Interview With Kip Warner About Avaneya

A few days ago I’ve posted about new FOSS science fiction game under development named Avaneya.

Today I publish the interview I’ve made with the project starter Kip Warner :

1. Tell me about your game, you wrote :
“Avaneya will combine elements of a science fiction real time
strategy, adventure, and some of those of the classical city building
and management genre. “

A. To what game can we compare it too ?
How will the city building be like ? AoE ? Settlers ? SimCity ?
other ?

To be honest, I never played Age of Empires, but I have heard great
things about it. I didn’t know much about software as a kid, but even in
my teens, I smelt a rat when I saw the Microsoft logo on the box. I
think that’s probably why I was too stubborn to try it. Nevertheless,
outside of philosophical reasons, it looked like a good game. I never
played Settlers and don’t know much about it, so I can’t comment.

SimCity, however, I played a lot and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t that I
was trying to deliberately avoid senseless violence in video games, but
at the time of SNES which I was playing it on, it wasn’t really
represented as an unorthodox alternative but as just another game.
Looking back, I see that, at least with respect to most games these
days, it’s very unusual in that respect.

SimCity had a reasonable amount of breadth for the capacity of the
hardware at the time (and thus people’s expectations). Crime, pollution,
population density, and so on, where various interacting dimensions to
it. What it lacked though was more substantial breadth and depth.

By depth, I mean it didn’t really probe too deeply into how any of
things might be related. In some sense, it kind of taught people that
getting your society to work was about finding the balance within that
paradigm of neo-classical economics. This is interesting to explore, but
it still leaves me wondering as I’ve come to view that school of thought
as a vehicle for unchecked assumptions. As time goes by and I learn
more, I am realizing that the whole paradigm is broken. Rather than just
reminding many of us of what we already are starting to figure out, it
would be more constructive to propose something useful to address that,
like the GPI.

Society is not a thing in itself, but perhaps a holistic or “emergent
property” of many people doing many things. Having said that, I’d like
to take Avaneya in the direction of embracing this.

Also, I didn’t mention SimCity in the FAQ, though I wanted to, because I
was unsure of the legalities of doing so. This might be an issue, given
my company is incorporated and this is a commercial game. I didn’t want
to step on any landmines.

Something I’d also really like to draw from SimCity is how, after a
certain point of user interaction, the city seems to take a life its own
and seems “alive”.

B. What kind of RTS can we expect ? AOE style or non-combat ?

I would like to see predominantly non-combat, as we saw in SimCity.
However, conflict is real and it would be unreasonable to white wash
society by removing it. So I will not rule that out, but it will be
presented in a non-traditional light.

It’s important that I am cautious in describing the game in terms of any
other game. If I could do that with a perfect one-to-one mapping, I
wouldn’t feel driven to create a new one. So I hope it will be
interpreted as somewhat cross-genre.

C. What is the adventure part in the game ?

One of the challenges I am facing is to see if there is room to
incorporating a personal dimension to the game. A story is necessary,
but characters, which is what I mean, are difficult. Traditional city
building games typically involve the player at a macroscopic level,
whereas traditional RTS like StarCraft have their heroes. I think there
is a creative solution to this that will reveal itself in time to
balance this need for both a high and low level of abstraction.

Another source of adventure is the user trying to solve old problems in
novel new ways.

D. The single player mode will be free while the online mode won’t,
tell me please about the online mode…will it be like a MMORPG, or a
single map online match like HoN or other RTS games ?

Single player I would like to see both a campaign mode (story driven)
and a separate quick game mode where you select a scenario and play it.

I am thinking multiplayer on a Martian regional / planetary scale. This
could allow players, each acting as governor of their respective city
state, to interact through trade, expansion, or what have you. This is
something that is difficult to do because there is the inherent problem
of what happens to your infrastructure when you are not online?

Another possibility would be to have players engage in scenarios where
they have, say, a time limit to raise their shared city to a certain
minimum GPI. StarCraft had a multiplayer mode where players shared
control of the same team.

I know I am being vague, but take it as a hint that many things are
changing right now.

