On Tuesday, Sun Microsystems used the opening of its own "Second Life" space to announce its " Project Darkstar," which is designed to help developers of online games with server-side technology.
At an in-world event, Sun's chief researcher, John Gage, and Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos, as well as "Second Life" publisher Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, talked about "Second Life," Project Darkstar and the future of game technologies.
Afterward, Melissinos teleported across the metaverse for a wide-ranging interview with CNET News.com. An audience of around 50 "Second Life" residents attended the event in CNET's own new space in the popular virtual world.
And take note readers: The interview with Melissinos is just the first in what will be a series of talks with notable technology-industry newsmakers to be held in CNET's "Second Life" space.Q: This interview comes just an hour after Sun launched its "Second Life" space with a press conference. What was that event like for you?
Melissinos: It was really cool to see a big turnout. I have been playing around with "Second Life" for more than one and a half years and it's great to see more traditional corporations taking notice. The event was a little difficult to control, since we had several people at once onstage and (interacting) remotely. But you get into the flow after awhile.
Were you and John Gage and Rosedale all in the same physical location?
Melissinos: No. John was in the office in California, I sat in my home in northern Virginia and Phillip was at his office in San Francisco. We used Skype to coordinate audio. It was really good.
It seems like there were some technological limitations: lag and delay. Was that a problem for getting your points across?
Melissinos: The good thing is that this audience understands the current limitations of the technology. So they are much more forgiving of the issues.
How long do you think that can still be true? Do you think there's a point where the "Second Life" population will be so big that newcomers won't have that patience?
Melissinos: I do believe that will be an issue. In fact, it's something I speak about often at game conferences. It's more than just an issue with "Second Life." It's an issue with online games overall. The majority of the "popular gamers" are those of us who grew up with computers in the home. My first significant code was hacking machine (language) on a Commodore VIC-20. You were real if you could do it in 3,192 bytes of memory, not those "rich" Commodore 64 owners.
Now, as a parent of three kids, I really understand why they want to play. The barriers for them to enter and engage in computers and games is much lower than ever before. For the first time in history you have gamers raising gamers. And that's exciting. What it also means is that they won't put up with quite as much pain as we do.
Is that where Sun can come in?
Melissinos: Correct. When I started focusing on games for Sun six years ago, the question was, "How do we address all of the places people can play games?" So we looked to Java technology on its various devices. I pulled together a summit and had 14 companies join a "discussion." They included Sega, Sony, Electronic Arts, Universal, GameSpy, etc. In two days we walked away with a blueprint for how Java technologies should be changed to make it better for game developers. Today, we have several technologies out there in commercial games. But more importantly we needed to look at how we make online games easier for developers.
Some people would be surprised that Sun even has a chief gaming officer. How did that come about?
Melissinos: Sure, but why is that really surprising? Video games are a $40 billion market. Online games will reach $11 billion in subscription revenues by 2011. At Sun, we believe that we can help. This was the reason behind starting Project Darkstar. And the engineers behind Project Darkstar are people from the games industry.
Tell us about Project Darkstar.
Melissinos: What we have created in Project Darkstar is the first game-agnostic and platform-agnostic server technology. The idea being that we should have a single flexible server technology that is the same, regardless of the kind of game you are using it for. At the Game Developers Conference this year, we demonstrated a racing game, a turn-based game and a massively multiplayer online game engine built using the Aurora toolset, all running at the same time on the same server and serving devices from Windows XP PCs to Sony PSPs.
So, here is an example: You are a small developer, 10 people big, with a $6 million budget. Building an online game, you have to burn that first $1 million--$2 million on infrastructure and building tools and features into the server, etc. Why not write to a common set of APIs, keep that initial up-front cost and make a better game? You then take the game code and dump it on to a Project Darkstar service and you get charged for what you use, not for the whole infrastructure. Because the server can handle many games, of various kinds, at the same time. You are not building expensive, exotic solutions for each game.