Cloud Party, the web-based user-generated 3D virtual world backed by SL co-founder Cory Ondrejka and Cryptic Studios vet Bruce Rogers, has caused crazy buzz among the SL community, and among Linden Lab developers past and present. I just asked seven key questions of Cloud Party's CEO, Sam Thompson, and he gave me seven substantial replies below. Some top level takeaways:
- Log-in options besides Facebook are not a top priority
- Cloud Party runs on WebGL and is deployed via Amazon's cloud servers
- Content-creation is all mesh-based
- Local concurrency is 25 users
- A marketplace for user-created content is coming soon, and users will be able to cash out their Cloud Bucks
- Cloud Party is architected to (eventually) run on phones and tablets
Much more details from Sam after the break:
Why "Cloud Party"?
The name Cloud Party is a play on two things, the fact that our world is divided into islands floating in the clouds and that in the real world it is hosted "in the cloud" (on AWS servers to be specific). I think it also reflects the spontaneous manner in which several people can show up together at once and hang out on an island, since all that has to happen is for someone to post (Tweet or share) a URL and anyone with a WebGL compliant web browser can be there in seconds. Instant Cloud Party!
Let me know if you have more tech questions, either our CTO Conor or I would be happy to talk tech all day!
What inspired Cloud Party and how did you come to launch it after Cryptic? How did Cory and Bruce get involved?
Well, we had all worked together in the past and were all interested in starting our own venture together. WebGL seemed like incredibly cool technology that had the potential to finally make web gaming interesting to 3d game developers like us, so we decided to start a company working on an engine. Actually we did not initially set out to make a virtual world, we set out to make a cloud-based game development engine and environment: think Unity or Unreal Engine, but for WebGL. We made it all networked and multiplayer from the beginning so users could work on a game, collaborate in real time, and see what each other was doing as they did it. At some point it clicked that this was much cooler than the game engine itself, and we were having more fun changing the world and showing each other the results in real time than trying to make games!
We were looking for investment and so I met up with Bruce, who was our boss at Cryptic where we had all once worked. He helped convince us to drop the game engine business and pursue the virtual world idea, and shortly after that he and Cory got us started with an investment and became advisors. Then we hired our art director Garin and started building Cloud Party! This was about 9 months ago. We're still just the 5 of us in a small office in San Jose, CA.
Besides being web-based, how is Cloud Party different in design and deployment from SL?
We've definitely pursued building this virtual world with our own vision, one that is heavily influenced by our experience in professional game development. Obviously there are similarities (as there would be with any virtual world I think), but certainly the tech is quite different. For example, there are only meshes, no "prims", though we give new users some basic wooden building blocks that are meshes. You texture by using material objects which allow you to have normal maps, masks, etc. and really take advantage of shader technology advances. And of course the user interface, build mode organization, and world layout and navigation are very different. People who have worked with 3D game engines will probably find a lot of the concepts familiar. We're working to communicate the differences to SL users and total beginners alike, and certainly appreciate any feedback for usability improvements that would help make SL users comfortable.
How many avatars can interact in the same space? How many objects can users build in the same local area?
At the moment we limit live avatars in one island to 25, past which a new instance of that island spins up and new users go to that new instance. The UI for instance management needs a lot of work, but the idea is that you might get a flash mob of thousands of people interested in riding some new roller coaster or watching some performance, and while the limits of current technology prevent all thousands of those people interacting at the same time, they should be able to all experience the island and its attractions, just in subsets of 25. That number (25) is certainly not set in stone and will be significantly higher once we add some tech to deal with the client performance impact. The limiting factor for us is entirely client-side at the moment, to support those with older hardware.
Object count is a bit more complicated. At the moment we present 3 numbers, Objects, Large Objects, and Dynamic. Dynamic is any object with physics or scripts running on it. Large objects draw from anywhere on the island while detail objects stop drawing after a medium distance. We also intend to count total triangles. The goal here is that islands should run well for any user with decently modern hardware, and so far I think we've done a good job of that. We have lots of ideas about ways we can improve that for the builder as well, but for now that's the basic idea. You can see the limits for a given permissions zone by going into build mode and looking at the top left of the view. We'll be playing with those numbers as time goes on and we get more real-world use.
What new features can Cloud Party users expect in the next few months?
Our top priority is a user-driven asset marketplace, which is mostly done and hopefully only a few days away. We're also trying to get rentable islands ready for people ASAP, which will probably come out first.
Beyond that, here's our near term focus:
- Better movement, controls and physics improvements, and new ways to travel!
- More initial costume choices and tools for customizing your look
- Object-driven animations like sitting on couches or interactive animations
- Camera improvements and general usability features
- Graphics engine improvements
Long term, we have a lot of ideas but I don't want to get into the details quite yet. We are very interested in user feedback about what features are most important to them, and always open to suggestions.
Will you have other full-featured enabled log-in methods besides Facebook, and if so, which?
We would love to explore expanding to other social networks and other forms of authentication, but it is not a priority for us right now. Having a single social network platform that provides a lot of useful functionality really helps us as a small development team. We're also very excited about the possibilities for expanding the audience of virtual worlds with our technology, and Facebook is a great platform for that. We've received a lot of positive feedback about how easy it is to take a photo in world and share it with Facebook friends, who can then just click on that picture to be taken to that spot in Cloud Party!
What's Cloud Party's revenue model?
We're primarily focused on renting out islands (they should become available this week), but we are exploring other possibilities as well. We're also going to allow users to cash out Cloud Bucks that they make from the marketplace, but there are some more basic features we have to develop first. We'll announce pricing for islands once the tech is ready.
Much mahalo to Sam for the answers! I've encouraged him to come by and respond to reader questions and comments, when and if he has the time.
Screenshots via CloudPartyTime.com.Tweet