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Google teams up with MMO cloud platform SpatialOS

Today, on Tech That Sounds Kinda Cool But TBH What Really Matters Is Whether Games Using It Are Good But Hey Y’Like Tech Doncha Ya Funny Little Thing, comes news about SpatialOS [official site]. It’s a server platform which boasts about using the mystical powers of clouds to host thousands of players in super complex simulations, and which is supposedly dead simple to build games with. Improbable, the gang behind SpatialOS, aren’t the only folks with drifting servers but they have just announced a partnership with disruptive meteorologists Google and launched an alpha.

SpatialOS hosts games in the sky with Google’s Cloud Platform, crystallizing 0s and 1s into snowflakes. When more power is needed, it’s automagically provided. Improbable claim it “[exceeds] the usual limits of what a conventional game server can do”.

“Imagine a virtual city populated by players, who can make lasting changes to its social structure or its economy through their actions,” Improbable CEO Herman Narula said in a press release, continuing to basically describe EVE Online without the lag. “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.”

One of the first games using SpatialOS is Bossa’s craft-o-exploration MMO Worlds Adrift, which Alec recently played a bit of. A physics-driven sandbox MMO set in a world of floating islands, it boasts complex things like flying around with a crew on a ship you designed yourself, island-unique ecosystems of flora and fauna that can be altered and even destroyed, and loads of players all larking about in the same skyworld. Here’s a new trailer for that:

Spilt Milk are using SpatialOS for their MMO roguelikelike shmup Lazarus too.

It’s not that these types of games are only possible with SpatialOS, more that it’s be a huge – and expensive – task for devs to do the work themselves.

“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,” Narula said. Sure, I am curious to see what smaller teams might do with clouds. A bit of snow wouldn’t go amiss.

As with all tech that sounds mega-fancy, what will actually matter is: 1) if it’s as good as it says; 2) what devs do with it. Improbable talk up complexity and persistence, saying things like “An item dropped on the ground can persist for years” as if that wouldn’t be a flipping nuisance in most games. I’m sure devs can be more creative, though, and I would actually go for a Mundo Lixo-type thing with litter from thousands of players building an island of garbage.

This isn’t SpatialOS’s grand unveiling, to be clear. What’s new this week is Improbable launching an alpha which supports the Unity engine. Improbable have also teamed up with Google to give “qualified developers” (whatever that means) subsidised access to SpatialOS while their games are in development. Google will pay to help SpatialOS help devs build games that’ll pay SpatialOS and Google, basically.

Google’s cloud rivals Amazon dabble in games too. The booksellers tout their Amazon Web Services for scalable server duties and have even released their own version of Crytek’s CryEngine, Amazon Lumberyard, with support for AWS and Twitch (which Amazon also own) built-in.

Other server MMO platforms exist too, of course. But consider this post a Tomorrow’s World-style “In the future, we’ll all eat pills for breakfast then ride to work in the clouds with our personal jetpacks” vague glance at a technology rather than an exhaustive study of online platforms.

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Alice O'Connor

News Editor

When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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