Digi Download Cleverness: AWOMO

By Jim Rossignol on February 2nd, 2009 at 10:57 am.


The future is, it seems, digital downloading of games. So what is the future of digital downloading? Well, perhaps it’s this: AWOMO, or “A World Of My Own”, is coming to the end of its public beta this week. You’ve got two days left to sign up and get Rome: Total War for free, if you’re interested in testing the service. It’s a rather neat idea: a download service that downloads content as you play. It delivers the essential files to get you started with just a short period of buffering, and then fetches the rest of the game once you’re busy playing. After the jump: more info, and a call for questions.

Here’s some more press releasey details on the technical side of things:

GDI’s proprietary distribution platform, AWOMO, features a number of technical innovations which reduce the effective download time of large games from hours to just minutes, providing consumers with short waiting times – up to 20x faster than conventional services.

“The primary way in which AWOMO achieves this goal is by exploiting the simple principle that a gamer does not need to access the entire game data right from the beginning,” Roger Walkden, CEO of GDI explains. “In the same way a person watching a movie does not need to see the end first, nor does a gamer need the whole game just to start playing. The data needed for later levels can be downloaded safely in the background with no interruption to the game experience.”

As the consumer begins downloading, AWOMO analyses the PC and tests the connection speed, compiling an optimised download that will allow them to start playing with the shortest possible wait time.

The secret lies in the conversion and optimisation process for each game. The QA teams prepare the games by generating sets of ‘data-time’ maps which a neural network subsequently analyses to calculate the most efficient way to deliver the data to a gamer at a given connection speed. The more the game is tested, the smarter the platform becomes and the smaller the initial download.

Results vary by game: for some, the initial download can be as little as a twentieth of the data – the core ‘engine’ plus other essential information. Others may require a larger download to ensure there are no interruptions to game play, but the AWOMO platform also has a couple of other unique tricks up its sleeve to help minimise the initial download size.

“Many games actually have large amounts of repeated or redundant data,” reveals Walkden. “For example, the same visual feature may be reused many times and stored as a separate instance each time. AWOMO simply replaces repeated data with a reference to the original. Similarly, information which is never accessed by the game is discarded, much as the audio compression used for music downloads discards data the ear can’t hear.”

“AWOMO is like building a road in front of a driver as they progress – as far as they are concerned, the road is there all along, when in fact it’s being laid just out of sight,” Walkden explains. “Of course, as with all great technologies, what happens ‘under the hood’ is unimportant to the consumer. As far as the gamer is concerned, AWOMO is just the platform that delivers a game far quicker than any other download service – and that’s all they need to know.”

Clever boys, eh? There’s even a front-end 3D world lark a way off it seems, although they’re just getting the technical details of really fast downloads going for now. We got in touch with AWOMO to find out more, and they’re keen for RPS readers to put any questions you might have directly to them. Do you have a question? Post it in the comments, and I’ll round them up and send them off. If we get enough, and the answers are interesting enough, perhaps I’ll knock up a post on the subject next week. Question away!

.

39 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Heliocentric says:

    Rome is a truely horrible example of a game for this service.

    Had they appled the service to a linear fps you could have been playing it in minutes. Maybe thats the point to stress test their system with an ill suited game.

    I’ll see how terrible their drm and pricing is before i throw rocks/tomatoes.

  2. Mike says:

    They say that some features are ‘repeated’ – how often do they think this actually occurs? Wouldn’t most developers notice this themselves and remove the redundancy?

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Mike, in console ports this repitition is incredibly high at times as a legacy of the play from disk model.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    Maybe thats the point to stress test their system with an ill suited game.

    Maybe! I think this is one of those betas that is actually about testing…

  5. Switch625 says:

    I was in the early beta for this, and there were two main sticking points I felt:
    1. Their driver/plugin thing doesn’t work on 64 bit operating systems. I assume this is still the case and, if so, is a bit pants.
    2. To use the service you have to install a fairly low-level driver which, as far as we can tell, does some monitoring of disk access etc. whilst you’re playing the games. They don’t make this clear enough before you install it, in my opinion.
    I understand the rationale for that kind of driver, but in these fraught days of paranoia about securom and rootkits, I think they could have been a little more up-front about what they were asking people to install (and no the EULA doesn’t count).

