December 28, 2006

Startup is counting on open source to launch its MMOG

Author: Tina Gasperson

Brazil-based Hoplon Infotainment is a startup game developer and an open source shop. Its upcoming first product, Taikodom, is a "massively multiplayer online game (MMOG)" that includes elements of science fiction and magic. Hundreds of thousands of online users can play an MMOG at the same time, but that requires a lot of server power. Hoplon called on open source tools for its software development needs, and IBM to help it provide the bandwidth and CPU strength it requires.

Hoplon runs Linux exclusively on its servers and on the majority of developer workstations. The production environment runs on a IBM System z mainframe running Linux virtual servers. Hoplon's server farm includes virtual machines running SUSE 10 on the mainframe, and standalone servers running Debian, Fedora, and Red Hat. "There are also those of us who are fond of Ubuntu for personal use," says Hoplon CEO Tarquinio Teles.

Teles says the company has been building the Taikodom infrastructure since early 2005. Building an MMOG on open source software isn't without challenges. "I must say, open source covers a lot of ground," says Teles. "There are excellent, blow-your-head-off applications you fall deeply in love with, and unfortunately, there are poorly architected and documented solutions. You have to pick and choose."

Hoplon uses open source tools such as Crazy Eddie's GUI System (CEGUI), a cross-platform windowing and widget library; Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), a cross-platform multimedia library; Open Dynamics Engine (ODE), a library for simulating body and machine movements realistically; OpenGL; and Eclipse.

Teles says paying attention to license terms can become complicated when using a variety of open source tools. "There is a lot of care to be taken when building commercial applications."

He recommends that development companies take a careful look at their options when considering open source tools and platforms. "Evaluate them as thoroughly as you would any other software. See if they serve your needs and are robust and powerful enough. I think we are coming to a time when there are top-notch open source solutions for almost every company's needs, but one must make sure to pick the right ones, and make sure they can grow with your company.

"There is a saying in Brazil: 'For free, I'll even ride a bus heading the wrong way.' Yet, let's not forget, you'll have to pay for the ticket back the right way, and that might not be cheap. I'm pretty sure if you look carefully, you'll find an open [source] bus going your way. Be wise."


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