Ever since Microsoft made a big deal about "The Cloud" when talking about the Xbox One, it's been a buzzword more ridiculed that celebrated. That hasn't stopped cloud computing to continue developing, with Improbable's SpatialOS making waves and Microsoft and Google pushing full on game streaming. EA is the latest to throw its hat into the remotely accessed ring with its Project Atlas tech. The problem is that the announcement says an awful lot and sounds rather exciting without making anything especially clear.
Posting on EA's official Medium page, Ken Moss, Chief Technology Officer at Electronic Arts, detailed Project Atlas in a long essay. Moss begins by explaining what cloud gaming means for EA, and it sound a lot like game streaming, along the lines of Microsoft's Project xCloud and Google's Project Stream.
"When we talk about cloud gaming, we’re referring to a game that resides on an EA server rather than on the gamer’s PC or mobile device. The gamer enters the game by installing a thin client that can access EA’s servers where the games are running," reads the post by Moss. "We’ve been developing software that utilizes the cloud to remotely process and stream blockbuster, multiplayer HD games with the lowest possible latency, and also to unlock even more possibilities for dynamic social and cross-platform play."
Things then take a turn towards the kind of tech being worked at on Improbable, with the 'cloud' being used to offload complex computational tasks. This can be used to improve artificial intelligence in video games, allow larger groups of connected online players, and even speed up the game development process.
"When AI is available everywhere, developers will use it to optimize almost any element of a game — from the distribution of resources in an online shooter, to populating and evolving expansive virtual worlds with minimal manual intervention, to unlocking deep personalization of in-game agents at scale," Moss says.
Moss gives a real world example in a potential new version of Madden: "For example, imagine that you’re playing Madden, and you’ve just thrown your second interception of the game against the same cover 2 defense that caused the first turnover. Instead of the commentator simply stating that you threw a pick, the AI enables contextual, real-time commentary to reference the fact that you’re throwing to the sideline against a cover 2 defense and should have thrown against the weak zone over the middle to your tight end, who was open on the route. This would certainly push the game into a greater level of contextual and experiential realism. The AI is working with your gameplay. It’s responding to your needs as a player."
Moss then goes on to talk about how Project Atlas can aid game development, first talking about using it to create new audio experiences in games, then touching on using AI to generate video game worlds.
"With Project Atlas, we are starting to put the power of AI in the creative’s hands. In one example, we are using high-quality LIDAR data about real mountain ranges, passing that data through a deep neural network trained to create terrain-building algorithms, and then creating an algorithm which will be available within the platform’s development toolbox. With this AI-assisted terrain generation, designers will within seconds generate not just a single mountain, but a series of mountains and all the surrounding environment with the realism of the real-world."
Moss even makes mention of destruction tech, evoking memories of Microsoft's cloud-based system once demoed in Crackdown 3. A system used in a Battlefield game would surely be something of a game changer.
"By harnessing the power of the cloud, players can tap into a network of many servers, dedicated to computing complex tasks, working in tandem with their own devices, to deliver things like hyper-realistic destruction within new HD games, that is virtually indistinguishable from real life — we’re working to deploy that level of gaming immersion on every device.
Project Atlas is also making a play to bring in and power the modding community, perhaps even allowing users to profit from their creations.
"You can dream, turn your own vision into reality, and share your creation with your friends or the whole world. You can potentially even market your ideas and visions to the community. To unlock that potential, you need a cloud-enabled engine that seamlessly integrates services," says Moss. "You need an accessible build of the game and a moddable asset database. You need a common marketplace for sharing and rating player creations. All that doesn’t exist yet today, but this is exactly what we are working towards with Project Atlas."
Moss doesn't really give anything away in terms of when Project Atlas is going to make its way out of the development offices at EA and into games consumers can buy, but he does promise that updates will be shared. I'm also left a little confused over whether Project Atlas is an all-in-one game streaming and cloud computing service, or if its tech will be used on traditional consoles too, enhancing them while still being run locally on a powerful device - something Microsoft already does to a degree and has talked about a lot in the past. With Microsoft, EA, and Google all pushing new Cloud Gaming technology, and a next generation of games consoles seemingly coming over the horizon in the next one to two years, we might not be waiting that long to see what all the fancy tech talk turns into.