Applications and Tools, Privacy and Protection, Virtual World Platforms

Geeky Goodness: Virtual Worlds, Scaling, Scrum, Ogre, and Security

I’m not a geek. I don’t understand agile development, other than I think the word sounds cool and who wouldn’t want to be agile? My response to the term ’scaling’ is typically along the lines of “well, can’t you just buy more machines or something?”. OK, so now that I’ve established my geek credentials, I’m going to share a bunch of coding links because maybe someone will comment on whether this stuff is relevant or not.

Scaling Virtual Worlds
Jim Waldo posts on the experiences with Sun Microsystem’s Project Darkstar and how to address issues of scaling virtual worlds. His main point seems to be that scaling virtual worlds isn’t like scaling other systems - the same rules don’t apply. He writes:

“I knew the rules. I knew that throughput was the real test of scaling. I knew that data had to be kept consistent and durable, and that relational databases are the way to ensure atomicity, and that loss of information is never an option. I knew that clients were getting thinner as the layers of servers increased, and that the best client would be one that contained the least amount of state and allowed the important computations to go on inside the computing cloud. I knew that support for legacy code is vital to the adoption of any new technology, and that most legacy code has yet to be written.

But two years ago my world changed. I was asked to take on the technical architect position on Project Darkstar, a distributed infrastructure targeted to the massive-multiplayer online-game and virtual-world market. n the process, I have been introduced to a different world of computing, with different problems, different assumptions, and a different environment. At times I feel like an anthropologist who has discovered a new civilization. I’m still learning about the culture and practice of games, and it is a different world.”

Jim then outlines how virtual world technology evolved and why, breaking down the role of the client and server, and pointing out that latency is the enemy of virtual worlds. He makes the interesting comment that “Peer-to-peer technologies might seem a natural fit for the first role of the game server (player interaction), but this second role (state control) means that few if any games or worlds trust their peers enough to avoid the server component.”

Which makes me wonder whether Croquet has limited use cases.

The article summarizes current approaches and gives an interesting review of the importance of new chip sets to virtual world development:

“With the possible exception of the highest end of scientific computing, no other kind of software has ridden the advances of Moore’s law as aggressively as game or virtual-world programs. As chips have gotten faster, games and virtual worlds have become more realistic, more complex, and more immersive. Serious gameplayers invest in the very best equipment that they can obtain, and then use techniques such as overclocking to push even more performance out of those systems.”

The rest of the article - the solutions part, where he describes how these challenges were faced through Project Darkstar, are the part where I start to get a little lost, but it makes fascinating reading. Jim concludes:

” Seen in a broader light, the project has been and continues to be an interesting experiment in building levels of abstraction for the world of multithreaded, distributed systems. The problems we are tackling are not new. Large Web-serving farms have many of the same problems with highly variable demand. Scientific grids have similar problems of scaling over multiple machines. Search grids have similar issues in dealing with large-scale environments solving embarrassingly, but not completely, parallel problems.

What makes online games and virtual worlds interestingly different are the very different requirements they bring to the table compared with these other domains. The interactive, low-latency environment is very different from grids, Web services, or search. The growth from the entertainment industry makes the engineering disciplines far different from those others, as well. Solving these problems in this new environment is challenging, and adds to our general knowledge of how to write software on the emerging class of multithreaded, multicore, distributed systems.”

Scrum Methodology at RealXtend

used “scrum methodology” for its development, and Jani Pirkola gives a snapshot of some of the lessons learned. Now, don’t ask me what scrumming is exactly - to me, it sounds a lot like how I work every day, kind of making it up as we go along with a lot of sprints rather than long slogs.

In any case, the article concludes that:

* Scrum works well for high risk projects with limited visibility
* Scrum does not fit well to content oriented work
* Virtual worlds allow Scrum teams to work in a multi-site setting
* A specific Scrum application built on top of realXtend would dramatically increase the efficiency
* Virtual world applications need to be integrated to old fashioned applications (like the spreadsheet).

I’m particularly taken with the last point. I’m still waiting for decent demonstrations of integration with “old fashioned applications” - I mean, sure, there’s the occasional embedded PowerPoint, or Lotus Sametime integration, things like that. But I’m convinced that virtual worlds need to make some sort of conceptual leap that we haven’t seen yet when it comes to application integration.

Ogre Particle Integration
On a related note to RealXtend, the platform now allows you to upload Ogre particle effects:

“realXtend viewer allows you to upload OGRE particle effects. Common uses for particle effects are e.g. fire and smoke. Some ready made particle effects come with the viewer. You can find them from the “example_assets” folder from the viewer installation.”

Picture: The Rex Files

Security and Privacy in Virtual Worlds
OK, maybe this one isn’t so geeky, it’s more wonky. The European Network and Security Agency published one of those white paper things looking at “Security and Privacy in Massively-Multiplayer Online Games and Social and Corporate Virtual Worlds” and it makes for, well, lengthy but insightful reading. Good reference to have on hand, and obviously many of these policy or security issues have relevance to development.


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