Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster on why avatars traipsing across the metaverse are a major tech challenge

    
24

Virtual worlds… how the eff do they work? Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster has an idea or two, and he’s dishing them out in a new blog series. The first focuses on the technical hurdles for building MMOs and the “metaverse,” and as usual, Koster emphasizes looking back into the history of game development for the answers to why things are done the way they are – and why things that seem so obvious haven’t been done yet.

Koster breaks down the way data and art are shunted between the servers and the client and whatever translation machine reads the format. Formatting turns out to be a major sticking point for MMOs, as are decentralization and decentralization.

“One of the common daydreams for metaverses is that a player should be able to take their avatar from one world to another. But… what format avatar? A Nintendo Mii and a Facebook profile picture and an EVE Online character and a Final Fantasy XIV character don’t just look different. They are different. FFXIV and World of Warcraft are fairly similar games in a lot of ways, but the list of equipment slots, possible customizations, and so on are hugely different. These games cannot load each other’s characters because they do not agree on what a character is. Moving avatars between worlds is actually one of the hardest metaverse problems, and we are nowhere near a solution for it at all, despite what you see on screen in Ready Player One. There have been attempts to make standard formats for metaverses before. I’ve been in meetings where a consortium of different companies tried to settle on formats for the concept of ‘an avatar.’ Those meetings devolved into squabbles after less than five minutes, no joke.”

As messy as all this is, Koster says, it’s “actually the simplest part of the entire equation,” but of course we’ll have to wait another week to hear why.

Further reading:

Advertisement

No posts to display

24
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
misanthropomorphic
Reader
misanthropomorphic

What fascinates me about this journey of creating games/worlds is that ultimately it will lead us to some really deep philosophical questions about the nature of humanity.

Avatars are a useful stand-in for now, but in the long run, avatars will no longer exist and it’ll just be “us” as humans, somehow being identified by our uniqueness and transferring our consciousness from world to world.

Posing some truly awesome questions. What am I? What makes me “me?” Do I have choice, or am I just a deterministic system of physics with no free-will? Will we give up what we currently call “the real world” in favor of these human constructions? And will we ultimately ditch our physical bodies because of their inherent limitations?

It’s both wonderful and terrifying in equal parts. But I think we must shed our fear and be bold. The universe is there for the taking, both at the micro-scale (computers) and the macro-scale (starships.) And to borrow a saying, the truth will set us free.

But as an old man, it still scares the shit out of me lol.

Mark
Reader
Mark

You have me thinking of an as yet unmade episode of Star Trek (combined with the Sixth Sense), when Kirk discovers that the only reason they can travel in a ship at warp drive is that they and the ship don’t physically exist.

Mark
Reader
Mark

How is a person having different clothes and skills in real life when going from work, to a bar, to practice on a football field any different to what we want in a metaverse?

Really its just a natural extension to real life but with more properties and methods.

Object orientated models can handle this stuff, its just becomes a matter of mapping properties and methods to worlds.

Reader
Raph Koster

In the real world, all people share a skeleton. Not the case in online worlds.

In the real world, all people share an animation set. Not the case in online worlds.

In the real world, all people share… you get the idea.

Yes, in theory we could agree on standards. In practice, people don’t. The capabilities of an avatar in Fortnite and in WoW don’t match at all. And OO models don’t apply to art assets.

For code and behaviors, you’d need a component model, not traditional OO inheritance. But even there, the issue of “just mapping properties” is incredibly difficult. What WoW class and level do you give a Jedi from SWTOR?

Reader
Adam Russell

Thats pretty silly imo. The character is central to a game. A transferable character would have to be the same in both games, or else its not the same character. You dont want characters to be the same in all games. That would be terrible.

Reader
Raph Koster

I tend to agree! And yet people bring it up all the time.

Mark
Reader
Mark

It depends on your basic assumptions and level of granularity.
If you assume that people want to play avatars that in some way represent them then there are very granular properties that could be identified and shared where appropriate between worlds.

But of course standards are never rolled out retrospectively. You build a framework that has certain advantages and then others adopt it and build towards it so they can be part of the program. People use USB’s now, they use XML.

This is all virtual so in theory anything can be done.
Just depends on your starting point, your assumptions and your level of detail.

Reader
Adam Russell

Lets keep the discussion to hard specifics instead of generalities that no one can debate, ok?
So youre saying a shared character just means keep the looks but not the skill set? That sounds difficult but not impossible. On name sharing I know some would want that, but Id be against it because I dont want someone stealing my game name and me never being able to use it in any game ever after.

Mark
Reader
Mark

I’m going even more granular than that.
For example, a person in real life may be vegan and identify with much of Buddhism. When they choose a class in a game they always tend towards a certain gamestyle that suits their beliefs.
You could have a property called: “wont_kill_innocent creatures”
In WoW that could prevent you from killing anything like a deer etc. It could lock you out of certain quest chains.
In games where that isn’t relevant that property is ignored, but the important thing is that in games which provide such options that property cannot be ignored.
You could take that a step further and allow them to kill those animals but warn them that it is against their principles and doing so will mean they will be considered a hypocrite elsewhere.

