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NICTA gaming platform geared for Q1 release

NICTA gaming platform geared for Q1 release

The research institute's MMO platform to reduce cost of hosting servers

NICTA’s massive multiplayer online game (MMO) platform, Badumna, is set to hit the market by early next year.

The Australian ICT research centre’s Network Systems department created Badumna as an alternative platform to build virtual world games on. Traditionally, MMO developers have favoured a client-server architecture but this setup is restrictive and financially demanding.

A server can accommodate a finite amount of people per world and as new users jump onboard, more units are required to boost capacity, which compounds the cost of hosting and maintenance. Servers are also vulnerable to overloading when a large number of users log on at the same time, which may hamper service performance and can lead to devastating server crashes. This has been a problem faced by popular MMO applications such as Second Life and World of Warcraft.

Using a peer-to-peer (P2P) network structure, the Badumna engine can reduce the reliance on client-servers for virtual worlds. It is a decentralised software platform where instead of storing information on static servers, it leverages the resources of each user to support a portion of the load. According to NICTA, this means the engine can support an unlimited amount of users and reduce hosting costs by 80 per cent.

The Network Systems team has been working on the project for the last four years and began the road to commercialisation after teaming up with 3D virtual world platform company, Vast Park, in March 2008. The P2P network engine was integrated with the company’s toolset and the NICTA team was able to run extensive trials with Vast Park’s 4000 beta tester base. With successful beta results under its belt, the group is close to partnering with some of the bigger players including Unity and Crytek.

But the Badumna platform is not perfect and further improvements are required before an official product launch. While there is no limit to the number of players that can exist in a virtual world powered by the game engine, there is a restriction to the amount of users that can fit into a visible region on a screen. This is an issue the team has planned to overcome by year’s end. These types of refinements will need to be addressed before Network System can tackle the big beast game publishers like Blizzard Entertainment.

NICTA Network Systems senior researcher, Santosh Kulkarni, conceded the software has only been offered to mid-sized companies at present.

"Blizzard is big and to approach it we would need a sleek product," he said. "We’re talking AAA titles that need a lot of requirements in terms of database support and assistance. They need proper management and control tools so we are not ready for that yet."

Kulkarni said the group has talked to several investors and is expecting to establish a spin-off company and turn Badumna into a fully-fledged product by Q1 next year.

Integrating Badumna with an existing game engine platform is of no cost for publishers. The profit potential rests upon licensing and hosting but Network Systems has yet to settle on a pricing model.

"Different games have different business models in their own right," Kulkarni said. "Some games have a lot of virtual good sales so it could even be a revenue share set-up. We’re keeping our options open."

He said cross-game features could also be a possible money maker.

"Once Badumna is on several different games, features like cross-game chat and intergame trading of virtual assets is a whole new industry and makes it a real proposition and is attracting a lot of investors."

To demonstrate the capabilities of the software, NICTA Network Systems developed the FlatChat, which can be found at http://www.badumna.com/flatchat/.

NICTA, which is considered one of Australia’s leading ICT research and development centres, has also been busy with other ventures including the formation of a new spin-out company, Nitero, for its Gi-Fi technology. In February, NICTA's research team developed GiFi, which is a 60GHz spectrum silicon chip using multiple transmitters and receivers to broaden the transmitter chain. The chip, measuring 5mm by 5mm, can operate within a 3m range with a data rate of 3-4Gbps.


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