Feature Announcement: Multiplayer!
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
It's been a while! It's good to finally be posting again - we at Enklu have been working around the clock over the past month creating, deploying, and polishing an entirely new environment for The Unreal Garden! This new environment also comes with a few exciting and shiny new features, which we will explore over a series of a few blog posts.
Let's go back in time. Fifteen or twenty years back. You are sitting in a living room, on the carpet, in front of a tiny square box of a television. A controller with familiar buttons is clutched tightly in your hands. Next to you are three of your best friends in the entire world, or at least your elementary school class. The TV screen is split into four sections, with each pair of eyes focused squarely on a corner. Buttons are being mashed and joysticks are furiously flicked. Smack is being talked, heads are leaning ever closer to the screen, and the smell of mini pizzas warming in the oven is slowly filling the house. Focus gives way to either hope or despair, and in the next moment simultaneous shouts of joy and cries of frustration are let out as the winner is crowned and the losers hang their heads in defeat. But don't worry, you're going to win the next round for sure.
Split screen multiplayer. It is at the heart of almost all of my good early memories regarding games. I'm sure many of you share a similar memory. There was just something about it - something that the online multiplayer of today just isn't able to capture. I think that it was the experience. The building enough courage to ask your mom if you can sleep over at your friends house. Packing the overnight bag, making sure to include your copy of Halo: Combat Evolved in the hidden pocket because your friend's mom didn't let him buy games rated M. Waiting for dinner to just be over. Finally - finally turning that console on and loading up the game. Selecting split screen, picking characters, the trash talk, the wins, the losses, the pretending to go to sleep just to get back up and keep playing for just a few more minutes (we promise). So yes, it was the game that brought us together - but it was the experience that gave us the treasured memory. This idea of "multiplayer" - two or more players in the same game, playing with each other - gave video games a vital social component. Even if we all barely fit on the screen at the time, this social aspect made games so much more fun. The competition, the camaraderie, and everything in between.
When Ben, our CTO, made the announcement that he had finished polishing the multiplayer back end, called Mycelium, we all immediately dropped what we were doing and picked up a HoloLens to test it. One by one, we loaded into the Unreal Garden. Everything in this new garden has an element of interaction, one of the major ones are luminescent mushrooms of all sizes that are able to be touched. The mushrooms react by spinning, bouncing, and playing a random drum hit that we pull from a sound bank. (Thank you Fungus Among Us event for the inspiration). When we were all loaded in, Ben told us to touch a mushroom. All eyes trained on this particular fungus, James reached out and touched it. We all saw the interaction and heard the sounds! For the next 45 minutes, 3 grown men ran around a seemingly empty room triggering various interactions with holograms in the garden while giggling and shouting, "We all saw that one!" I was immediately reminded of those hours spent on the living room floor playing split screen games with my friends.
Ben was especially satisfied, as he had spent weeks developing the back end to make all of this possible. "Our other back end service is called Trellis: it has given us a structure to grow our platform against. When multiplayer came along, we decided to name it Mycelium, after the part of a fungus that allows vegetation to communicate." He also went to great lengths in making it inclusive, accessible, and resilient. "We have taken pains to make multiplayer transparent to users and developers. All of our API's work whether or not multiplayer is connected. The idea being that when WiFi inevitably goes down, the experience works just like usual. There is also no setup for developers - all experiences are automatically multiplayer."
In the next couple days, we finished the long list of tasks needed to complete a release candidate and migrate the new experience over to the live Unreal Garden environment. All customers were now able to see each others interactions. We were curious to see how it would play out, and the first time that we saw a high volume of people in the garden at once blew away our expectations. Even though we couldn't see the holograms, we could see people's expressions. We could see the moments where a child taught a parent that they could touch a mushroom by showing them how to do it. The moments where a couple on a date walked through the garden arm in arm, each taking turns interacting with something in the garden and marveling at the result together. Our moment of triumph came when we saw 30+ concurrent users in the garden, all playing, smiling, laughing, contemplating, and interacting with what we had created. In the one week since we rolled out the new experience, there have been:
3321 art pieces activated
2418 crystals activated (glowing crystals that activate a rainbow particle effect)
8668 mushrooms touched
2044 activations of the Cosmic Guardian (a secret that you'll have to visit the Garden to reveal)
5816 animal messages triggered (positive affirmations represented by an animal spirit)
6930 glyphs triggered (glowing symbols that trigger a message from the I Ching)
2302 wanderers activated (flying rainbow particles with helpful suggestions)
At first I was impressed simply by the numbers themselves. Then I realized that each one of these represents a moment in someone's experience. I look at it as 8668 possible shared smiles, 2418 tugs on a shirt saying come look at this, 2044 jaws dropped, and 6930 questions answered. And that experience, those joyful moments, the shared journey - that is what people remember.
If you want to check out the new Unreal Garden, get your tickets here!