I’m just saying there is a lot you can do depending on how granular you are prepared to go and whether you can make that initial assumption that people want to play in a way that reflects their real values.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

Reader
Ardra Diva

Yeah, it’s a bummer too. I’ve long wished for that. Sony once talked about it years ago as a feature of their Station Pass before selling it out to Daybreak. Kinda easy to see why it never happened.

miol
Reader
miol

– “we are nowhere near a solution for it at all”

It’s called NOSQL!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document-oriented_database

Reader
Raph Koster

Nope. There are obviously solutions for storing data in a variety of schema or as documents. But that doesn’t tell you how to use it. And that’s why you can’t just take a Mii into FFXIV.

It would be like saying “my MP3 player can play a JPG because it’s in a NoSQL datastore!”

EmberStar
Reader
EmberStar

I suppose someone really determined could write code to feed the jpg into the MP3 decoder. You might even accidentally trip over one that produces sounds. I don’t think anyone would enjoy what happens though. (Thinking of a couple of game CDs I keep because they’ve got the soundtrack on disk – when they say “do not play Track 01,” they really mean it. Don’t do it.)

miol
Reader
miol

– “And that’s why you can’t just take a Mii into FFXIV.”

But you can have a Mii character and an FFXIV character in one single “metaverse-profile”, without the need to store empty slots for never played or entered games or realms in the same metaverse!

Why would the FFXIV community want their game to be “raided” by Mii’s in the first place?

If there were a single avatar prototype, which was finally agreed upon, wouldn’t that limit by default the types of realms you are able to create in a metaverse?

You’d be forced to step back from a meta avatar back to a “metaverse-profile” only!

Reader
Raph Koster

Ah, sure. But that’s a far cry from walking from one world into another. It’s not that far off from what you can do today.

The main thing that would needed there is a decentralized commonly accepted identity provider system. Kind of like I can comment here using logins for Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit.

You would be surprised at how many people think the interop problem of moving items or avatars between worlds is actually easy using things like blockchain…

Reader
Adam Russell

An identity provider sounds like something that would let you have the same name in all games. That would be easier to do, but I wouldnt like it if my name was already taken forever and ever even in newly released games.

Reader
Raph Koster

It could just be the meta-identity, or account.

Reader
Adam Russell

So… like steam allows you to log into any game you have registered on steam? One account to rule them all?

miol
Reader
miol

– “But that’s a far cry from walking from one world into another.”

Also Steam’s or maybe even Discord’s types of approaches, certainly!

But with every additional agreed upon common property a metaverse avatar has though, the smaller the scope and types of realms can be created in that metaverse!

Or if realms would be allowed to not use all properties for their version of representing the avatar inside it – up to only using the profile/identification part, so they can be less limited to realize their vision of a realm, wouldn’t that make all the efforts for a common avatar a moot point?

Reader
Tremayne

Common avatar is probably a step too far for game worlds – your avatar from Star Trek Online would be pretty immersion-breaking if it walked unchanged into LotRO, and even for non-game virtual worlds what goes in one might not go in another (if you walked from an adults only BDSM ‘verse into one used for kindergarten education, say). You could have each world ‘normalise’ the avatar to fit within its bounds, so your klingon became an uruk-hai and the kindergarten world automatically threw some clother on the avatar, but making that work for all cases would be pretty technically challenging.

Profile can be a lot more than just identification, though. Imagine if when you walked into a new virtual wotld you carried not only your identity, with your friends and ignore lists, but also gaming preferences such as whether or not you’re flagged for PvP, or even carried game currency from world to world. OK, that last could be a real nightmare, but cash hop currency would definitely be transferrable between ‘verses – that’s Roblox business model.

Reader
Patreon Donor
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

i’ve never been a fan of aesthetics as content. it used to be cash shops and subs were monetization to pay for content. now they’re the content.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Ashfyn Ninegold

Guild Wars is one of my favorite games. When it first released, it had the most beautiful avatars of any game ever. I spent hours making each of my avatars to perfection. It was a really big draw for me.

For the longest time, other than Guild Wars, no game’s aesthetics ever made an impression on me. But over time, I’ve come to value being able to create an avatar and home that pleases me and delights me when I log in.

I guess it’s a form of self-expression and a little bit of role-playing. So, yup, it’s content.

Reader
Patreon Donor
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I agree with what your saying. I explained myself poorly.

I like the creativity of making something aesthetically pleasing. What I don’t like is, “I want to be a Matrix Man in a world that has every pop culture thing and all I have to do is buy the aesthetic thing”.

Give me a bunch of things to craft or earn or design in game and let me make my Matrix man out of those.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Visuals were always content. We were just conditioned for decades to become content locusts and not appreciate what we see.

Hell, most of us don’t even appreciate what we experience and get out of it. Most gear upgrades are just fleeting excitement until the next.