|By Dee-Ann LeBlanc||
|December 22, 2003 12:00 AM EST||
Four hundred years from now, Earth is a shadow of her former self. On August 24th, 2202, a near calamitous strike from a planetary fragment sent 12 billion souls into backup and made extinct hundreds of thousands of animal and plant species.
So begins Rekonstruction from Damage Studios, the first massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) that is designed to support over 1,000,000 concurrent users. Dee-Ann LeBlanc, LWM's gaming indusry editor, recently had the chance to discuss Rekonstruction with Chris DiBona, cofounder of both Konstrux Technologies and Damage Studios.
LWM: When people hear the name Chris
DiBona, it's usually in the context of Slashdot or one of a dozen other Linux
writing or techie venues. Looking through your "About Me" page there's nothing
in here that screams, "This man will cofound a gaming company one day." Is it
every little boy's dream to build (or is it play?) games for a living? How did
you end up here?
Chris DiBona: Boredom, mostly. At the time my cofounder and partner at Damage, Tony Guntharp, approached me about this idea he had for Rekonstruction, I was initially a little cold on the idea of doing both another startup and thought that I was likely unqualified to market and manage such a company. I thought about it for a few hours, and then, over the next day or so found I was more excited about the challenge of both writing and marketing such a game than I had been in a very long time.
When Tony and I first talked, I was still working for Slashdot as an editor, which is a pretty fun thing, and I think that I was pretty good at that. I had posted some 700+ stories and written about 300 polls for the site over the year I had worked there. I have to admit I thought that I was getting a little burned out on the highly event-driven nature of working for Slashdot, so when this opportunity presented itself, I was poised to take it seriously. Running a game company really hadn't been on my short list of "Things to do after VA/OSDN," but when I realized some of the people I could get involved in the project and the exciting technical and marketing challenge that creating and attracting subscribers to such a game represents, I really had to do it in the end.
LWM: Tell us a bit about this MMORPG
(massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Where will it fit in the
market amongst its projected competitors?
DiBona: Rekonstruction is set 400 years in the future on an Earth devastated by 200 years of the cumulative aftermath of a large-scale asteroid strike on planet Earth on August 24th, 2202. Earth is still recognizable as such, but most of humanity was wiped out and sent into backup on that date. The overall point of Rekonstruction is to rebuild and recivilize Earth. We've written a lot about the backstory and overall game on our Web site, http://www.rekonstruction.com, and your readers should check that out to get a feel for the backstory and concept art and other visuals that we are serving up for future players there. (And sign up for our mailing list!)
As to the market for such a game, we are marketing Rekonstruction to the hard-core MMORPG player; specifically those who we feel are not currently being served well in the science fiction genre. There are a great number of fantasy MMORPGs out there, and while we felt we could compete adequately in that space, we felt that the fantasy thing had basically been done and will be a mess for newcomers for some time. Also, no one has done a near-term (in science fiction terms, 400 years in the future is still pretty near term) science fiction MMORPG, with the few offerings being tens of thousands of years in the future, so their worlds end up being really just fantasy MMORPGs with lasers or space operas.
We also think that using Earth as the playing surface brings with it some real affinity for our future subscribers and allows us to perhaps further blur the lines between reality and the game world than we would otherwise be able to. I think that people will identify more with San Francisco in Rekonstruction than Rubi-ka (in Anarchy Online) or Norrath (Everquest), and this will anchor their myth in the real world in a way that others can't currently do. I don't really think you want me to go into my annoying lecture on how narrative for MMORPGs is completely different than for first person shooters or real-time strategy games or regular fiction, but designing an overall narrative is something that we take very seriously. We see it as being one of the key differentiators for Rekonstruction.
LWM: In the non-MMORPG world, the
games with thriving communities are driven by the ability to do Mods and apply
other customizations (such as supplying graphics for logos, textures for
clothes, and so on). No one has done this in the MMORPG market yet (that I'm
aware of). Have you considered it?
DiBona: We have, and we provide it in some limited form in our game. This is fraught with difficulties, and managing the provision of such tools in a collaborative environment represents a very difficult balancing act between gamer and game.
At launch we will provide the ability for the players to create new settlements, create new teleportation links, and more.
LWM: How are you working to appeal to
more than just the teenage male demographic? Recent surveys point out that
adults - and even women as an individual group - play games more than
boys, and yet everyone's aiming for that one demographic. Please tell me there
won't be overly anatomically "correct" females and Ken doll males (who are
anything but anatomically correct).
