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Antonios

Virtual World problems and help.

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Honestly I didn't know where to start. I understand that this might be a long post but the lessons learned could be avoided by people just starting. In my company the dpt director wanted to create a demo for a Virtual World capable to be branded and sold to other companies either as hosted service or as a platform installed in their premises. That was the what I call "famous last words". The project was immediately plagued by bad software design and planning. We were using Unity3D for various projects so my supervisor who is NOT a software engineer but an Interaction Designer(?), took the lead software designer role(?) and decided to go with this engine. Meanwhile he found out that you could use SmartFox server with Unity3D for Virtual Worlds. By the way did I mention that I was the only developer :-) . I tried to sit down and explain to them that a project like this even if it is not in the scope of a full blown MMO requires more people, more time, more money. However, they weren't willing to provide either of these three important factors. They wanted cheap labor and fast results. To cut a long story short I had to "jury rig" a "demo" project for some clients with gazillions of problems and bugs. Now I have the director asking when the above mishap of a project will be available as a product(!!!!). What I am asking is help in changing tech. Is it possible? I am not even going to try and tell you the shouting matches between myself and both director and supervisor. I am at a position in which I do not care whether they fire me or not. I will NOT participate in a travesty of a product. ANY possible ideas or advice will be valuable at this stage. Thank you for your time. P.S. However, since they cannot afford time, money, people they shouldn't get involved with Virtual Worlds in the first place. I do not even want try and understand business people. [Edited by - Antonios on October 27, 2009 5:56:11 AM]

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Quote:
In my company the dpt director wanted to create a demo for a Virtual World capable to be branded and sold to other companies either as hosted service or as a platform installed in their premises.


Interesting! At Forterra Systems, we've spent an average of 50 people for the past 4 years developing the same thing. We're almost done, too!

Meanwhile, Second Life has spent 8 or so years developing the same thing, but for consumers. They have been trying to re-develop it for enterprise deployment lately, too -- I hear a report on progress is due out soon from some early testers. They are several hundred people.

While it's great if you can make simplifying assumptions and challenge conventional wisdom, and you can make some wonderful products in that way, being plain blind is not a good way to build lasting business value.

Btw: Unity 3D can probably serve as a reasonable virtual world platform, if you want to stick to pre-defined scenes of a fixed size, and a participant count in the low dozens. The main important thing to do is to use good project management, meaning you solve the biggest risk first, and then add and complete features one at a time, with the most important first. This, of course, means that the business people need to understand how to prioritize A over B, rather than just saying "I want both."

Btw: I'd be happy to consult for your company for a while in getting that up and running. My regular rate is $250/hour, but for the right deal, I can give you a discount.

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Actually after a sleepless night I came with 3 possible solutions:
1) Hire more people. Maybe if they hire at least 5 individuals all with dev experience, we could come up with an Alpha product in 1 year and half. I am not a "freshman" when it comes to software design, although I cannot say the same about the business people in my company. However, I am also aware that this will NOT happen.
2) Change tech. We could license "Hero Engine" but I already understand that if the solution number (1) is not met how one person is going to utilize an engine like that. I also forgot to mention that the requirements clearly state for a final product which will run inside a browser and from the iPhone. So "Hero Engine" etc. is out of the question.
3) Scrap the whole virtual world idea which was bad from the beginning and which was my first suggestion.
hplus0603 your comments are exactly as I say it. They do not know or maybe they do NOT want to understand the gigantic undertakings of such a project. I do not like what I am about to say but I am already looking for a job. The reason is simple. Next week I will present my "case" and it will be ugly. All in all I will flatly refuse to do the project on any scale and with any tech. Which leaves them with only one option in my case... Although miracles do happen... Anyone interested in my CV :-D ?

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What do you have against Unity3D?
Also, can you re-use open source tech, like Sirikata or Nevrax or OpenSim?
I'm not saying that a single guy can develop a virtual world in a month using any of that, but I'd like to understand your view of the landscape.

Also, have you done a good requirements gathering phase yet? What do they mean by "virtual world"?
Does it have to be 3D?
How many users on screen at the same time?
How much control, if any, does the user have over the environment?
Is simulation needed, or is "fixed slot" like IMVU acceptable?
What level of richness in environments and avatars is needed?
Is voice comm needed, or text chat OK?
Who is the target customer of this application?

Again, you probably already know the answer to all these questions, but this glimpse into the mind of some less clueful business people is fascinating! I'd like to know exactly how bad it is :-)

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I dont have anything against Unity. On the contrary I am using for 1,5 year now and I have to admit that it is one of the easiest game engines available. However, since it lacks some of the tools for building a virtual world fast that is why I was thinking about it. The demo I build is currently using Unity3D and Smartfox.
The requirements. Actually, the person responsible hasn't come around into writing them down. However I was given bits and pieces of info.
It has to run inside a browser, hence the choice of Unity, it must be multiuser in the thousands(!!!), I am trying to scale down to hundreds, branded depending on the customer, mini games capable for the users to "kill" their time, certainly having a custom avatar creation capability and of course able to change the appearance of the avatar even after creation. Chat is going to be text based, for now :-). Capable of interfacing with any possible social network and I mean ANY e.g. facebook, twtter, flickr(images based but doesn't matter), myspace etc. The users will have some control over the environment, although they haven't made it perfectly clear.
Currently I told them that since I will be the only dev that a smaller project will suffice for now. Which means forget thousands of players, support for every social network etc. Perhaps I will be successful in making my case.

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One guy may be able to do the avatar customization part in six months. After that, only fourty-nine other parts to go before the first version is done :-)

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Exactly my point. I told them that the avatar customization is a product in itself which will require extensive work and careful planning. As I said, they do not realize how big is this project.

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Quote:
Original post by Antonios
It has to run inside a browser, hence the choice of Unity, it must be multiuser in the thousands(!!!), I am trying to scale down to hundreds, branded depending on the customer, mini games capable for the users to "kill" their time, certainly having a custom avatar creation capability and of course able to change the appearance of the avatar even after creation. Chat is going to be text based, for now :-). Capable of interfacing with any possible social network and I mean ANY e.g. facebook, twtter, flickr(images based but doesn't matter), myspace etc. The users will have some control over the environment, although they haven't made it perfectly clear.


Ah, the memories of the year 2000...

Point them to all those outsourcing sites, where they can get Facebook clones (including all the users) for under $250.

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