  6. Gap Gen says:

    Might give this a go, if only to see how big I can get the battles to go now that I have a good computer.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Jim, i still hold that a 2nd linear shooter title on the service would have been a great PR move.

  8. Bobsy says:

    I can’t get excited by this. I’ve never been a fan of streaming content, in video and audio either. We have fast broadband these days – I don’t need to wait long to start playing anyway.

    Steam is a good platform for digital delivery. I’ve never got bored waiting for a download to finish before I can play it. It’s fast, efficient and lovely.

  9. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    I’ve been using AWOMO for a while, and it certainly seems to work very well.

    @Bobsy I’d think this’ll be a larger hit for those places in the world where we don’t have broadband/stupidly fast internet. They do still exist, as far as I know.

  10. G says:

    I seem to remember using a beta of steam which allowed me to play half life 1 as it was being downloaded. Am I making this up?

  11. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    The idea behind it seems interesting, less so the fact that you pay 1/5th of the game’s price for every hour you play (up to 5 hours, so full price, then of course you won’t have to pay anymore). It seems a little expensive, compared to other rental services.

  12. Heliocentric says:

    No, you are right, but sometimes you’d catch up on the sound files and the world would fall silent.

  13. Stromko says:

    I think this has been tried a couple times before. Steam tried this same idea in the early days, I could swear I was playing a ‘streamed’ version of Half-Life at some point. I’m not sure if it can still do that.

    Galactic Civilizations II’s digital version on Stardock also let you play it without certain Media, Music, etc. packs being downloaded (I have still never downloaded the Tutorials). I was so hyped I did exactly that and played my first couple games without music or videos.

    But I’m one of the few people who don’t already own Rome: Total War so I’ve gone ahead and signed up. Had to restart to get their plug-in installed, which was slightly more bother than I was prepared for. Still, nothing wrong with having more distribution channels for games, maybe we’ll see things on AWOMO that wouldn’t be on the other channels.

  14. Ben Abraham says:

    I’d love to know what the minimum connection speed is for this service and how well it scales down. Us antipodeans often don’t have anything better than a 1.5mb (I’m even on 512k!) and with the best you can get anywhere often being about 10-12mbps it’s an important question for non UK/US residents.

  15. FunkyB says:

    As a few people have said: Steam is perfectly capable of doing this but the game in question has to make use of the provided APIs which even Valve don’t seem to use nowadays.

    From a computer science point of view it sounds like they’ve found a neat way of automating the process. Essentially they are using the same model that cache prefetching relies on, but using a neural network to remove the need for explicit programmer interaction. My worry would be how a game like FarCry2 would deal with this, as there is no linear progression to the maps, save that the northern district should be completed before the southern district. In these cases it really requires a game designer to step in and mark what is really required in what order.

    Either way, sounds good if it works!

  16. Pete S says:

    @Switch625 — Your #2 killed it for myself and some friends. It felt too much like I was opting in to some kind of spyware.

    And as so many others have said, the wait to download something off of Steam has never felt onerous to me.

  17. GamerGeekGirl says:

    Metaboli have already done this afaik?

    At least, you could certainly start playing before the full game was downloaded…

    (Metaboli is a digital subscription service/download service partnered with Eurogamer – most of the catalogue is terrible, but it has some gems)

    Afaik, this isn’t a new thing.

  18. phuzz says:

    I’d like to know what publishers/games they have signed up, although I guess that’s a bit of a chicken/egg deal.

  19. unique_identifier says:

    NEURAL NETWORK NEURAL NETWORK

  20. Cooper42 says:

    Maybe I’m just not the impatient type – but I see no real need for this. Moreover, hard disk space hasn’t been at a premium for years, so I doubt there are many people in the habit of constantly uninstalling and reinstalling who would need something like this to conserve space. Even though I’m on a dodgy wireless and a network slowed down by torrenting housemates, I don’t see the wait on steam as that bad.

