TerraForge is a young developer intent on recreating the gaming world. They have developed a series of proprietary systems for handling multiplatform interoperability and completely new kinds of gaming communities. They are putting these technologies to work in their first game, Yummiverse, which will support gaming on a variety of platforms including PC, consoles, and PDAs. This technology could truly revolutionize the way we game, alleviating the emphasis on platform choices as well as taking advantage of the array of game-capable devices we spend so much time with each day. Needless to say, we're excited about the possibilities presented by the TerraForge technologies.
We were lucky to get the chance to ask TerraForge CEO, Adam Mateljan, a whole armload of questions about the new technologies and their plans for revolutionizing the gaming world.
GamesFirst!: You've developed some fascinating new technologies for game creation that could really change the way we view cross-platform gaming connections. Can you briefly describe the roles of your three major developments, the Asgard Gaming Community, the ODIN Game Network, and Valhalla? How do these three components work together?
Adam Mateljan: The Asgard Gaming Community is the central hub needed in the multi-platform gaming world. Asgard supplies developers and gamers with a complete community for all their gaming needs. ODIN is the core to the Asgard Gaming Community. ODIN supplies core community functionality with a huge user repository that stores everything user oriented. Valhalla utilizes the ODIN system functionality to bring community aspect to games. Valhalla is a core logic game engine that has been abstracted from the client graphical experience to facilitate platform independence.
GF!: The idea of gaming across platforms is a very exciting one. You have mentioned the PC, Mac, PS2, Gamecube, and PDA as systems that can interact with each other using your technology. Is there a reason that the Xbox isn't listed, and are there any intentions of adding it at a later date?
AM: Xbox uses a flavor of Microsoft's Windows, and given that Windows is a proven platform with a Bazillion games on it already, we decided that mentioning it was almost rhetorical. Asgard was designed to be platform independent. If developers want their client software on a specific platform, then creating it will have no effect on the core of their game.
GF!: There are a great deal of differences between the different listed platforms, specifically in power and interface. What styles of games do you envision this technology producing? What kind of roles do you think each player will have in a game played, for example, between a PS2 player and a PDA user?
AM: There was a Tank game on the old Amiga called Firepower where two tank drivers tried to destroy each other's bases and capture their flag. Besides traditional games I think it would be cool to have players on different consoles working together to accomplish some goal. For instance, the PS2 player drives the tank while the PDA player is the turret. Beyond that, how games are designed will have a vast effect on how they are played and on which platform a gamer decides to play on. The point being that the gamer has a choice.
GF!: One of the more interesting aspects of the technology is the ability to leave a game on one system, and then to pick it up again on another system entirely. How exactly does this work?
AM: Saved games aren't located on the client's system. Saved games are stored inside the Asgard Gaming Community. Given this scenario, I can be at home in the morning playing a game on my PS2, save my game, hop on the train for work and bring up my saved game on my wireless PDA. The added bonus to this is that clients do not have access to saved game files directly, thus eliminating a form of cheating.
GF!: Currently your website describes a game called Yummiverse, but it also says this game is for "PC". Will Yummiverse use the Asgard, ODIN, and Valhalla technologies?
AM: We as a society understand the term PC to mean several things. To TerraForge, PC means Personal Computer and PCs have a multitude of Operating Systems on them that constitute them as being different platforms. Our first client side release will be for Windows, Linux, MAC, a Web Browser, and some form of wireless device; all of them being able to play together, of course.
GF!: What will that multi-system interoperability look like in Yummiverse?
AM: Multiple platforms playing together is seamless. Based on how the client side graphical experience is handled, a game may have varying degrees of visual stimuli but the core game functionality remains the same. For instance, a war game on the Xbox may have great big explosions, but on a Wireless PDA the explosions may be simple little booms. The same event occurred on both platforms but they were handled graphically differently.
GF!: What game genres do you see as most naturally expressed via the TerraForge technologies?
