Dual Universe redefines the meaning of Massively Multiplayer with over 30.000 concurrent simulated players on the same planet

Context: Dual Universe is an ambitious MMO project developed by Novaquark (see this other article for more background on the project origins). It offers players a never-before-seen Continuous Single-Shard experience, which allows a highly scalable number of concurrent players to interact with each other in one unique instance of the game world, which is fully editable, without any loading screen or boundaries. Whether they are building giant cities or massive spaceships, discovering new distant worlds or mining the surface of an uncharted moon, players’ actions lastingly impact the experience of other players in the game, creating a vast living, breathing world. This is our definition of the old concept of “metaverse”, popularized in many SciFi books and movies.

Last week at Novaquark, we did something quite amazing, together with our community. It was a major test of our technology, and a world record: we got 30,000 simulated players all together on Alioth, the main planet of Dual Universe, together with members of the community invited to join to be the witnesses. 30,000+ people all together inside the same world, at the same time. This means that you could rendez-vous at any place on the planet, or on any of the other planets in the initial system, and meet with a crowd of other players if they decided to follow you, all in real-time and without any loading screen or time slowing. Behind the scene, we are talking about 112 virtual machines (VM) for the cluster, 150 VM for the simulated players (spread into 50 “landing” zones), and a global bandwidth of 10 Gb/s.

To put things in perspective, the world record for these kinds of tests is Eve Online, with a staggering 6,142 players concurrent players inside a giant space battle. In that extreme situation, Eve Online cleverly uses what is called “time dilation” to slow down the ticks of the simulation and accommodate for the load. To be fair, our test did not involve combat so far, so it’s probably too soon to compare ourselves directly to the Eve Online experience, but let me highlight the key differences below.

Having everyone together inside the same persistent game world is what the industry calls a “single-shard” (very different from the instance-based, theme park style of MMO like World of Warcraft). Eve Online is a single-shard game, but it is not a continuous single-shard: when you travel between systems, you actually travel between servers assigned to these systems, and while the total number of players connected to the Eve cluster can ramp up in the tens of thousands, the maximum number of players in any given system (that is, on a given physical machine) is still limited to a few thousands. If the hardware limit of the underlying server is reached, new players trying to enter the system will be asked to queue.

What we have developed for Dual Universe is what we call a “Continuous Single-Shard”, which means that there is no predetermined segmentation of space into “systems”. You are free to roam wherever you want, without ever experiencing a loading screen of a waiting queue. This is what makes the technical challenge so hard: you need a sort of dynamic segmentation of space, in order to increase the number of physical machines in charge of certain regions, if the density of players grows in a given region.

Of course, when we say that we have 30,000 simulated players altogether, we don’t necessarily mean that you would see a crowd of 30,000 characters on your screen, should you mount on top of a hill and watch the players down there. We have mechanisms to cut the number of visible entities on your screen, to account for both client rendering limitations and server bandwidth. But even if the crowd disappears past a certain distance, players beyond are still there. Should you move closer, you would see them. You could interact with them. You simply live inside a sort of “bubble of visibility”, within a continuous ocean of players all around you.

But the real question is: why does it matter? What difference does this make for the players? What kind of experience does it create, that is not already available elsewhere? The answer is: it changes everything. Because you are part of an undivided world, you can gather and create giant cities, large continents, huge space stations. You can start to witness the emergence of political structures, economic and industrial specialization, cooperation or competition. This is what is called the “ecosystemic effect” (or “network effect”) and it happens whenever you have reached a critical mass of people all connected together. This is basis on which civilizations can be built!

It changes everything because every action you take becomes a part (directly or indirectly) of this collective story. If you win a battle, you can change the balance of power in a part of the galaxy. If you design an incredible ship, it can become the most popular one and soon enough everybody will be flying it. If you discover a new planet, you create opportunities for thousands of other players. Whatever you do, it is part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is our definition of the “Metaverse”. Players form a society, and this is a major change because it brings meaning to your gaming experience. You don’t play alone or with a small group of friends, in a closed-loop environment: you play with tens of thousands of others in an open-ended, fully editable universe that is yours to shape and build as you like. This is the promise of Dual Universe!

You can check Dual Universe webpage here: www.dualthegame.com

And our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/dualthegame

Founder of Novaquark, maker of Dual Universe. Founder of the AI Lab @Softbank Robotics Europe. Expert in AI, Robotics & Virtual Worlds.

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