In today's interview, we talk to Ron Meiners of Multiverse about their MMO platform. This single client solution is offered up to dozens of developers to produce their own MMORPG projects. Meiners, their Developer Relations Director, answers our questions about their product and what it means to you.
Answers by Ron Meiners (Developer Relations Director, Multiverse)
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry:Your website lists 24 games in development using your platform and I can think of others not listed (Firefly). Why do you feel so many people have latched onto what you're doing and can you characterize the amount of resources behind these games? I.E. Are these mostly independent garage projects or fully funded professional studios?
Ron Meiners: We're living in a really exciting time, where people are starting to create amazing new experiences in virtual spaces, anywhere from fantasy to science fiction to educational and social worlds. Our technology, and the lack of an up-front licensing fee, enables people to dig in immediately, experiment, build prototypes, teach classes, or work on making their dream game. So far, the ones who have mostly seized on Multiverse are indie game creators and educators, but we also have established game studios and all sorts of really innovative new uses for virtual worlds as well, like virtual representations of real cities.
WarCry:Aside from the number of games, your engine has also generated some mainstream press with big names like James Cameron mentioned. What has this kind of press done for you?
Ron Meiners: The press has been really kind to us, and I think they're excited by our model too: enabling low-cost creation of virtual worlds is going to drive a lot of creativity and innovation. As I said before, I think we're living in a very exciting time in this regard. We want people to know that they have an alternative to creating this technology themselves, or paying a high up-front licensing cost. We want people to know that we have a solid platform, which is very extensible, and one with a very supportive and energized developer community. The press understands this and has helped get the word out. And it makes a big difference...one of our goals is to create a network of virtual worlds that is all accessible by the same common client, the Multiverse Client, so every new project adds to all of our success.
WarCry:The visuals displayed from the game on your website are decent, but not what most would call "AAA" quality. What do you have in store to improve the visual capabilities of your engine?
Ron Meiners: Well, actually, they're already in the engine now. It's up to the developer to decide what level of graphic detail works for his project. We want to support the complete spectrum of developer choices, and currently support a wide variety of high-end graphic effects. We have tested a 35,000 poly model quite successfully, and have built hardware shaders for normal and specular maps, thus far. Basically, the platform supports being extended to support more, though we don't know who's done this yet. We also support a wide range of full-screen compositing effects. But it's up to the developer to make and implement these choices. I think you can already see a wide range with the screenshots we've got up on the site. The Dark Horizons team, for example, has a much more sophisticated use of the graphics engine.
WarCry:Unlike most platforms that offer developers an easy solution, Multiverse also brings all the consumers together when it allows all games to be played through one client. Why go this route and why do you feel that it is important?
Ron Meiners: There are a couple of reasons why we feel this is important. Historically, the Internet really began to explode when Netscape released the free browser, and suddenly users could visit whatever sites they liked, rather than having to stay inside AOL or CompuServe or whatever. This enabled a lot of creativity too, as people also then had tools to make things that were expressive or innovative. Though the first web sites were simple, it spurred the development that has resulted in the richness and diversity of the Internet today. We also see that this enables people to add components to the technology that others can make use of, which has already happened in our current developer community. And the last thing has to do with marketing, which is critical to the success of the games and worlds we're enabling. With a common client and an integrated network, all of them available to the public will be much more visible, and all of the non-profit worlds being built, for academic or marketing purposes, will act to draw in new users to expose them to the whole network.
WarCry:You're also promoting networking among your clients with things like your developer marketplace. Explain this to us and what it adds to Multiverse users.
Ron Meiners: Well, again, the common client enables teams to share or license components from game objects and models to scripts or new tools. This creates a new opportunity for independent creators to make their work available to others. The marketplace, when it's fully developed, will make it easy for people to contribute as individuals or as members of a team, as is appropriate to them.
WarCry:Multiverse touts itself as a cheap alternative to high budget game development. Specifically, what makes the process cheaper when someone uses you over a competitor?
Ron Meiners: We provide the full technology for world creation without an up-front license fee, though we do take 10% of game revenues when the developer starts charging for the game. If they never charge, it's free forever. The platform itself is a very solid, scalable, extensible technology for creation of a prototype or production world. Even now, some teams are able to put together very respectable worlds in a matter of a few weeks. Our platform is built from the ground up to enable a wide range of innovation in game and world design, and to be available for no money up-front. All of this changes the dynamics for creative game design, we feel, removing the imperatives created by some of the high-cost alternatives, by making a fast and free alternative. It puts the game designer back in charge of the design process.
WarCry:Say myself and a group of talented friends want to make an MMO in our spare time. What do we need to get started with Multiverse?
Ron Meiners: Honestly, I think you've already got it. One amazing thing we've seen is how much inspiration can make a huge difference in the process. We've seen teams with little to no background be successful through perseverance and the inspiration of their dream. The basics are pretty simple, sign-up for a developer account, download the tools, server and client, and use the documentation and tutorials to begin creating your world. You'll probably want some sort of modeling program to make your own models, though you can also buy them. And if you have a question, head to our developer forums. We've got a really amazing and very supportive developer community. Some of our folks have been around quite some time now, and are really helpful in getting others up and running.
WarCry:Are you worried with so much pre-coded content, like AI, etc. that all the games on your network will end up being thematically varied, but technically quite similar?
Ron Meiners: No, not really. Each team is really excited by the opportunity to create something that's theirs, and most of them want to do really new and exciting stuff. There are some very talented engineers already in the community, so I am sure we'll have a very wide range of diversity. Some games may stick to basics or familiar elements, but many will be really innovative, I'm sure. This is something our developer community has discussed a fair amount, so I think the diversity of opinion will be reflected in some really different worlds. The Mermaids world, which will be online as a prototype soon, is a great example.
WarCry:Firefly the MMO was announced and underway using Multiverse. What can you tell us about it?
Ron Meiners: We're really excited by this, but I can't really say anything about it now. The fan reception has been awesome, but we don't have anything to announce at this time.
WarCry:Currently, your product is considered in beta. What is your internal timeline for a fully functional version of Multiverse?
Ron Meiners: We've targeted this summer for a basic Release 1.0. Of course, we'll continue to work on the platform, adding functionality and new features, for the indefinite future. The upcoming release will be a solid platform for creating a complete world, and taking it into beta. It's very exciting. What we've seen already is that a lot of teams are finding inspiration in using the our technology, and we should be seeing the fruits of their creativity online soon. This is just the beginning...as we continue to develop, I think we'll see some very exciting worlds and new developments in MMOG creation!
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