The Icarus Platform was developed both to power the upcoming post-apocalyptic MMORPG Fallen Earth and as a technology solution for other developers. We got a chance to get a look under the hood from Icarus Studios EVP David Gardner. This interview focuses solely on the platform and not the game itself.
Answers by David Gardner (EVP, Icarus Studios)
Questions by Max Taha
WarCry: Icarus Studios recently relaunched it's website with a major announcement: "launching a next generation platform and RAD tool suite for 3D virtual worlds". Can you give us a quick overview of the engine and tools offered for developers?
David Gardner: We have a complete system for building, hosting, and managing virtual worlds. Our platform includes many integrated development tools, asset management systems, network monitoring and data mining modules, as well as customer support tools.
We have also integrated the best of breed middleware products right into the platform. In short, it is everything a studio needs to build an MMO or virtual world application in less than half the time and expense traditionally associated with these projects.
WarCry: What are the unique features of your technology?
David Gardner: Fundamentally, what makes our platform different is that it is has the most comprehensive set of features, systems, and tools on the market. Due to the incredible complexity of creating MMOs, most companies excel in only one of these areas. We have literally spent six years developing the most complete package available.
Our platform also has features to support non-MMO virtual world applications such as in-world photos that can be sent to a cell phone, in-world working browser as a window or texture, video streaming to a texture, and in-world phones that can dial out to any real world phone.
Really, everything about our platform and tools is next generation. Take for example our zoneless world that uses real satellite data to create huge geographic areas, or our network architecture that can re-task servers to become any other type of server needed for load balancing.
There are hundreds of little details that add up to make a huge difference in the final product. For example, our NPC eyes will follow an avatar while conversing. Our avatars can grow facial hair, express moods, and have dynamic emotes. From our vehicle simulation and dynamically modifiable terrain to our one-pass updater, there is really too much to even touch on in interview. I will boast that every potential customer that has done an in-person evaluation and comparison of our platform and tools has chosen us. We are at a 100% win ratio to date.
WarCry: Do you plan on expanding beyond the PC platform? Will you support cross-platform environments?
David Gardner: Absolutely. Our technology we designed from scratch to be portable to consoles and other platforms. Currently, we are only licensing for the PC but our roadmap has plans to port to all the main consoles. In the future, our customers will be building MMOs, learning tools, and simulators with users accessing their worlds simultaneously from PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and other devices simultaneously.
WarCry: Tell us about the level of integration of 3rd party middleware within your platform and how will it benefit the developers?
David Gardner: We did exhaustive product evaluation before selecting our third party partners. Not only from a technology perspective, we also evaluated their company vision, product roadmap and assessed their ability to stay ahead of the competition. We continue to integrate their new releases. For example, we are doing some very innovative work with Ageia using their physics system to implement extremely advanced features such as fluid simulations, soft body physics, and steel cloth. There is a lot of information about our tools and services on our website at www.icarusstudios.com as well as some great free white papers about the virtual worlds industry and tools in general.
WarCry: Are you planning on releasing any demos to showcase your platform abilities?
David Gardner: We have not released any official trailers or demos yet, but may soon.
WarCry: With the proliferation of middleware, there is a concern about innovation, original coding and homogenizing of game development. Beyond the original artwork and theme, are we going to see an army of game clones utilizing similar engines and resource libraries?
David Gardner: I don't think so. Regardless of whether your MMO has a medieval cavalry charge or a space ship launch you must have a powerful lighting system, integrated physics engine, animation blending, cool particle effects, and great AIs for your NPCs.
What our tools are really about is liberating the game developers so instead of spending all of their time coding and testing basic features, they can focus on the game assets, content, and story lines, and the unique game features that make the game special. These are the things, when leveraged on our technology, can create an exceptional MMO.
WarCry: You've recently stated that a couple of companies have already licensed your engine, and more to follow. How involved are you in reviewing the games developed using your engine and development tools?
David Gardner: It depends. A seasoned studio may have all of the expertise it needs in-house and as such may only want to license our platform and tools for its use. Other customers want to not only use our platform, but they also want our studio to deliver the project. Most of the time, we partner with our customers, providing the platform and at least some other resources as needed. We also have a large asset library that we let our customers use that can really speed their time to market.
WarCry: There's been a bit of confusion surrounding the relationship between Icarus Studios and Fallen Earth. Who is the actual developer of Fallen Earth, and what are the reasons behind the separation?
David Gardner: It's really simple. Icarus is a platform licensor and project studio. Fallen Earth is a separate company and an Icarus customer. Fallen Earth was spun off from Icarus Studios. There were a lot of benefits of working with an MMO while polishing our tools and platform. We also believe that Fallen Earth will serve as a showcase for the Icarus platform in the MMO space.
WarCry: As the principal investor in Fallen Earth, will Icarus Studios publish this upcoming title? And what are the future prospects for Icarus Studios as a developer/publisher?
David Gardner: Icarus Studios is not a publisher and, as such, we are not the publisher of Fallen Earth. Since I don't work for Fallen Earth, you'll have to talk with them about their future prospects.
WarCry: Can you tell us about Icarus Studios' future endeavors? Will you continue expanding your RAD Tool Suite?
David Gardner: Absolutely. All technology-based competitive advantage is fleeting. We may be well ahead of the pack now but that can easily change over the course of a couple of years. Our mission statement at Icarus is simply to always be the best. Our product roadmap is a mile long with features no one is even asking for yet, but we believe they will. Our CEO has been rather prophetic in predicting where the market is going and what it will need when it gets there. We always say that hope is not a strategy. We will always have a clear vision of what we need to do to keep our seat at the top and consistently executing on a plan is what it's all about.
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk with WarCry readers.
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