2. Are you making this game alone ? (code and art) can people join your team ?

I am the sole soul behind the engineering at this point, but there are
countless people who have asked to be involved in some way or have
already contributed. I am also doing modelling, art, website, and
cinematics as well.

As I’ve mentioned in the FAQ, many in the academic community, from the
Department of Forestry and the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at
the University of British Columbia Farm to the Rubenstein School of
Environment & Natural Resources at the University of Vermont have
already made contributions. I’ve received a lot from them in the way of
academic papers, useful methods of measuring the GPI, environmental
models for the interaction of soil and deforestation and other
literature.

I’ve had many already step up to the plate to volunteer their modeling
skills. One of the challenges though is getting the data out of Blender
into a format the engine can use. This will involve likely writing a
exporter plugin, but the problem is that Blender’s API is predominantly
Python based. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just it’s another
language I am going to have to pickup. I’ll figure that out though.

Music is really the most exciting part for me right now, even though I
am anything but a musician. I can’t even read music. Nevertheless, I
have an awesome crew that is coming together for that. Mike Verde,
Izmar, Von Magnet, Rone, and some others are all on-board right now and
I’ve been enjoying their music long before I dreamt up this game. Some
of the music is already in the works and is, as we say, executing in
another thread as I work on the engineering side of things.

Obviously I will decide what music gets included and what does not, but
besides it resonating with the game, it needs to be in a free format.
Our musicians need to submit their work in FLAC at 24-bit / 96kHz to
make transcoding to Ogg Vorbis for different platforms as flexible as
possible.

This is distant, but we are also considering releasing a separate
Avaneya official soundtrack. This is popular in Japan where game
soundtracks on people’s shelves are commonplace. A challenge though is
figuring out the format. Regular red book? Well, that will work in
everyone’s car or home stereo, but you’re limited to 2-channels,
16-bit / 44kHz.

Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, to name a few, have released albums in
the past in surround sound. We’d like to consider doing that, but the
problem are the legalities surrounding encoding to Dolby Digital (AC3)
or Digital Theatre System (DTS) and that they are non-free. Red-book
might be the way to go, but give people the choice of FLAC and Ogg
Vorbis as well. Given that most of the people who buy it will be
probably playing it back on their computers, this isn’t unreasonable.

The proceeds from the OST can, and should, go to the musicians. Since
many of them are not big names, getting their name out is really
important for them as well.

3. What engine are you going to use for your game ? some FOSS engine or costume ?

I am developing a custom one. It’s called the Ares engine.

My goal is to have it as data driven as possible, but still context
specific enough to the type of gameplay of a RTS / city builder. This is
a good compromise between trying to balance code re-use and the
performance benefits of a context specific engineering approach. The
physics, renderer, collision detection, audio, and so on will all be
written in C++.

The data that it operates on will be provided in AresPackages which are
binary archives that can carry shaders, textures, vertex attributes,
scripts, and so on. The AresPackages are defined through an XML
interface and enforced against an XML schema as they pass through a
compiler which transforms them into a binary format containing EBMI
data. EBMI is akin to XML, but binary. It’s what makes Matroska
possible. Indeed, it was created for that.

The logic of the game itself will be driven by Lua scripts, embedded in
the AresPackages.

An idea I have been flirting with is to have scenarios provided by the
community, in addition to the official ones that will ship with the
game, and have the authors compensated proportional to the number of
people playing on the server in it. That way, people are encouraged to
provide the best content for the game; secondly, it brings more people
to the game itself; and third, it invites those with domain specific
expertise to educate everyone due to their in depth knowledge of the
mechanics of agriculture or what have you. Everyone wins. But I need to
think more carefully of the logistics of doing this to ensure it is
sustainable and that I don’t make promises I can’t keep.

4. What kind of graphic quality can we expect ? do you have a screenshots yet to show us ?

I spent a lot of time going through some pretty advanced literature on
algorithms, shaders, lighting, and so on, so I will hope to do my best.

There isn’t much visually to see at the moment. There is code written,
but it is mostly for low level algorithm stuff that isn’t really
interesting to look at for the average end user. However, for the
developers out there, expect to see the Subversion repository come
online soon.

