Grow your own

In a tiny indie stu­dio in Ber­lin, a deep sim­u­la­tion MMO is form­ing the next big vir­tual world

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In a Ber­lin stu­dio, bud­ding MMO Seed is the next big vir­tual world

Com­mu­nity is an im­por­tant con­cept for Klang Games. Lit­tle won­der: there are just 13 staff work­ing on the stu­dio’s lat­est and most am­bi­tious ti­tle, Seed. Mas­sively mul­ti­player on­line games are fa­mously time-con­sum­ing de­vel­op­ment projects, but the team at Klang is look­ing to have its new sim­u­la­tion MMO fin­ished in just two years. It’s quite the goal, con­sid­er­ing its com­plex­ity. At first, our demo ap­pears to be Runescape’s more stylish si­b­ling, with a tight-knit colony of tiny ci­ti­zens break­ing rocks and chop­ping wood in a charm­ingly low-poly for­est. Then we no­tice the stat break­down for one of them. ‘Blood fil­tra­tion’ cer­tainly wasn’t a fac­tor in The Sims.

As that im­plies, Klang is com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing a de­tailed hu­man sim­u­la­tion. “We started think­ing about this game prob­a­bly ten years ago,” CEO Mundi Vondi tells us. “We were al­ways ob­sessed with mak­ing the next deep, im­mer­sive MMO – the ul­ti­mate MMO.” Vondi’s co-founders pre­vi­ously worked at CCP Games, and so the start­ing point for Seed was, in­evitably, the Ice­landic stu­dio’s space­bound MMO Eve On­line. “The way we started to think was, ‘How can we make this game more per­sis­tent, more ac­ces­si­ble and eas­ier to play for peo­ple who don’t nor­mally have eight hours a day to spare?’” The an­swer to their ques­tion lay in Im­prob­a­ble’s re­mark­able Spa­tialOS, pre­vi­ously fea­tured in E306.

The cloud-based plat­form is de­signed to al­low small teams of de­vel­op­ers to build huge, per­sis­tent worlds with var­i­ous game en­gines and over mul­ti­ple servers. Klang jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to use it. The key to keep­ing Seed ac­ces­si­ble, Vondi says, is hav­ing it run au­tonomously, re­gard­less of whether it’s be­ing played: “You can have a full day job, or hang out with friends, and when you check in, the game is go­ing to be there play­ing it­self. That al­lows you to jump right in.” The re­sult is a re­al­time strat­egy ti­tle pop­u­lated by AI en­ti­ties that – if kept rel­a­tively cheer­ful and sane – will eat, breathe, farm, sleep, in­ter­act and re­pro­duce all by them­selves, un­less prompted oth­er­wise by the om­nipo­tent player. Seed hopes to be an MMO with­out all the grind­ing to get to the good bits: Klang’s be­lief is that the fun should come from loftier goals.

Seed’s main draw is cre­at­ing your own in-game com­mu­ni­ties that will cross over and in­ter­act with those of other play­ers. When Vondi met Lawrence Les­sig, the Roy L Fur­man pro­fes­sor of law at Har­vard Univer­sity, at a din­ner, it seemed like the ideal chance to col­lab­o­rate – to Les­sig, at least. “He said, ‘You have all th­ese au­ton­o­mous agents that could abide to a le­gal or po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. But have you re­ally thought that through?’ And I was like, ‘Er… yes and no.’” Les­sig in­sisted they met the fol­low­ing week. “He was to­tally into it. I didn’t re­ally know why we were meet­ing or where he was go­ing with it, but he said, ‘I want to work on the game!’ I was so sur­prised.”

To­gether, Les­sig and the team at Klang are de­sign­ing a frame­work around which play­ers can in­te­grate a po­lit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture into their vir­tual com­mu­ni­ties. “When a com­mu­nity starts, it’s ba­si­cally an­ar­chy,” says Vondi. “There is no leader, no law, no tax­a­tion: noth­ing other than play­ers and AI, just liv­ing there next to each other. When you hit a cer­tain size, play­ers can cre­ate a con­sti­tu­tion. You can select from a num­ber of tem­plates – an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy, or a monar­chy, for ex­am­ple – or start with ev­ery­thing empty and fully cus­tomise ev­ery­thing.” A week later, other play­ers can pro­pose their own con­sti­tu­tions as well, be­fore a pub­lic vote is held to de­cide which be­comes law. A sim­i­lar sys­tem dic­tates the le­gal bound­aries of

Seed’s com­mu­ni­ties, where if you deign to make wear­ing red hats pun­ish­able by death, you can do so, pro­vided you’ve got enough sup­port.

“I could never even have scratched the sur­face with­out [Les­sig], be­cause he knows pol­i­tics and law in­side-out,” says Vondi. “There are so many lit­tle pieces that have to make sense and fit to­gether. We’re build­ing a tool which al­lows play­ers to come up with dif­fer­ent types of govern­ment. There’s a real-world value here: we’ll have thou­sands of dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal struc­tures, and all kinds of data to study.”

Even if Seed

doesn’t man­age to solve the world’s many so­ciopo­lit­i­cal problems when it be­gins re­cruit­ing play­ers early next year, its sim­u­la­tion is, de­spite the sub­ject mat­ter, an in­trigu­ing propo­si­tion. Why are we all so ob­sessed with recre­at­ing hu­man­ity so ab­so­lutely? Vondi’s re­ply is im­me­di­ate: be­cause we want to feel like we’re part of some­thing. “We’re all liv­ing in the re-cre­ation. When play­ers are pinned up against each other, there are go­ing to be real con­se­quences to any ac­tion you take. You’ll have to abide by the law. I know I won’t have the time to be the big over­lord, but I want to just be there – to be this lit­tle part of this big com­mu­nity.”

If you deign to make wear­ing red hats pun­ish­able by death, you can do so, pro­vided you’ve got sup­port

Mundi Vondi, CEO and co-founder, Klang Games

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