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Looking at Middleware: BigWorld and Hero

General Article By Carolyn Koh on September 19, 2006

MMOG Development in a Box – BigWorld Technology & Hero Engine

Carolyn Koh looks at middleware at AGC

What is middleware? The Carnegie-Mellon Software Institute describes it as “connectivity software that consists of a set of enabling services that allow multiple processes running on one or more machines to interact across a network.”

Frankly, I prefer the simple laymen’s description from the Middleware FAQ of the Internet2 Consortium:

“Middleware is the intersection of stuff that network engineers don’t want to do with the stuff that application developers don’t want to do.”

In 2003, I took a look at Butterfly.net (now Emergent Game Technologies:), a middleware company that was positioning itself as a cross-platform MMOG network solution company. At the time, there were only two companies - Zona.net (which was acquired by Shanda Networking) being the other – providing almost complete solutions. Both left the graphics engine and game mechanics to be designed and developed by the game company.

These days MMOG middleware has grown up, filled out, put on make-up and rings and things and buttons and bows. Complete solutions are available and I visited two of them at the AGC; Bigworld Technology and Hero Engine.

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What do companies like these mean for the online gamer? Two things mainly:

  1. Faster concept and development to test. With a complete solution available to them, game companies can concentrate on game design and production. Players will see faster game development. Already MMOG companies are talking in terms of 3 to 4 year development cycles when using the development tools available to them instead of 4 to 6. A complete set of MMOG tools might mean cutting that down even further.
  2. Real time distribution and balancing of server loads. A single seamless world if the developers so choose, is in sight. What about not crashing a zone with too many players? Sounds good to me!

BigWorld Technology
Formed in 2000 and based in Australia, Bigworld Technology boasts several Australian innovation awards as well as several MMOG clients including China’s NetEase, Microsoft and their latest coup – Cheyenne Mountain who is developing Stargate Worlds MMORPG.

Their suite of tools include:
BigWorld Server which provides a load-balanced server infrastructure.
BigWorld Client engine which includes an advanced 3D game engine as well as game services such as entity management, path finding, AI, collision detection and physics.
Content Creation Tools
Development Tools & Instrumentation

They do not include any billing backend, but they do provide a Demo package of example code, a fully-formed mini-MMO, with code for trading systems, combat, AI, pathing, chat, and other systems.

BigWorld Technology does have an MMORPG client that is published – Farlan’s Dark and Light, but they were quick to point out that the only piece that Farlan licensed is the Server Technology. Both Tien Cheng and Tian Xia 2 (from China) will be released at the end of 2006, and Star Gates World’s first screenshot was released this month.

HeroEngine
The HeroEngine is so named because it was developed by Simutronics for Hero’s Journey. When Simutronics began Hero’s Journey six years ago, they did not find any engines available that met their needs. So they decided to develop their own. Along that journey, they realized that they had created an “Ultimate MMO Platform.”

The tools HeroEngine offers are:
An advanced graphical client for the player
A robust server platform and management system
HeroBlade integrated toolset for the development team, including HeroScript language targeted at MMO development and DreamManager – their game project management system
A Back Office solution for billing and customer service.

HeroEngine boasts a full turn-key solution and their presentation concentrated on their collaborative game building tools. Although they have only one external client, since BioWare Austin’s announcement that they were developing a yet to be named MMORPG on the HeroEngine, they admit that they have been swamped with enquiries.

Both booths were side by side at AGC, but despite a nifty booth gone astray in transit somewhere, HeroEngine managed to draw the crowds with their demonstration.


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