    The one thing I would worry about is mods. If you haven’t got all the game at once, or, once you do have it, some files have been altered in, however a trifling manner, this could break mods. Mods are great. I love mods. I wouldn’t want to see mod support broken…

    Also, if this ‘play very quickly’ service is to have any use (beyond appealing to the hard disk defficient and impatient) I imagine it would be in a roaming user. So I could log in on a friends computer and they could be trying out a game in minutes with this service, or we could fire up a hotseat game of something I own on this service, but they don;t have. So, second question, what, if any, are the restrictions on the number of computers you can use this on? i.e: can you go walkies with your account info (and thus given a good justification to all this fancy talk of neural nets…)

  21. Bobsy says:

    @ Poisoned Sponge:

    With slower connections I hated streaming content even more. It never ever buffered or synced up right, leading to annoying breaks and puases and/or a massive decrease in quality.

    One of Spore’s less than pleasant bugs after the first patch was its stubborn refusal to render objects while you’re staring at the empty space they’re supposed to inhabit, which could go on for several agonising minutes. I can invisage this system to deliver similar annoyances – blockages at the server, at your ISP, at your computer, at any point in between – there to make playing Rome less than fun.

  22. Dexton says:

    I can’t believe there are people whining about a service that gets you the game you just paid for *quicker*. Somehow trying to exert superiority because they are more patient? really? someone enjoys waiting for things?

    When I buy something I want it right now, not in 3 hours or 8 hours depending on how massive a download it might be and how bad the server speed is. But then this is the internet, and their will always be fanboys and apologists who will slag anything off no matter how good, or bad, it might be.

    Any new technology that makes digital distribution better is a good thing. When a friend of mine tried to download WAR from direct2drive it took him over 8 overnight hours to finish, while another friend went to the shop the next morning and ended up online before him. If you can reduce the pay to play bit great.

  23. aiusepsi says:

    They have to install a driver because they have to trick the games into thinking they’re talking to a real Windows filesystem, when instead they’re pulling data from AWOMO’s virtual filesystem.

    Steam tried the same trick (http://steamreview.org/posts/virtualdrivecanned/) which had the noticable downside that it did bad things to load times.

    Things like this sound great in principle, but in practice you’ve got some pretty hard questions to answer when you hit an edge case, like “What happens if you run into a bit of game that’s not downloaded yet?”

    Considering that this technology is going to be retrofitted into already written games, this means the game has no innate concept of content not being always available, so there’s no way to gracefully handle a cache miss.

    I applaud them for their ambition, but if this will actually work in the real world is another matter entirely.

  24. Gabanski83 says:

    I’ve just signed up for it, and it seems ok. The only possible bad side is you need to be connected to the internet to play, as it requires you to navigate to a specific page on AWOMO’s site to play. Which is all well and good when you’re connected, I suppose. But I want to play Rome:TW on my netbook, which won’t always be in range of a wireless internet point, so I won’t be able to play the game unless I’m in a WiFi hotspot. Which kinda sucks. But meh.

  25. Rich_P says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but will this really increase load times on today’s 10-15 GB games? In other words, this system should appeal to users with slower DL speeds, but wouldn’t that very slowness make streaming anything a pain?

    Those unfortunate enough to have an ISP with bandwidth limits might find this useful, however.

  26. Catastrophe says:

    I honestly think this service holds no real benefit to anyone.

    To people with higher bandwidths – it doesn’t take long for a full game to be downloaded

    To people with lower bandwidths – it will take far too long to download a decent part of the game to begin playing and then stay ahead of where you have played the game upto, as games nowadays are around 15gb?

