Domark Software Ltd, the London and San Mateo, California-based games developer founded a decade ago by the grandson of author Dennis Wheatley, which is now preparing to go public in London by reversing into one of its technology partners, Eidos Plc (CI No 2,708), is also in the news for its hottest new game. The […]
Domark Software Ltd, the London and San Mateo, California-based games developer founded a decade ago by the grandson of author Dennis Wheatley, which is now preparing to go public in London by reversing into one of its technology partners, Eidos Plc (CI No 2,708), is also in the news for its hottest new game. The company is bidding to build the largest publicly accessible virtual world with the launch of its Confirmed Kill Internet-hosted aerial combat game. The system, running on a four-processor Sparcstation 100, is currently in open beta test. It will support up to 500 players simultaneously, 100 in any particular arena. Players, attached via the Internet, will fly for one of four countries, carrying out aerial sorties, bombing missions and dog-fights through the rendered skies. The system has already been tested with 400 players, which produced processor usage figures of around 55% according to Bryan Walker, Domark’s simulations producer. The Sparcstation co-ordinates the game and sends position data to the client end of the application, where the data is rendered. Players download the client-end software for free from the Internet – Domark will make its money through its $2.00 per hour on-line fees plus a roughly $10 a month charge. The company has re-built its existing game engine for multi-player use and has enlisted the help of Houston, Texas-based Interactive Creations Inc which is hosting the game on its network server, wrote the communications code and wrote the game’s complex flight modelling routines. The game’s closest competitor is Kesmai Ltd’s Air Warrior, but whereas that game is confined to proprietary on-line systems (notably the General Electric Co Inc GEnie network), Confirmed Kill is having to cope with the variable latencies and data rates of the Internet. The game aims to generate between three of four game cycles a second, each cycle generating a packet at least 300 bytes long. If the central computer detects that the network response to a particular player is inadequate his or her plane is ‘grounded’. Domark uses its own in-house development tools to model planes and landscapes. One tool generates terrains from digitised maps – bizarrely, beta testers are actually flying over a landscape mapped from a region on Mars, said Walker. Another uses fractal techniques to aid manual terrain construction.
By Chris Rose
The game contains a library of more than 60 plane-types for the aviator to try, each with their flight characteristics modelled with such accuracy that actually getting the things up in the virtual air is no mean feat. Interactive Creations has eschewed the more usual table-based simulation approach and instead gone for a force-based simulation. The former approach holds flight data, such as turn and climb rates for each plane in a series of look-up tables that are consulted as the simulation takes its course. Force models, by contrast, are complex and processor-intensive affairs that take control inputs such as engine size, throttle setting and prop-size, and pass many of such parameters to equations that are constantly recalculated on – as they say – the fly. Over the first six months of operation, Walker said the company will concentrate on adding complexity to the game – one possibility is the implementation of a ranking system so that pilots with enough points can take command of their country’s forces. Those with naval ambitions will also be catered for – ships will be added to the game, letting players battle at sea. Although other games will follow, using the same engine, Walker said there are no plans to implement a game directly on a commercial service such as Compuserve or the Microsoft Network. The biggest obstacle, he said, is that these servers use Windows-based access tools, and that Domark simply can’t get the game running fast enough, even when using the Win-G gaming interface. Even in the best case, using Win-G would result in a 50% loss in frame rate, he said. Consequently, players need to be able to establish a Telnet session from MS-DOS. A Macinto
sh version will be delivered in a couple of months, however. Despite the misgivings about Windows, Walker said that a boxed version of the software – enabling single player or modem play, will appear for Windows95 in the first quarter of next year. Is that because Windows95 is inherently better at fast graphics than Windows 3.1? Well no, but a five hundred pound gorilla has said that you will develop for Windows95 and we don’t weigh anywhere near that much, even when wet, said Walker ruefully. The implication is that Domark will get something sorted out to produce reasonable performance under Windows by then. As it is, players already require a powerful desktop system to run the game: the company recommends a machine with an S3 Inc graphics accelerator chip or a Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc Stealth 64 video board with 2Mb of video RAM or equivalent. A minimum of a 33MHz full 80486 CPU is needed – the software requires a floating point unit on the chip, which has caused users with Nexgen Inc Nx586-based machines problems, since this Pentium clone lacks a floating point unit. Ideally, it should also have a VESA Local Bus graphics subsystem. The result should be a 14 frames per second animation and the ability to render up to 32 of your fellow players’ planes as they spin through the shrapnel. From Multimedia Futures