Funcom’s Rui Casais on Developing Online Games

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Funcom’s Managing Director and CTO Rui Casais talks online gaming and game development with Steve Waskul.

Funcom is a Norwegian developer that has been creating games for over two decades. In 2001, the company changed its focus from making small games to publishing their own titles in the massive multi­player online role playing gaming space (MMORPG) launching the critically acclaimed online game Anarchy Online. The game is still running and has been played by millions of people. It was the first western Sci­Fi MMORPG game.

From there, Funcom developed titles like Age of Conan, Anarchy Online, The Secret World and The Longest Journey. Currently they are working on a title for Lego called Lego Minifigures Online which allows children to go online and play with virtual versions of Lego figures they have purchased. This game allowed Funcom to go into multiple platforms.”We could not have guessed that games would be played on phones and tablets,” he reflects. Indeed the emergence of online gaming in itself did not come forth without significant trial and error.

As CTO of Funcom, Rui and his team have connected millions of players using servers and infrastructure that was pushed to the limit when they pioneered the initial online games. For the Lego game, Funcom partnered with Intel to develop solutions that allows children to play no matter whether they are using a PC, tablet, or mobile phone. This has required the company to extend and optimize its gaming engine across a wide range of devices from low powered devices with battery and heat constraints to high­end desktop PCs. With Intel’s help, Funcom developed a range of new features like a new battery saving mode that will save up to 80% of the battery vs. not having the new mode so people can play for longer. This is done by lowering the resolution and frame rate to 30 frames per second to reduce the number of calculations necessary, thereby reducing CPU usage and extending battery life.

Funcom is also working with Intel on implementations of the new DirectX 12, which will ship with Windows 10. As part of that work, they expect even greater savings with the change to the way calculations are done in DirectX 12, which puts the code closer to the hardware itself enabling a lot more quality with existing devices­ not to mention devices coming down the road. In regards to existing devices and also in regards to how Intel’s technology consistently moves forward, Waskul inquires about the combination of this with Intel’s Iris and and Iris pro graphics, especially as they develop. Actually, “the market size grows,” replies Casais. It grows in both a backward sense and forward sense. The following describes how.

Going back a couple generations of computing devices, Intel took a strategy that was, at the time, dismissed. They integrated graphics directly onto the computer chip. Now proven a sound and reliable strategy, the implementation has gone through many courses of improvement. And of course, old technologies become mute in the ever­updating market. However, with DirectX 12, the earlier devices with these earlier versions of chips can run new release games without the consumer’s need to upgrade to a new device, thus reaching that greater market. For Funcom, “Intel has been a really good partner to figure the greatest optimization” both in a technological sense and business development sense. “We cooperate as though we’re on the same team,” comments Casais, which brings up an underlying consideration that “the gaming industry is actually a massive collaborative industry.”

Waskul smiles and wraps up the conversation looking to the future. “What do you see that is really compelling for the future of gaming technology and interactivity?”

“Advances in virtual and augmented reality. It will be a revolution.”