Improbable has partnered with Google to help developers build vast online game worlds.
London-based Improbable has created SpatialOS software that enables small companies to create massive, cloud-based simulations for online games, mobile devices, and virtual reality projects. In doing so, it hopes to change the economics of connected games, and tapping Google’s own vast cloud platform will result in even more cost improvements and innovations.
SpatialOS creates a distributed computing environment that enables games to access the back-end infrastructure needed to create impossibly complex systems, like the simulation of an entire city, said Herman Narula, the CEO of Improbable, in an earlier interview with GamesBeat. SpatialOS is now available for game developers who create worlds that run on the Google Cloud Platform.
With this new program, Google and Improbable will partner to subsidize access to Improbable’s SpatialOS platform. This partnership aims to encourage innovation by providing qualified game developers with subsidized access to Improbable’s world-building technology, powered by Google Cloud Platform.
Alongside this announcement, Improbable has launched its Game Developer Open Alpha for SpatialOS. Any game developer can get access to the SpatialOS platform and development tools to test and experiment with it ahead of the full launch of the Games Innovation Program and the beta of SpatialOS in the first quarter of 2017.
SpatialOS gives any developer the ability to define and build simulated worlds that can accommodate thousands of simultaneous players in a single world at the same time, exceeding the usual limits of what a conventional game server can do. These simulations are persistent and support the kind of complex computation needed to bring new game ideas to life while enabling a development methodology that supports extremely rapid iteration.
“We set out to build SpatialOS because we saw what developers wanted to do but were held back from achieving,” said Narula in a statement. “Since we founded Improbable, we have talked to many developers who have amazing ideas for new kinds of games they can’t currently realize. Like them, we want to create and inhabit realistic worlds where players’ actions have real consequences — but technical limitations have stifled innovation in gaming.”
Whether deployed on a single PC, a dedicated server, or even the open cloud, games are currently hampered by low player numbers per instance, small environments, and limited interaction with the world.
“The future of gaming lies in the cloud,” said Google’s Nan Boden, the head of technology partnerships, in a statement. “This partnership is an opportunity for us to help developers to take full advantage of the new possibilities enabled by SpatialOS combined with the unique abilities of Google Cloud Platform. This is the first step in Google’s partnership with Improbable and just the beginning of our work together to support game development and beyond.”
Creating and running massive simulations that solve those problems on a public cloud requires a kind of distributed supercomputing — with potentially thousands of cores working together. This is what SpatialOS makes possible by distributing work automatically and intelligently across hundreds or thousands of servers, Improbable said.
The other great challenge to game design is creative. Building games at this scale requires a whole new approach to game design.
“Imagine a virtual city populated by players who can make lasting changes to its social structure or its economy through their actions,” said Narula. “Or a battle between thousands of players, played out in real time over days or weeks. These are possibilities that demand a totally different approach.”
He said, “We’re particularly excited that both the partnership program and our open alpha will make it easier for small core teams, regardless of studio size, to create new game ideas involving worlds built on this scale. So much innovation in games comes from small core teams, so one of our priorities is enabling teams to build a product they could immediately deploy, scale, and grow with players involved from the early stages. These teams can use SpatialOS, backed by the power and stability of GCP, to iterate on ideas rapidly and test them early.”
SpatialOS lets developers rapidly deploy these new game ideas and begin live testing with players from a much earlier stage, enabling them to gather feedback much faster than before. The Games Innovation Program also helps ensure that developers don’t have to worry about some of the costs of game development. These new kinds of games are also likely to benefit significantly from advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality interfaces.
Under the program, eligible game developers will receive Improbable Credits, which can be used to pay SpatialOS usage fees, which include the costs of hosting games on Google. The program will cover the cloud costs of developing, testing, and deploying games using SpatialOS right up to when the game is launched. Developers can use standard tools and standard game engines with SpatialOS.
Developers can sign up for the Experimental Game Developer Alpha of SpatialOS at spatialos.com and start developing immediately.
One of the customers is Bossa Studios, which is making the massively multiplayer online game Worlds Adrift, a 3D physics-driven sandbox set in a shattered world of floating islands. Thousands of players share a single world in an environment currently covering more than 1,000 square kilometers. These players can form alliances, build sky ships, and become scavengers, explorers, heroes, or sky pirates in an open, interactive world where actions have real consequences. Ships can be stolen, wrecks can be scavenged, and each island’s forests and animal life can flourish or diminish over time.
Worlds Adrift is scheduled to launch in closed early access in Q1 2017.
Split Milk Studios is another developer using SpatialOS to build Lazarus, a retro-styled top-down space shooter with a 160,000 square kilometer map where thousands of players can fight alien invaders and each other. Developed by a four-person team after only three months, Lazarus is now in continuous open development. Other developers using SpatialOS include HelloVR (MetaWorld), Entrada Interactive (Rebel Horizons), and Soulbound Studios (Chronicles of Elyria).
Improbable was founded in 2012, and it received $20 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz in March 2015.