SpatialOS: Making MMOs Big Again

Is SpatialOS The Next Big Tech?

Improbable has been on our radar for a while here at MMOGames. Who doesn’t love new technology? There’s always something to keep an eye on in the gaming world and the small shifts in technology can have a lasting impact on our multiplayer games. How many new games have been spawned by the suddenly free professional game engines? How many games suddenly have more voxels than you can shake the stick you made out of voxels in the game at? How many people remember the hope and promise of StoryBricks?

Admittedly, not all technology is created equal and not all good ideas get to be games. Taking two examples above of voxel technology and StoryBricks, the ideas behind them while genius wasn’t enough to see Everquest Next to fruition or the longevity of Landmark. Of course, there are always other factors at play around games: the money, the talent, the studio … and now thanks to 2018 porn stars and geopolitics.

Still, I can’t quite help but get excited when a new technology gets to shine both a light on itself and on the potential in the future. Shadowed images, almost ideas that could be. There are chances with new technology to take our worlds all sorts of places. Why else did every crowdfunding project in a certain window three or so years ago offer or outright pledge VR support? It was the wave of the future! A silly one in some cases, but still a wave.

This particular technology is getting more and more press thanks to E3 2018. Mavericks: Proving Grounds had bold claims of big player counts in the battle royale genre. No mere 100 players for them, they were going for 1000. It’s eye-catching to be sure but the technology, SpatialOS, caught my eye early last year when instead of being part of the battle royale revolution, it was used for a darling indie MMO.

Mavericks: Proving Grounds


Developers Krillbite Studio wanted to do something for the Norwegian Gameplay Championship. We’ve all heard of game jams turning out fun little games in tight timeframes and with not many people behind them. How about an MMO in a week? The idea is clearly insane. A week to create a game that a lot of people could play, that could be entered into a competition and because they apparently don’t do things by halves in Norway, tackle the concept of xenophobia as the theme.

You can read their full adventure in putting the game together here. Suffice to say that the developers turned to Improbable and SpatialOS … and got the game done. There’s almost certainly going to be people who will look at the blog post and the concept of the game and try to draw comparisons to or similar games but there’s no pleasing everyone I am afraid.

The point here is the technology exists and works with the engines our favorite devs already work with.

So what about it?

Let’s go first with what they claim themselves both on the Improbable website and in the promotional material for Mavericks: Proving Grounds.

Meaningful Persistence and Massive Scale

You can’t argue that being able to host ten times the number of people in a standard battle royale in a single match isn’t impressive. We’ll see eventually when it comes out if it is actually fun, but that’s not something you find in support documents or video tutorials. The skill of the devs and the execution of the vision will decide if the game is fun or not. I will admit I will be very amused at the thought of a thousand people at once squatting in bushes waiting to see who breaks first, but I never claimed to be normal.

The change in scale offers us options in plenty of avenues. I have no idea off hand how many players Crowfall hopes to have taking part in any particular siege but I bet it could be scaled up. The scaling technology could also deal with issues a more traditionally designed game might have with areas of high traffic and lag, but you’d have to grab a developer and ask them to be sure. What we players dream does not always match reality, especially where actual development is involved.

The idea of meaningful persistence is also a very alluring one. Setting fire to a forest to smoke out a number of foes or just to deprive them of cover. Demolishing things that stand in your way or cutting off retreat. We will be seeing plenty of developers looking at, for example, Crowfall with its physics and voxels and wondering how they can make it all last longer. After all, the hardest thing with any MMO is to make the world feel alive as living things change. The world shouldn’t be as soft as cheese because players absolutely will undermine the bedrock of everything just because they were bored, but the idea of taking a persistent world and being able to see the scars of its history as we play out our games is definitely appealing to me.

It is far too early to herald Mavericks: Proving Grounds as the next big thing in technology but it is certainly one of the most interesting things. It is also prophetically named. Whatever other projects are currently eyeing up or already deploying the talents of SpatialOS exist, they aren’t making the same noise. One way or another, this bold, big new entry into the battle royale genre will be the proving ground for more than just the players. It will prove the technology is or isn’t viable… and it will prove if we will be seeing more of it.

Great projects can die, just look at StoryBricks. That said, the possibilities offered by SpatialOS have the chance to make MMOs feel huge again in a way we have long since lost under fast travel and flying mounts.

Only time will tell if a huge world is a good one or merely a big empty promise.

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