Written by Rashid Mansoor

3 min read

Emergent Simulation: The Cost of Immersive Design

  • Aether Engine
On the Frontier of MMORPG Development

One of the most interesting gaming projects we’ve recently seen is Soulbound’s Chronicles of Elyria, an in-development MMORPG with a focus on emergent game design.

Over the past fifteen years, MMORPGs have fundamentally adhered to a basic theme park or sandbox approach, whereby an individual’s game experience is a largely siloed affair. You can slay the kingdom’s most nefarious villain, for example, but if another player comes to that same juncture the same enemy will magically reappear for them to battle and defeat. It’s a feedback loop that provides individual gratification, but absolutely no sense of global progression.

In contrast, Chronicles of Elyria is what we anticipate to be at the forefront of a wave of persistent MMO game worlds. The game sports a non-repeatable quest design, a fully destructible environment, an Offline Playable Character system that turns a player’s avatar into an AI-controlled entity when they log off, and a 10 year (in-game time) storyline that’s designed to be consumed over multiple player lifetimes. Soulbound are committed to delivering a game that dynamically forms around individual and collective player experiences on both a local and global scale, which is truly exciting. This is a level of immersive design that, to date, has been prohibited from being realised by engineering limitations.


Critical Technial Requirements

Interestingly, Soulbound recently announced on their blog that they’re migrating development from Improbable’s SpatialOS to an in-house solution - something that, in their own words, is not a single solution, but “[provides] us all the same functionality as SpatialOS, while allowing us to keep our operating costs low and providing us more control over our server performance.

This points towards two things:

1. A significant appetite for a technology that can liberate game developers from the headaches of cross-process communication, networking on the server, load balancing entities, replicating entities across multiple server nodes, and implementing collision detection at massive scale.

2. A market that has yet to see an ideal solution that delivers both programmable control (at a developer level) and cost efficiencies (at a studio level).

In-house solutions are common practice within the gaming industry as a means of providing end-to-end control that can be flexibly tailored for individual studio or project requirements. At the same time, they typically impose a significant burden in the form of setup and operational costs, engineering effort, deployment times, scalability constraints, and the need to build competencies in and orchestrate multiple software components.

In this particular case, Soulbound was willing to take on all of this for the control it gave back to their development process - everything from production decisions such as choice of language for Chronicles of Elyria’s backend (JavaScript), to broader infrastructural choices such as the ability to specify a hosting partner that met their performance needs (whether on cloud, bare metal, or dedicated servers). In the latter case, this control very directly translates to improved cost efficiencies. Perhaps this is then indicative of a third, most crucial point:

3. When it comes to development, control and flexibility is king.


Building a Fully Modifiable Game Development Toolkit

At Hadean, developer control has always been core to our design philosophy. Our fundamental technology, Hadean OS, is a distributed compute layer that runs as close to bare metal as possible, allowing a single developer to write an algorithm, ship it, and scale it in seconds. This redesign of the stack eliminates the myriad of technologies needed to operate at scale (and therefore, the orchestration requirement).

On top of this, we’ve recently developed a simulation engine that easily supports massive environmental worlds as well as highly complex multi-agent systems. Crucially, this layer is decoupled from any specific game engine to allow complete developer control, and offers the flexibility to run on Hadean’s hosted platform as well as any other infrastructural solution. This flexibility allows developers and studios to be nimbler in their processes and iterate on projects at a faster pace, enabling changes that can be tested quicker than they have before.

Soulbound’s experiences are an encouraging validation of the decisions we’ve made in building our technology, and we look forward to seeing further progress on Chronicles of Elyria.