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This week BioWare released an open source version of Orbit, the Java framework that underlies some of the persistent cross-platform online systems at work in Dragon Age: Inquisition and the Dragon Age Keep utility, in an effort to further develop it with help from the developer community.
Like many developers, BioWare has been incorporating open source software into its workflow for some time, but this is the first time the studio has open-sourced its own technology.
"When we were unable to find a framework that met our needs it seemed obvious to us that other people must be facing the same problem and also deciding to build that technology in-house," BioWare's Joe Hegarty tells Gamasutra. "It therefore made sense to us that Orbit was somewhere we could make a contribution that would be useful to others."
Hegarty serves as lead developer on BioWare's Online Services team, which is dedicated to developing and maintaining online services that can be used by BioWare developers in much the same way they might use company technology like the Frostbite engine. An earlier version of Orbit was cobbled together from extant Java network solutions during development of Inquisition, and BioWare aims to continue using it for upcoming projects.
"As we evaluated existing solutions it became clear to us that there wasn’t an existing framework available in Java that met our needs," says Hegarty, regarding Orbit's origins. "This was the motivation to build the framework that ultimately became the second iteration of Orbit and it is this version that we have now released as an open source project."
The tech is open source under a BSD 3-Clause license, and you can check it out for yourself over on the Orbit Github repository or BioWare's dedicated Orbit website. Hegarty claims this new iteration of the Orbit tech is a step up from what BioWare used while developing Inquisition, but it's still not "production ready" -- BioWare hopes to update and harden it over the next few months while accepting feedback and contributions from the open source community.
"This is very much a journey into unknown territory for our studio," says Hegarty, noting the studio has no concrete plans to release more open-source technology. "We’ll be keeping a close eye on how it goes."