  27. Jan_the_man says:

    crazy days.. first gamersgate release their news about a client free service, then Virgin a streaming service??… I will try it for the free game, but guess I stick to gamersgate now.. client free is the way to go for me, no more hard coded clients for me.. Steam messed it all up for me, not to mention the prices!
    Jan_the_man

  28. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    Like Switch625, it doesn’t seem to work on 64-bit windows, are there plans for that?

  29. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    Sorry, forgot a word there, the word ‘states’, right after ‘Switch625′. Too bad I can’t edit.

  30. Obdicut says:

    EA tried this awhile ago, with discs instead of digital content.

    It’s a nightmare for developers.

    And:

    What Catastrophe said.

  31. Nelson says:

    Looking at the big picture, I don’t want a service that will make it okay that our average bandwidth in the US is so terribly slow and expensive. I want to catch up with the rest of the world, not find more ways to deal with the crap we have.

    Also, it seems they’d be better off selling their service to an established online presence like Steam, Impulse, etc.

  32. Svenska says:

    I still don’t have steam because I’m not always connected to the web, and downloading things from the web still makes me nervous.

    I just don’t like the sound of this…

  33. michaelfeb16 says:

    I respect another attempt at digital downloads and their idea for decreasing time to play (I expect steam will follow..), but eve for a beta, not having x64 support is unforgivable. You are locking out most of the people who have bought gaming computers in the past two years.

  34. Wedge says:

    Kind of a neat idea, but I honestly don’t see it as being worth the investment for what you get. Not to mention the potential it sounds like it could involve for things to go horribly horribly wrong. Games are buggy enough these days without worrying about making them stream onto your system.

    I really just don’t mind buying a game then leaving it to d/l overnight if it’s a large multi gig title.

  35. Mo says:

    @aiusepsi:

    Considering that this technology is going to be retrofitted into already written games, this means the game has no innate concept of content not being always available, so there’s no way to gracefully handle a cache miss.

    I thought about this too, but then realized it was a non-issue. What we both failed to realize is that games *do* have an “innate concept of content not being always available” … disk seek time. Even when a game is full-installed on your PC, it still needs to request data from the HDD and the HDD still needs to spin up and seek the data. Since AWOMO controls the file i/o driver, they probably make “downloading unavailable data” equivalent to “disk is seeking”. The game will handle it as extra loading time.

    Of course, its success largely depends on how the game is written. My games tend to do, “init, load EVERYTHING AND THEN SOME, start game” which would be a bit shit for this system. :) Additionally, games that do a heavy amount of streaming would suffer, as they’ve been coded with the assumption that HDD latency is < 1 sec.

    Regardless of the execution, I like the idea. Retail games can take many hours to download, and I’d like to shorten that wait time as much as possible.

  36. Pidesco says:

    I was happily downloading Rome until I figured out that, against my wishes, the software was downloading all the data to my C: drive. :(

    As the option to choose the location of the downloaded games doesn’t exist, this means no AWOMO for me, at least for now.

  37. Stromko says:

    I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with the amount of download services I’m using for my games. Direct2Drive, EA Downloader, Steam, Stardock / Impulse, IGOTX’s (Iron Grip: Warlord), and now Gamer’s Gate and AWOMO.

    AWOMO seems to be quite fast, 2 megabits per second at times, and indeed Rome: Total War was ready to run in about 10 minutes. It made my PC freeze during the tutorial when I tried right-clicking on a unit to bring up its info.

    I also signed up for Gamer’s Gate today so I could get Majesty. I’ve been waiting 20 minutes for it to download so far, at 48 kb/s per second. It estimates it’ll take 3 – 5 hours before I can play. Hmm!

    I’m thinking I should really just stick to Steam.

  38. Stromko says:

    Correction, seems GamersGate isn’t quite so slow. I was using the old client which they’re switching away from now. When I switched to the new system where I download a little self-downloading exe, it’s up to 250 kb/s.

  39. AluFTW says:

    The lack of 64bit operating system support kills the app for me. IT SHOULD BE STATED ON MAIN PAGE “ONLY FOR OLD 32BIT SYSTEMS”. If they want to sell anything to anyone they should be looking to the future and not to the past.