by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
by Demetrius Comes, Technology Director, Stargate Worlds
Massively multiplayer online games are massive projects that take an
immense amount of manpower to develop. Huge teams of programmers and
engineers are brought in to help create a world that is cohesive and
technologically stable, yet fans of the title often don’t
hear anything about the technical aspects of their game of choice.
Always dedicated to the thoughts and minds of their readers, the Ten
Ton Hammer staff took a moment to chat with Stargate World
Technology Director, Demetrius Comes. If you want to learn something
about the tech side of MMOGs, this is the interview to read!
Ten Ton Hammer: While
we’ve heard a lot about the design fundamentals of the game
and some of the art decisions, the gaming public doesn’t
really know much about the technical side of the Stargate Worlds
development. What sort of third party engines are you using to create
and/or run Stargate
The lighting and
visual effects have really been improved in this second round Castle
Demetrius Comes: We
choose Epic's Unreal 3 engine for the client, Big World technologies
for the server, and rolled our own glue to get the two engines to play
nicely together. Purchasing these two engines will allow us to ship a
AAA MMORPG in roughly three years. In my opinion a relatively short
development cycle for an MMO of this scale.
Ten Ton Hammer: How are
you handling the distribution of player populations? If
you’re having multiple servers, how many players do you
anticipate will be on each server?
That's not to say we aren't without our engineering challenges, neither
engine is exactly what we need (they never are) but what an incredible
head start they gave us. Internally we have spent a good deal of
resources developing an extremely powerful content creation tool, we
call “SpecSuite.” This tool is used to create
spawns, enter the data for our event driven AI, create items, mobs,
loot tables etc. Every minute we save a designer while they create
content is another minute that they have to iterate content, and in my
experience if you give talented creative people powerful tools and time
to iterate you'll have a winner.
If you take a look at the screenshots we’ve got here, you can
see how this added time for iteration is paying off. This is the second
round of Castle screenshots and you can see a real difference in the
quality of the lighting and visual effects.
Demetrius: We will
be using a shard (server) model. On logging into the service players
will be given an indication of the activity level of each shard. As for
the number of players we anticipate on each shard, heh, well that's
what beta / simultaneous user testing is for, to give us those answers.
From an engineering standpoint we'll be shooting for as high as we can.
It’s always nice to keep the capital expenditures to a
minimum, but that will be balanced by game play population needs, as
well as engineering dollars spent vs. hardware dollars spent.
Ten Ton Hammer: What do
you anticipate will be the minimum and recommended computer
specifications for Stargate
Worlds? Will gamers need to upgrade their computers to run
has proven to be a surprisingly scalable engine, so we expect most
gamers will already have a rig able to run Stargate Worlds.
Our art department is aware that the game has to run on a variety of
machines, so they are working under the premise of “make it
look great on a base model and mind-blowing on a high-end dedicated
That’s a long way of saying that the final specs
aren’t set yet, but obviously we want a lot of people to play
and enjoy Stargate Worlds, so we’re not focusing on high-end
Ten Ton Hammer: How
difficult has it been to technically support some of the more
impressive effects used in the Stargate
television show? Is it hard to make an event horizon look like an event
horizon? What about the large explosions? What about those super huge
The tech staff
continues to focus a good deal of resources on blending the Big World
and Unreal 3 engines.
combination of an incredibly talented art staff, the Unreal 3 tool set,
and Unreal 3 render make the engineering problems normally associated
with these types of graphically intense scenes basically non-existent.
This allows my engineering staff to focus on enhancements, lowering
system specs, and morphing this traditional FPS engine into an MMORPG
Ten Ton Hammer: What sort
of technique are you using to help decrease any sort of lag that might
be experienced due to the fast paced combat that will be part of the
game? Are there any tricks that help you do this?
Demetrius: We have
and will continue to spend a good deal of focused resources on our
marriage between Big World and Epic's Unreal 3 engines. This focused
effort is used to ensure we cut out all the fat from the communications
layer. As for tricks, the Internet is going to lag but you can still
minimize the effect on your game by balancing client prediction
systems, with the genre's need to be server authoritative. It's all a
balancing act of allowing the client to react smoothly to the player
but still insure everything they are doing is legal, balance that with
today’s standard approaches to latency offsetting, etc and
you can have a fast-paced MMO that doesn't feel laggy.
Ten Ton Hammer: From a
technical standpoint, what were some of the biggest hurdles you needed
to jump over in order to make Stargate Worlds? What were your biggest
Demetrius: To be
honest I'm not sure if we've encountered the biggest hurdles yet but so
far I'd have to say it’s a toss up between our recent core
technology migrations and getting Big World's server engine and Epic
Unreal 3 to play nice.
Ten Ton Hammer: Technical
issues are some of the most problematic but least discussed portion of
the development of any MMOG. If there was one technical point that
you’d like to make to fans of the upcoming game and MMOGs in
general, what would it be?
Recently we moved from using a MySql database to an Oracle database,
moved from a single threaded server model to a multi-threaded server
model, and moved our cover system calculations from python to C++. Any
one of these changes is scary on its own, yet we attacked all three at
the same time, completed them in record time, and have moved past them.
I can't say enough awesome things about this engineering staff. These
are not easy problems to solve let alone doing them while game systems,
and content are being built and moving the game to a playable state.
As for getting our two engines (Unreal and Big World) to play nicely,
that complexity is because we have two different engines, both products
have powerful methodologies, but they are two different methodologies.
Architecting and implementing that translation layer has been critical
for us, and I'm happy to say it's working very well.
: Making an
MMORPG is tough; you need A LOT of coffee, even more late night snacks
... BTW snack donations accepted. No seriously, I guess I would simply
ask the readers to consider all the things that have to work correctly
for the simplest in-game action to work, and then consider how many
different people needed to pool their talents to get it to work. Take
“/dance” - there was an engineer that needed to
write the code that interprets what /dance means, then create a message
on the client destined for the server to inform the server that you
wish to dance, that message needs to be encrypted and sent, the server
needs to decrypt the message, process the message, let everyone in your
area of interest know that you want to dance. Each client receiving the
message that you want to dance needs to load the animations, sounds and
particle effects then play them.
The SGW crew hopes to
be able to run the game on a wide range of computer hardware.
There had to be an artist that created the 3D Mesh for all the clothes,
armor, and weapons that you are wearing, another artist had to create
the texture(s) for each mesh. An animator had to rig the Meshes, create
the animation sequence, and finally the programmers have to load the
sequence, do all the complex math correctly and quickly simply so your
character can do the Macarena.
Just imagine what goes
into a Mission, or PVP, or spectator-friendly mini-games.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there
anything else you’d like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers
and Stargate Worlds fans?
breadth, scale, and fresh approach of Stargate Worlds
something I believe both long-time MMO and first-time MMO players will
truly enjoy. From our fast-paced combat system, to mini-games, to our
visually-rich worlds, the IP and everything in between, I believe it
has something for everyone. We welcome everyone with questions to visit
our community site at www.StargateWorlds.com
and join our forums. The initial pool that we will choose beta testers
from is our forum members, so if you want to get in on the ground
floor, now is the right time to sign up.
As a gamer, do you want
to see more technically oriented interviews? What did you think of
Demetrius’ answers? Let
us know on the forums