Improbable Development is Possible By Listening to and Watching Developers

Improbable are an interesting company, they have a product called SpatialOS which comes with a blurb of :

Improbable’s SpatialOS platform gives you the power to seamlessly stitch together multiple servers and game engines like Unreal and Unity to power massive, persistent worlds with more players than ever before.

Worlds Adrift is the game that most gets mentioned when it comes to Improbable but they have a Games Innovation Program in conjunction with Google that may be worth a look for smaller developers.

An article on MCV by Improbable CTO Rob Whitehead caught my eye for a few reasons. One reason is that Rob Whitehead was once a teenage Second Life weapons seller. Another reason though is how Rob talks of the development process, which might go some way to explaining some of the thinking behind Linden Lab’s Sansar Creator Beta model :

When building a platform, one of the first challenges is persuading developers that experimenting with it is a good use of their time. The next challenge is learning from all the fantastically inventive ways developers find the edges of your tech.

This is an interesting approach which may explain why some features end users would like to see in different developing platforms appear later in the process.

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From Second Life Merchant To Improbable Technology

I’ve talked about Improbable before, Improbable is an exciting looking technology, still shrouded in a degree of mystery that could offer a solution for virtual worlds and MMORPG’s as well as much more.

When I blogged before I mentioned that one of their employees was Dave Hillier, once worked for Second Life. However now I’ve discovered another link with Second Life, albeit from a merchant angle.

Pammy Olson has published an article on Improbable over at Forbes : Meet Improbable, The Startup Building The World’s Most Powerful Simulations. This article expands more on the progress Improbable are making. Improbable’s founders, Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead feature in the article, they met at the University of Cambridge and the article provides some interesting background on the pair :

Narula wanted to code, teaching himself to write in C++ at 12. While studying computer science at Cambridge he met Rob Whitehead, a Liverpudlian who had paid his way through college by selling weapons on the virtual-world site Second Life.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise there was that much of a market for weapons in Second Life! There’s also the fact that both of them, initially at least, were very interested in creating a virtual world :

They began working on an ambitious virtual-world videogame in which you could drop an object, then log back in the next day and find it still there. When they couldn’t find software to help them scale up, they built the tools themselves.

“Eventually we realized the tech we were working on was bigger than the game,” says Whitehead.

This is not an unusual development, quite a few products have started life aiming to be one thing and ending up being another. However it’s interesting that the technology they’ve created is being welcomed by those who want to build MMORPG’s and it also appears, on the face of it at least, that it’s a technology that could be used for virtual worlds.

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Could Improbable Technology Make Massive Virtual Worlds Possible?

I have just read an article on Endgadget : Better than ‘Destiny’: Studios now make massive games in just months. The article centres around technology from a company called Improbable and this sounds very interesting indeed. The CEO of Improbable, Herman Narula, is quoted in that article as saying :

It’s about having no game server. What you’ve always seen has been game worlds where there’s one server for one region and another server for another region, these very neat lines. And the servers are actually just the same game engine that’s running on your computer. … But what if you didn’t do that? What if, instead of that, actually you had thousands of tiny, very limited processors — call them mini servers, like a swarm of insects? And what if, instead of having boundaries, actually they all moved around many, many times a second, migrating to deal with simulation in a particular area? And they’re all able to work together to model a world much bigger than any one of them could understand.

Whereas the focus in the articles I’ve read on the Improbable technology have been about games, I’m pretty sure these concepts could also apply to virtual worlds. Indeed one of Improbable’s employees, Dave Hillier, once worked on Second Life, so the company have someone with knowledge of virtual worlds on the team.

The Endgadget article explains a little bit more about what Improbable is and isn’t :

Improbable isn’t just a series of servers. It’s cloud-based, but it’s not cloud rendering; it’s almost an operating system. It follows in the fresh footsteps of other studios crafting large worlds with just a few people.

What they seem to be talking about is a potentially huge world that reacts in a permanent fashion to player actions, talking about the game Worlds Adift, the article states :

the game world reacts in permanent, persistent ways to players’ movements. Build an airship and drop a boulder overboard, knocking down trees and crushing players below. Come back to that same bit of land months later, and those trees will still be knocked over, perhaps with other plants growing around them, or with other players harvesting them for resources. Real persistence, real in-game consequences to physical actions. This impacts not only mechanical moments, but also the story that Worlds Adrift tells.

Those are the sort of concepts that make me ponder whether this sort of technology would be suitable for a virtual world environment, because in virtual worlds, especially user content generated worlds, changes are largely persistent.

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