In the mean time, here are two render tests of the fluid dynamics aspect
of the physics engine simulating water. The engine just needs to know
the fluid’s viscosity (stickiness), temperature, atmospheric pressure,
and it will automatically generate it and respond to any disturbances
made. I create a disturbance by clicking with the mouse. It does all of
this through a differential method that was very tricky to implement,
but I was very happy when I finally got it to work. All of the number
crunching is done on the GPU, so the CPU doesn’t really do much.

http://www.thevertigo.com/temp/water.avi

http://www.thevertigo.com/temp/water2.avi

5. From your description about trees and water, while logical and real – most people won’t get it.
They are not environmentalists and can’t know many things you see as obvious.
Will you offer some explanation before they make the mistakes ? or, how would the tutorial work ?

You raise a very important point. It is peoples’ lack of awareness of
that which is a major motivation behind this game in the first place. If
you recall, the philosophy that drives Avaneya is to assist users
unlearn some things, learn other things, and enjoy the process of
transition.

It’s not that people are trying to keep themselves unaware with these
phenomena, it’s just that we’ve been able to live in a system of such
abundance for so long that we didn’t have to worry about that very same
system caving in on itself like now.

The Buddhists say you cannot teach anyone anything, but they can only
teach themselves. It is my hope to have the GPI integrated into the game
in an obvious manner. By this, I mean possibly built right into the GUI,
like other metrics in SimCity and other games. This way you are always
being advised of the effect of your interaction with the world.

I too was a stranger to the GPI and had heard only of the GDP. When I
realized that the GDP was just an income sheet and the GPI a total net
balance sheet, a light went on in my head and it all made sense why so
many things are dysfunctional now. We’ve been looking at the wrong gauge
all along, like the pilot following the wrong instrument in the cockpit
while trying to navigate and ending up in the side of a ravine.

The interesting thing is that most companies, to a certain extent,
already conduct their business by looking at their net balance sheet
(Net Profit). It wouldn’t make sense for you to look only at the fact
that you had made $10,000 in sales (Gross Profit) one month, but neglect
the cost incurred in materials and labour of $45,000. Unfortunately this
is the kind of logic that has taken hold of our policy makers as they
rely on the antiquated and dangerously limited GDP as a measure of
progress.

Here is a good example that GPI Atlantic
(http://www.gpiatlantic.org/publications/abstracts/fisheries-ab.htm)
provided on their website:

“In the late 1980s, Nova Scotia’s fishery for cod and other groundfish
seemed to be booming. The media reported steady catches, high exports,
and strong contributions of the fishery to the province’s Gross
Domestic Product (GDP), the conventional measuring stick of the
economy.

A few years later, many fisheries were collapsing and the fabric of
many coastal communities began to unravel. Our conventional economic
measuring sticks – such as catches, exports and GDP – did not warn of
the impending disaster. While catches were kept high, the decline of
the groundfish stocks remained hidden from public view, as we focused
excessively on a narrow set of economic measures that failed to
incorporate all that we value in the fishery – notably healthy fish
stocks within a healthy ecosystem, supporting strong fishing
communities and a sustainable fishing economy.”

Hopefully Avaneya will be able to make the GPI a household term and also
make people think twice when they hear policy makers cite the GDP as the
basis for something.

I wouldn’t say the GDP is the root of all evil, but it certainly
contributes to more messes than most things by providing short term
gains at the cost of mortgaging much larger losses into the future. It’s
had a free ride for decades and Avaneya will try to contribute to
putting an end to it.

6. What is the big differences between Avaneya and Simcity from user perspective ?
Except environment you have mentioned “human rights” and “social “justice”
… can you explain in more depth ?

Since the GPI is very holistic in nature, it measures many things. If
you produce, say, a $1,000,000 worth of goods and services, but it came
at a cost of that same amount in costs incurred through crime and
pollution, then the GPI will be zero. Any rational individual looking at
that will know immediately that things aren’t working properly and
something needs to be changed.

