Slideshow: Space Invaders

Brazilian start-up Hoplon Infotainment is creating a massive online game designed to run on an IBM mainframe fitted with Cell processors

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

LEAD HOPLITE

Tarqüínio ”Tarq” Teles is the CEO of Hoplon Infotainment, a small company in Brazil that’s creating a science-fiction online game called Taikodom . Hoplon has partnered with IBM to develop a server optimized for large-scale multiplayer games. Called the ”gameframe,” the server combines a mainframe and Cell processors.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

Image: Hoplon Infotainment

Taikodom , a massively multiplayer online game, or MMOG, will allow thousands of people to engage in large-scale space battles. The game is Brazil's first incursion into the rapidly expanding MMOG market, which reached US $3 billion last year.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

COSMOS CREATORS

Hoplon, which has raised over $10 million in venture capital funding, is based in a lush island city named Florianópolis, just off Brazil’s southern coast. The staff of 72 includes a team of artists and illustrators, who have created hundreds of three-dimensional spaceships, stations, planets, and characters.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

WIRE-FRAME WORLD

The gameframe represents planets, spaceships, stations, and all other objects as wire-frame outlines. The server computes the game’s math-intensive physics—trajectories, collisions, gravity—using the Cell processors, which are able to break the calculations into small pieces and run them in parallel using eight number-crunching cores.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

Image: Hoplon Infotainment

SINGLE SHARD

To handle lots of players, games like World of Warcraft use multiple clusters of servers, creating duplicate worlds, called shards, that don’t communicate. IBM and Hoplon think they have a better idea: the gameframe can divide the workload more effectively and hold all the users in a single universe.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

GEEK SQUAD

Tiago Luz Pinto, Hoplon’s chief technology officer, leads a team developing Taikodom ’s software platform, which they call bitverse. This middleware layer makes the gameframe’s underlying hardware transparent for programmers, who don’t have to worry about writing code for the mainframe or the Cell processors.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

SERVER BARN

Hoplon doesn’t host its gameframe, which resides at a data center in another Brazilian city. At its Florianópolis office, the company has a collection of servers stored in a wooden closet, nicknamed the server barn, where the programmers test their software before uploading it to the remote site.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

POST-IT PROCESS

Carlos Eduardo Knippschild manages the creation of Taikodom using a software-development method called Scrum, with multiple teams interacting and advancing in parallel. Post-it notes on a board reflect the flow of tasks so that everyone can keep track of things at a glance.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

Image: Hoplon Infotainment

SPACE FACES

Hoplon’s game designers and artists created a host of characters with whom players can interact. The company says that in a future release users will be able to create their own avatars and wander inside virtual environments like those of Second Life .

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

PHOTO: Erico Guizzo

BRIC-A-BRAC

Hoplon’s game designers find inspiration in a variety of sources, from obscure Brazilian sci-fi novels to popular film series like Star Wars . To help design the game’s fictional universe and intricate story line, Hoplon hired Gérson Lodi-Ribeiro, one of Brazil’s most famous science-fiction authors. The idea is that in Taikodom , players’ actions will have an impact on how the story unfolds.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

Image: Hoplon Infotainment

FRIENDS AND FOES

Hoplon says Taikodom is different from other space-themed MMOGs: not only will players be able to fly different spaceships, form alliances, and participate in large-scale battles, they’ll also be using social networking tools to create new kinds of interactions, such as helping one another acquire better piloting skills.

For more on Hoplon Infotainment, see The Game-Frame Guild

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