DiBona: I think about this a lot; I don't think that the female demographic (which is represented well in a number of MMORPGs) is served particularly well. I prefer to think in terms of providing players with the choice of making beautiful, unique, and attractive characters. I think that there is no reason to not provide future subscribers the ability to create attractive female or male avatars, but I also want them to be able to create stocky, rangy, or otherwise interesting characters.
Character model creation is actually a very exciting area in MMORPGs today; for instance, the things you can do now for facial and other expressions are pretty neat. I remember telling our concept artist just a month ago "be sure to give me a fat blacksmith looking fellow," but that's another story.
LWM: What is the game play going to be
like? What kinds of in-game activities will characters be able to do, and
advance by? Many people in MMORPGs like a heavy social component, for example.
Game balance has proven a huge problem in many of the MMORPGs I've tried.
Usually the only effective way to advance is by killing things or going on
endless, repetitive quests, no matter how much thought the developers tried to
put into offering crafting skills and so on.
DiBona: MMORPGs without social components aren't MMORPGs. When you talk about the repetitive nature of quests and others, that's clearly something we'd like to avoid, and we think we have cool ways of avoiding the boring part of the leveling grind. Balance, as you note, is key. Can you have a character competent enough without some kind of "work" to get to that level? Is that what you want in a game? It is in our interest to have some kind of learning curve so that people feel competent in the control of their character, but how do we do that without creating boredom. We think we have a handle on this part of the game, but it's going to need serious oversight for as long as the game continues.
As to advancement without combat, we'll offer ways to accomplish this, but Rekonstruction is a game, and character advancement will be an important part of it.
LWM: I've read some fascinating papers
on "game economy." How do you intend to tackle the many problems that come in
here, like in-game inflation and devaluation, and out-of-game people selling
characters and more on eBay?
DiBona: In-game inflation and deflation is a much bigger problem than extra-game trading of characters and items. Since our game will not have shards, we will not have a lot of the quality-control problems that our competitors have with extra game sales. We will set up an escrow system internal to the game for quality control and make it clear that selling items outside the game can be tricky for people. For extra-game sales, we'll likely charge 50 cents for placing the item in escrow pending sale, that way people can say "see the escrow report at such and such link" in their auction. This will significantly reduce the support load that such sales represent.
LWM: You say that you're using solely
Linux on the back end. How did you come to that decision? Was it a no-brainer
for you since you've got so much experience in Linux? Have other MMORPGs done
DiBona: Actually, Linux is quite popular in the space, as are open source databases like Postgres and mySQL. Also, the cost structure in the game industry is such that using commercial operating systems isn't really a good idea. They cost so much and Linux delivers so much, as you know. Also, really, we're all Linux people at Damage.
LWM: How are you implementing the back
end? Clusters? Server farm? COWs?
DiBona: We'll be using a cluster architecture with software of our own design. We're not using grid or pvm/mpi technology, favoring our own back-end technology.
LWM: Your site says that the whiz-bang
feature is going to be the ability to support one million concurrent users. What
is required to accomplish this?
DiBona: Well, we actually don't expect to have that many players for some time, so we're not going to buy that level of capacity. We have a lot of experience with clusters, mind you (Tony created SourceForge, I used to work for Tandem, etc...), so we know how to manage that kind of growth, explosive or steady.
We really want a game without artificial boundaries for the players, so providing them with a seamless experience is very important to us; having many shards we think detracts from the playability of a game and restricts the possibility of growth.
LWM: Are you talking about on a single
server, or on a massive collection of separated world servers? Will players be
able to interact among folks on the other servers?
DiBona: From the players' perspective it is one game, one Earth, one world. So interaction is seamless for players.
LWM: You say that there will be a
Linux client, but not immediately. Could you explain the decision process that
forces this approach, and what specific issues you expect to face when porting
the client to Linux?
DiBona: Basically, hard-core gamers are fine with rebooting or using a transgaming style emulation technology, so until we can justify the added cost of maintaining another client platform, that client won't be supported natively. Support for Linux isn't really that difficult, especially when you consider that we will likely be supporting OS X soon after launch of the Windows client. The problem is that there is a cost, and unless the people on that platform are only going to play the game if it is offered under Linux number enough to pay off the ongoing investment in the Linux client, then we cannot initially justify the cost of supporting Linux directly out of the gate.
The other problem with Linux and gaming is sound - I wish that Linux sound was better.
