I’ve been interested in what little information is available about Outback Online and the “user-generated spaces” that Yoick CEO Rand Leeb-du Toit is building there, so when I read (in an article I’ve since lost the link to) that Australian research institute NICTA had developed the peer-to-peer technology that is supposed to make Outback more scalable than any 3D online world we’ve seen before, I got in touch. NICTA’s Dr. Santosh Kulkarni was kind enough to give me some time on the phone. Between what Dr. Kulkarni was able to reveal and what I was able to understand I seem to have got a rough outline of NICTA’s technology that hopefully sheds some light on the new techniques being developed there.
Dr. Kulkarni described a system in which the basic peer-to-peer communications structure sits below a set of three modules that are designed specifically to tackle the problems of managing MMO information flows, and which work somewhat differently from the usual file-sharing protocol of services like BitTorrent. “What we have done is looked at the problem from a spatial point of view,” Dr. Kulkarni said.
His team broke the problem down into three parts. First, they tackled the challenge of indexing users in space, designing a spatial index that allows the various clients to discover users in the 3D space around them, without having to have all that presence information contained on a single server. Secondly, they tackled the problem of interacting, using multithreading techniques (among other things that got lost in a poor connection) to optimize communication between clients. Third came a security solution that obfuscates users’ IP addresses while still allowing clients to transmit the necessary information across the network.
That system of three modules is optimized for MMO applications, and then sitting atop that is an API that is designed to work with standard game engines. Connecting NICTA’s system with game engines is not a plug-n-play solution, Dr. Kulkarni said, but isn’t hugely labor-intensive either.
Essentially, the system is designed as a peer-to-peer online games protocol, replacing the file-sharing protocol that is most often thought of in connection with peer-to-peer systems. If Dr. Kulkarni is correct about its capabilities, it may allow virtual worlds to cale to much higher concurrency numbers than ever before.
confirmed that Outback would be using said Yoick was keen to use NICTA’s peer-to-peer system for Outback, and that the two were working on a licensing agreement (I still haven’t been able to schedule a chat with Rand — my fault, not his), but said the organization was still exploring business models and interest before deciding whether to commercialize the system broadly.
NICTA is also actively looking for feedback from virtual world and MMO developers, so if you’re interested in working with them on what sounds an interesting and possibly valuable project, get in touch. Or contact Dr. Kulkarni directly at santosh [dot] kulkarni [at] nicta.com.au.