The game streaming market just got even more crowded with the announcement of Project Atlas, a new cloud-gaming initiative from EA.
Ken Moss, chief technology officer at Electronic Arts, revealed the news via a blog post. This isn’t just any old cloud-gaming effort though. EA currently has 1,000 employees working on Project Atlas, a strong indicator of just how seriously the studio is taking it.
At its most basic level, Project Atlas is a network of servers that will host games remotely and allow players to stream multiplayer games with the “lowest possible latency”, but also as a means to enhance social and cross-platform play. By breaking away from the gaming box, these cloud games could be played with anyone with an online connection.
That’s the absolute basics of cloud gaming, but Moss believes this the platform upon which more dynamic and immersive games can be created. In a game that’s cloud-hosted, any change made by a player could be permanent and visible to all. Updates could be rolled out in real-time. Project Atlas would use EA’s in-house Frostbite game engine and combine it with cloud-power artificial intelligence, allowing for the development of massive, scalable online experiences. In a nutshell, Frostbite wouldn’t be limited by the user’s hardware, such as a games console, but by the size of EA’s online network.
The AI could then be used to create virtual worlds on a scale and level of detail we’ve never seen before. Moss outlines how the cost of open-world games increases exponentially each generation. Hundreds of artists are required to hand-craft everything in order to keep the world engaging. The alternative is to copy-paste environments that, while large, “were unrealistic and boring,” says Moss. He says Project Atlas can already be used to take LIDAR data of the Earth’s surface and use an AI-powered neural network to realistically fill in the details and create an accurate rendition of a real-life mountain range within seconds.
On top of this, there is the prospect of infinite scalability. Rather than being limited to the processor power of a PC or console, the server could compute totally lifelike destruction physics or terrain deformation. This also lends itself to player count and map size. “In typical multi-player games today, game performance is a balancing act of the demands of different resources and quality constraints — memory, CPU, GPU, fidelity, resolution, and framerate. Today, the balancing act of all those different constraints generally tops out at about 100 players competing at the same time on a map of a few dozen square kilometers.”
Moss says there’s potential for thousands of players to join each other in maps thousands of kilometers wides, across matches and campaigns that stretch for weeks, months or years. All of this with ultra-realistic physics and at a top level of graphical fidelity.
Looking at EA’s current line-up of games, the most obvious beneficiary of this would be the Battlefield series. DICE’s multiplayer shooter caps out at 64-players, but if Moss is to be believed then potentially thousands could wage war at any one time, taking place on huge maps that would last for weeks rather than minutes.
It’s the same sort of chatter we heard from Microsoft around the time the Xbox One launched, in truth, but EA appears to be putting its money where its mouth is in having 1,000 employees working full-time on the Project Atlas tech. It’s exciting stuff, and perhaps a taster of where games are heading over the next few years. At the moment it’s unclear just how long it’ll take for a project such as this to come to fruition, but EA evidently sees our online experiences shifting to massive, connected virtual worlds with ongoing support.
Ken Moss’ full blog post can be found over here, and it’s actually a very interesting read so I recommend you give it a peek during your lunch break.