Middleware and a look at Icarus Studios
When Carolyn Koh attended the recent Online Game Developers Conference, she learned a little something about Icarus Studios and Middleware as a whole.
Middleware is everywhere these days when you look at the MMOG industry, and more than that, entire MMOG platforms are available for the budding MMOG studio to build their world up, and Joe Ludwig of Flying Labs Software shared their Adventures in Middleware in a lecture at the recent OGDC.
A summary explanation of middleware may simply be, "The nuts and bolts, the glue that hold an MMOG together."
Using middleware can cut the development time of an MMOG by more than half. What does that mean to gamers? It means that game developers can concentrate on game design and production. It means that players will see faster game development. Games with a 2 to 4 year development cycle instead of the traditional 4 to 6 before the advent of middleware. It means, for example: less buggy code, less buggy services (such as billing). It could mean an entire platform on which to build an MMOG, including development tools and project management tools.
However, as Joe Ludwig shared with us, Developers need to select the middleware carefully.
"We used A LOT of middleware," he informed the attendees. "Some were free, some were cheap, some took so much work to integrate we're removing it from the game." Some of providers of the middleware they chose to use simply dropped out of sight!
His tips on evaluating middleware included:
- Get the source code - source is more useful for debugging than modifying
- Evaluate the provider too. Make sure they are going to be there for you when you need them
- Include more than just programmers in the evaluation. Include the artists, the sound designers and operations.
- Schedule enough evaluation time
- Don't believe the hype. Evaluate it based on what's there, not what is promised.
- Don't be afraid to reject middleware.
At OGDC, BigWorld with whom we've spoken a time or two was present, as was Icarus Studios. Icarus attempts to stand apart as they boast not only the platform, that is the network architecture and administration tools, but the tools suite which combine the best of the best as well as project services such as project consultation, prototype development, outsourcing and staffing.
"Icarus Studios provides the tools for building virtual worlds," said David Gardner, the Executive Vice President of Icarus Studios as I questioned him about what his Icarus did. "Too many people have confused the Studios with the upcoming MMORPG, Fallen Earth."
But... isn't Fallen Earth produced by Icarus Studios? David was quick to clarify, "We invested in Fallen Earth as we wanted an MMOG to showcase our studio, but we are by no means the developers of Fallen Earth."
A quick check proved that the Fallen Earth MMO project is its own company, Fallen Earth, LLC although Icarus Studios is the principle investor in Fallen Earth. So, while the companies are closely related, and Icarus Studios provides project services and the platform on which Fallen Earth is being developed, they are separate companies. Although the announcement for Icarus Studios was made only a short time ago, the platform has already been licensed twice and per David, a few more deals in the works.
"Icarus Studios has created the only suite of tools designed from scratch specifically as an integrated 3rd party environment for 3D online world creation," says Jim Hettinger, CEO of Icarus Studios. "We're launching our technology suite today after an 18-month stealth period during which our 65-person team completed our six-year development and QA testing efforts."
So, back to Icarus Studios. What exactly is it? "It's a next Gen platform," Brad Lineberger, CTO of Icarus Studios elaborated. Although much is built from scratch from when the company was formed in 2001, Icarus has also included various other 3rd party software packages in their tools. "We've licensed what we've deemed is the Best of Breed. We utilize the PhysX Ageia physics engine and Vivox for integrated voice communication, for example."
Icarus positions themselves as a comprehensive resource center, from complete project development, platform and tool licensing to studio services and library resources. Not only can MMOG developers license the Icarus platform, they can contract with Icarus to provide staff that is fully trained in using the platform and tools. For their client, Fallen Earth, Lee Hammok serves as the lead game designer with Fred Rugar heading up art.
Here are some of the services that Icarus Studios provides apart from the design platform and tool suite:
- Production Services including design consulting, prototype development, project outsourcing, staff augmentation and world hosting services.
- Studios Services including a motion capture studio, a sound studio, art creation and 3D interior scanning
From what I garnered from the short meeting at OGDC and subsequent follow through with a few white papers and the information on their website, Icarus Studios looks to supply comprehensive services, very much a "one stop shop."