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Middleware Postmortem: Quazal Technologies
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Middleware Postmortem: Quazal Technologies

November 8, 2004 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

Online gaming has been the 'next big thing' for quite a while now. First it was LAN and modem gaming in Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. Then, systems like Dwango let gamers find each other more easily. Next came the big breakthrough of massively multiplayer gaming into the 'mainstream', and all the while online gaming was still 'the next big thing'.

Today, millions of gamers hook their home consoles and PCs up to the Internet, game and chat with each other (with full voice communication), play in massively multiplayer games with users in other countries and on other platforms, and enter into worldwide online competitions for real-world prizes. Therefore, more developers are finding ways to allow their users to interact with each other, in both a direct way (competition and cooperation) and in an indirect way (sharing results online and chatting about their game experiences). This is the area of middleware that Quazal specializes in.

In fact, Quazal started originally as Proksim Software, way back in 1998. Originally, we were three guys with an idea (I say 'we' here loosely, since I was still in university at the time, and hadn't really thought about entering the gaming industry). Back then, Sylvain Beaudry, Martin Lavoie and Carl Dionne had seen the outlook in the massively multiplayer market, and decided that creating a system to manage the massive amounts of network data required for one of these games would be a worthwhile business. Thus, work began on Eterna.

Fast forward to 2004. Now, Quazal produces three major products. The aforementioned Eterna is a core technology for networking in massively multiplayer games. Net-Z is a subset of the Eterna featureset, designed for smaller scale multiplayer games of 2-32 players. Both of these products are built on the idea of 'duplicated objects', where each networked game object is treated as a set of attributes with specified update policies in-game, and duplicated across to all the stations that need to know about them. The system is designed to abstract networking into a high-level function, though, as it's very different than what developers are used to, they can find it complex at first glance. We have worked hard to make the learning curve as smooth as possible, though.


Project: Snowblind from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos

However, networking isn't sexy. You can't send out a screenshot of a new networking technology, like you might with a new rendering effect. Initially, this lack of a 'sexy' demo hurt, but ultimately is became a non-issue as word of mouth spread, and we now have a decent list of well-known clients, including Eidos (25 To Life, Snowblind and Commandos: Strike Force), Ubisoft (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) and Sammy Studios (Darkwatch).

From 1998 to 2004, though, a lot of things happened, and a lot of decisions were made, both good and bad. Let's take a look at some of the successes and some of the mistakes that were made along that road, and how other middleware vendors, especially smaller ones, can learn from these decisions and hopefully make the right ones when faced with similar challenges.

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