Since the end of the Second World War, we’ve seen the GDP in most
developed countries, on average, continue to rise. One would think that
kind of economic growth would be good. But as it turns out, household
debt (at least in my country), pollution, lack of satisfaction with
one’s career, potable drinking water, air quality, divorce, dangerous
foods, and so on all continue to be compromised. If people are worried
about their next meal or the air they are breathing, they are not free
and things generally continue to degrade from there on.

So as you probably see now, it will be similar to classical city
building games like SimCity, but aim to have much more breadth and depth
with far more metrics involved. I hope that answers that.

7. Will there be any combat at all ?
How will a winner be defined in an online game ?

Winning is something I need to determine. Remember that in SimCity for
SNES, while there were some scenarios that had goals, like surviving a
natural disaster, there was also a mode where you just built and
maintained your city. You could spend hours beautifying it or
experimenting. That is one mode.

The other scenarios I will leave up to the community to provide through
the engine’s Lua based interface. Want to see the effects of
McDonaldization or Coca-Cola in your city? No problem. However, some
scenarios will be official and distributed with the game. That way there
is already high quality content with goals that vary from scenario to
scenario, and also the process of creating new scenarios is documented
via the existing ones.

8. The game takes place on Mars – wouldn’t the materials be different there ?
What about life forms ?
I mean – Mars shouldn’t act like earth, what we know about earth
doesn’t necessary apply to other planets.

Absolutely. That is partially why I chose Mars in the first place -
because it affords more of a creative license for some things.

Nevertheless, many things will still be the same. Mars is comparable in
many respects to Earth, but the people there will be absolutely
identical in terms of their actual needs to their terrestrial
counterparts. They still need water, oxygen, food, shelter, a means of
sustenance, security, and so on.

As for non-terrestrial life forms, all I will say is that, if they do
make a presence in the game, it will be as consistent as possible with
the most plausible of scientific hypotheses regarding potential life on
Mars. I won’t say more about that now though.

Thank you Kip for this wonderful interview !
I hope we will hear more about Avaneya and in time more interviews will be made.
For more QA about Avaneya, don’t hesitate to read the FAQ on the projects website !

And if you want to contribute to this FOSS project, don’t hesitate to contact Kip :
kip [at] thevertigo (dot) com

Links
LGN News-flash about Avaneya
Avaneya
Avaneya FAQ

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7 Comments

  1. Jane April 27, 2010 12:01 am 

    So is this an open source game? where is the source, then?

  2. Max April 27, 2010 10:44 pm 

    Mind to read the article, before starting to cry, Jane?

    “However, for the
    developers out there, expect to see the Subversion repository come
    online soon.”

  3. VR April 28, 2010 9:23 am 

    Also, if you read his FAQ on the Avaneya website, it very *clearly* states that the game will be “free software.”

    Free software is not quite the same as open source, Jane. I’d recommend you to read his FAQ and the links he posts there to the FSF and GNU. It’s a wealth of information, and I can see that the design of the game itself is in tune with what he wants the users to get out of gameplay.

    For convenience, your question is answered here: https://www.avaneya.com/faq.html#opensource

  4. Jane April 29, 2010 6:07 am 

    Yeah, good luck with that! there is no game, no team, and certainly no design! the “wealth of information” is three pages wishful thinking that possibly (yeah right) will become a game in 3 years! this is at best a very premature interview, if anything.

  5. VR May 4, 2010 2:07 am 

    There are some interviews in the Universe that tout products and services that already exist. Think of your default late night talk show. Then there are interviews about upcoming projects, the sort of “stay tuned” interviews that excite some people, and definitely upset some others. I can tell you’re quite irritated about it, for instance.

    If you were to replace the generic “to be determined” phrases in the interview to say, “wouldn’t mind input,” then perhaps you could effect a stamp on this game also. Have you tried emailing the developer? Maybe his FAQ *is* incomplete and maybe you have some good points you should raise with him rather than shooting down the project from the get-go. If you try this approach, you’d be embracing FOSS.

