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