AM: Strategy games for sure. RPG of course has a huge shot. Almost any smaller genre game like shoot-em-ups, puzzle, etc. Race games. The only one we feel may have some issues at all would be First Person Shooters. FPS games traditionally have the highest requirements of any game out there. Games like Quake, Halo, HalfLife, and Doom all have serious system requirements and creating client versions of these games for a PDA or phone will require many bells and whistles to be reduced. Will the game be playable? I think so.
GF!: These technologies seem like naturals for licensing to other developers and publishers. Do you currently have plans to license Asgard, ODIN, and Valhalla?
AM: They are naturals for licensing. When we designed the systems, we kept in mind that we wanted others to be able to use the functionality without having to directly interact with the code base. Therefore, an API was created to work with that we use in house for our own development. All in good time.
GF!: Are any other developers making titles using the Asgard, ODIN, and Valhalla technologies? Have any publishers shown interest in adopting the technology?
AM: Actually a few development houses have approached us already. We definitely plan to work with other developers in the near future, but at this time, until we publish some of our own titles, Yummiverse being the first, we want to hold off on any contractual commitments.
GF!: At the moment, the technology is specifically targeting online games. Is there any chance that this technology could be adopted to a home network in the future, so that maybe a console and a PC could be directly linked without access to outside servers?
AM: It could but that wasn't our original intention. We have had other people express interest in this and like the idea but would like to prove everything on a grand scale and then downsize to the smaller network implementation.
GF!: Currently, different ports of games are sold separately-if I want a copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on the PS2, Xbox, GC, PC, and GBA, I have to buy each disc and cartridge separately, representing about $250 in game purchases. Will games built with TerraForge technology be playable on all platforms out of the box, or will we have to buy different versions for each platform?
AM: We can't change the way games are sold. Publishers, developers, and platform creators have their right to sell whatever on whatever. What we do allow for is the purchasing of a title on one platform and being able to play it with people who own different platforms.
GF!: If all platforms are included with a single purchase, how do you expect (or how have you already seen) publishers react to this idea? If all platforms are not included in a single purchase, how do you expect customers to react? Do you expect that people will buy the game several times in order to have it on all of their devices?
AM: We have a publishing system worked out for this. If a publisher decides to publish through our online system, then owners of platforms with download capability may be able to purchase a single play license and download any client they need to play, all of course tied to their account. We do not plan on changing the way software is sold in a store. Our titles, if sold at retail, will most likely include everything, but we don't EXPECT or DEMAND anyone else to follow suit. How other companies do business is their prerogative.
GF!: What have been the most interesting, enlightening, difficult, or otherwise notworthy obstacles to overcome in creating such ambitious technology?
AM: It has been very interesting to discover how various platforms handle different things. Networking has been a huge issue. Thankfully many platforms use the same underlining networking functionality. Proper synchronization is a big issue for client side experience. Moving to a central game clock solved that issue. The biggest issue is yet to come: getting people interested in what we are doing.
GF!: How do you see this technology changing gaming? So far, there have been significant differences between most versions of games released on different platforms-what do you see changing in game design in order to accommodate these titles?
AM: Designers will think differently. With core game logic being abstracted from the graphical experience and the powerful community aspect, designers will be able to bring in functionality without having to engineer it. The functional experience will be important again, not just the graphical experience. The client side experience will be different in the graphical aspect but the core functionality will be the same.
GF!: Is there anything we missed that you're dying to tell us about? Let us hear it.
AM: Not really dying to. The gaming world is changing because it needs to change. Graphically we are getting to a point where reality has stepped into our games. So what's next? We believe that a strong online gaming community that is platform independent is the next step.
GF!: When can we expect to see the TerraForge technology, or Yummiverse, available for play? Do you have any release dates on titles developed with your technology?
AM: We have a planned Beta release Q1 2004. Thank you for the interview.
GF!: Oh, no, thank YOU.