    Shooting down projects is something we all enjoy doing, especially against proprietary software companies that try to own our souls. I am only gently suggesting that you start embracing the FOSS approach of “the helpful neighbour” instead. Using a proprietary, negative approach against an ambitious FOSS project will only serve to embarrass you in the future. Perhaps try joining Ubuntuforums or one of the other FOSS think tanks. The manner of speaking and helpfulness on those forums will slowly help you appreciate the FOSS software development models.

    Avaneya has a forum on Ubuntuforums dedicated to it. Perhaps we can continue our discussion there. There will definitely be more activity on that forum and you can get all the details you are asking for at that think tank.

    The Ubuntuforum for this project is located here:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/forumdisplay.php?f=93

    Looking forward to continuing our discussion.

    BTW, I had meant that his FAQ + the articles on FSF and GNU *together* are a wealth of information. If that was unclear to you, I hope I have made myself clear now.

    Kind regards.

  6. Jane May 5, 2010 12:54 am 

    I support FLOSS very seriously and that is why I object to this kind of blogging about something that is not FLOSS in any sense. I am not alone, just perhaps a bit more serious than the people in that thread you mention. More or less all of them have said “OK, seems nice, we will try it if it comes out”.

    I care about FLOSS and that is why I object to interviewing someone who has done nothing worth mentioning, much like awarding the peace prize to someone because they are “thinking about” creating peace. you can do and say anything in your own blog but when you come to a public site you need to have some substance to contribute, or real FLOSS supporters will object to empty words and hidden sources!

    Since you made gentle suggestions for me, let me return the favor by gently suggesting that you look around and assemble a team, make some design documents and put them on your site, start some form of a source repository, open the door to contribution, and then come back for a real announcement. I guarantee you that in that time everyone will try their best to support you. as it stands now, you are a very bad defender of FLOSS, and a bad defense is more damaging than a good offense.

    For now, I don’t have any intention to further dignify this shady project by giving it more attention. The objection was and is to the writer of this blog, Max, for the premature interview and biased support of a project that doesn’t pass any of the criteria associated with a FLOSS project.

    All the best

  7. VR May 5, 2010 9:49 am 

    I should point out that I am not actually Kip, the developer. Just ensuring since you seemed to be directing some of your comments towards me. I’m sure he monitors this though and has seen your messages.

    Source repository: The SVN is coming soon, he says. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps. If it really is hogwash as you seem to believe, the problem will likely disappear quietly. If the SVN goes up, there’s your carte blanche to go in and check out what’s happening before dismissing it as non-FLOSS.

    Assemble a team: Really? FLOSS advocates working only in teams >1? I actually did not know that. Thanks for the heads up.

    Design documents: Did you mean UML diagrams, research papers etc.?

    All I see is that he’s put up a site which is basically a large “Coming Soon” page. It’s essentially talking about his philosophical reasons for building his game and has at least provided a mailing list to stay tuned to the development. I see no hidden sources or empty words.

    Why can’t a FLOSS project start with a website that says “stay tuned guys and gals?” Why is that against FLOSS philosophy (I am truly asking for an answer…this isn’t supposed to be rhetorical. I don’t know why)? Why does it NEED substance immediately? Would you prefer an empty splash page with the words “COMING SOON?” Those actually irritate my bollocks far more than a site that has at least an inkling of an idea or direction.

    Rather than dismissing a project and calling it “shady,” perhaps you should sign up for the mailing list then? Why not? It doesn’t hurt. Use the email account you use for junk mail if you’re concerned about your privacy. I’m sure we’ll all get news when the SVN is up. Then, as I said, you can go ahead and pass judgment on whether this is FLOSS or not.

    If your objection was purely against the interview, there are plenty of such “premature” press releases happening every day. I think you’re showing far too much hatred for a project you seem not to care about. Why don’t we just read into the interview as a notification for us to subscribe to the mailing list and check it out?

    If this project has not shown you that it is FLOSS, then it has also not shown me that it is NOT FLOSS, unless you can convince me by answering my questions above. At least the words on his FAQ point towards FLOSS rather than away from it. I know; you’ll argue that his actions don’t. For this I refer you back to my 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs above.

    I signed up for the mailing list and I eagerly await more information.

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