That said, we clearly are all Linux people, so we want to support Linux, despite the financial and marketing realities of gamers on Linux, so we likely will. it's a matter of time and how successful the game is on other platforms.
LWM: Numbers are starting to show that
Linux might be gaining over the Macintosh in desktop use. If the gain continues,
will you reverse the OS X and Linux client rollouts? (Or at least consider
DiBona: If the number of gamers using Linux on their desktop surpasses the number of gamers who are using the Mac as a desktop OS full time, then sure, we'll consider it.
LWM: Will the OS X and Linux clients
DiBona: If you mean: Will the Windows version cost $34 and the Mac/Linux versions cost more? Then no.
If you mean, will they eventually all ship on the same DVD? Maybe.
If you mean, will users be able to download the Linux or Mac part of the client if they have already bought the Windows DVD? Then likely.
One thing to point out - our game will likely ship with too much data to allow for a download, so no matter what, people will have to order a copy of the game from their retailer or from our Web site.
LWM: What lessons have you learned
from studying what other people have done, both in MMORPGs in general and in
anything involving Linux and games?
DiBona: What a question! We have learned so much from EQ, AO, EVE, and the rest. We really couldn't even begin to answer that without taking up the rest of your magazine's space. With regards to Linux, I'd just like to reiterate what I've been saying for more than five years now: Linux is the only way to go if you are serious about your server. With the exception of some very specialized serving needs that can only be served by the Tandems and IBMS of the world, Linux is it.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
Sep. 1, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 440
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, a producer of the first smartphones and tablets, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. He will explain how M2M controllers work through wirelessly connected remote controls; and specifically delve into a retrofit option that reverse-engineers control codes of existing conventional controller systems so they don't have to be replaced and are instantly converted to become smart, connected devices.
Sep. 1, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 137
The Internet of Things is in the early stages of mainstream deployment but it promises to unlock value and rapidly transform how organizations manage, operationalize, and monetize their assets. IoT is a complex structure of hardware, sensors, applications, analytics and devices that need to be able to communicate geographically and across all functions. Once the data is collected from numerous endpoints, the challenge then becomes converting it into actionable insight.
Sep. 1, 2015 01:00 PM EDT
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
Sep. 1, 2015 12:45 PM EDT Reads: 479
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Sep. 1, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 914
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
Sep. 1, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 250
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Sep. 1, 2015 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 676
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
Sep. 1, 2015 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 324
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Sep. 1, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 296
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
Sep. 1, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 243
Contrary to mainstream media attention, the multiple possibilities of how consumer IoT will transform our everyday lives aren’t the only angle of this headline-gaining trend. There’s a huge opportunity for “industrial IoT” and “Smart Cities” to impact the world in the same capacity – especially during critical situations. For example, a community water dam that needs to release water can leverage embedded critical communications logic to alert the appropriate individuals, on the right device, as soon as they are needed to take action.
Sep. 1, 2015 09:00 AM EDT
While many app developers are comfortable building apps for the smartphone, there is a whole new world out there. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Narayan Sainaney, Co-founder and CTO of Mojio, will discuss how the business case for connected car apps is growing and, with open platform companies having already done the heavy lifting, there really is no barrier to entry.
Sep. 1, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 181
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts, GM of Platform at FinancialForce.com, will discuss the value of business applications on wearable ...
Sep. 1, 2015 08:00 AM EDT
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
Sep. 1, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 169
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Sep. 1, 2015 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 467
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Aug. 31, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 382
The Internet of Things (IoT) is about the digitization of physical assets including sensors, devices, machines, gateways, and the network. It creates possibilities for significant value creation and new revenue generating business models via data democratization and ubiquitous analytics across IoT networks. The explosion of data in all forms in IoT requires a more robust and broader lens in order to enable smarter timely actions and better outcomes. Business operations become the key driver of IoT applications and projects. Business operations, IT, and data scientists need advanced analytics t...
Aug. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 429
Akana has announced the availability of the new Akana Healthcare Solution. The API-driven solution helps healthcare organizations accelerate their transition to being secure, digitally interoperable businesses. It leverages the Health Level Seven International Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) standard to enable broader business use of medical data. Akana developed the Healthcare Solution in response to healthcare businesses that want to increase electronic, multi-device access to health records while reducing operating costs and complying with government regulations.
Aug. 26, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 205
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
Aug. 2, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 560
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Aug. 1, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 494