment

A SDK also means the user can create proprietary tools to build their own products (films and games).

  • Permits the users to leverage 3ds Max as a development platform and do things Max wouldn`t do on its own.
  • A proprietary pipeline based on plugins makes a customer extremely dependent on their product (even on a specific version of a product).

A very unlikely DCC switch would involve retraining the artists and porting the pipeline. In bonus, you get tons of hate as a by-product.

To me, resilience and user fidelity explain the value of devising a SDK for a product. It`s a no-brainer. Do it. Always.

The Babel Tower : Bad news for Stability.

A plugin business underlying a product isn`t all positive; it has drawbacks. One shows up today in 3ds Max : stability. 20 years of building a business by opportunistically integrating external software to 3ds Max made it a kind of Katamari.

Stability, in this context, is a complex topic I am going to write more about it. A lot more, to be honest. I wonder if you guys ever ran into 3ds Max missing plugins issues? Don`t hesitate to share in the comments.

3 thoughts on “The little history of a babel tower in 3ds Max : The plugin system.

  1. Keen to read your thoughts about this, as the lack of plugin compatibility across releases is one of the biggest issues with 3ds max. I wonder how Adobe pulls it off to be able to use 10 year old plugins in Photoshop while Autodesk requires a recompile every year?

  2. Hello Martin, it is worth having a look at this.

    My educated guess would be that Photoshop supports an API back-end for every past release. It is hard to do this in 3ds Max as there is no real distinction between the SDK and Max`s core.

    Come to think of it. It`s neat, 3ds Max is eating its own dog food : most of its code is strictly built over it`s own SDK. But third parties end up having the same build requirements than the Max dev team.

    For giggles, we’re currently surveying the max components across versions. I think I’ll post the Maxscript tool I developed. Although I have a pretty strong dislike of Maxscript, I like not having to recompile for all versions.

Comments are closed.