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Enabling interaction between 2D and 3D games

New technology from a virtual worlds platform developer will ultimately make it possible for developers to put out both Flash and 3D versions of a game and let players interact between the two.

'Battle' is a 2D, real-time, combat-oriented, multi-player, Flash game that will be the showpiece for a series of innovations for Multiverse Network, among which will be to give people the ability to interact between 2D and 3D versions of the same game. Multiverse Network

Developers of 3D virtual worlds and multiplayer games may soon have access to tools that would allow them to build connected, promotional 2D, Flash versions of the same games.

These new tools are at the heart of Battle, a simple Flash game being released Thursday by the Multiverse Network, a virtual worlds middleware company.

A simple Flash game that runs on Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and Kongregate, Battle is really the showpiece behind new Multiverse technology that could, for the first time, make it possible for developers using its platform to build full-scale downloadable, virtual worlds or online games to create scaled-down, 2D, browser-based versions of the same titles and let players compete between them.

At the same time, Battle is also an example of what Multiverse co-founder Corey Bridges said was one of the first-ever multiplayer, real-time, action- or combat-based Flash games. To date, nearly all Flash multiplayer games have been turn-based, meaning only one person plays at a time, or have very basic game mechanics.

And while, as a platform company, Multiverse isn't in business to create games itself, Bridges said Battle shows that a wide selection of games that previously had to be played using a downloadable client could now be played in the browser.

"Now, you can have proven genres of video games, really popular games, like shooters, real-time strategy, sports and things that exist on consoles or specially installed games," Bridges said, and "those types of games can live in your Web browser without a download."

The immediate appeal to game developers of this innovation is being able to use the Multiverse tools to bring a wide variety of existing types of games to Flash, games that in the past required downloadable clients. And that could mean opening up such titles to far larger audiences, since many people don't want to have to install special software in order to play casual games.

As a tools company, Multiverse is not in the business of building games. But Bridges said the point of its building Battle itself was both to show off the latest set of features the platform offers, and to go through the process of using its own tools, so those inside the company know what its clients' experiences are like.

Multiverse offers its development platform free of charge to anyone who wants it, and hopes to make money by levying a commission on any game made with its tools that charges a fee to play. To date, there are no publicly-launched games built with the Mutiverse tools, though Bridges said several are in beta and are close to being launched.

To some observers, the best thing about the technology underpinning Battle is the marketing opportunities game like it can offer larger, more complete 3D, downloadable multiplayer games and virtual worlds.

"The real benefit of this is that nobody's ever created one tool that lets you have two views," both 2D, in Flash, and 3D, into the same game, said David Fox, vice president of technology at casual games developer, iWin. "This lets (game designers) have a free trial version on the Web and a download for the 3D experience without having to create everything again."

Fox did add that he was "dubious" that Multiverse could deliver on that promise but, not knowing very much about the initiative, said, "the proof is in the pudding."

But Bridges indicated that proof is just around the corner.

"We've got a very small handful of our existing developers taking their (in-development) 3D worlds," Bridges said, "and these developers are making a window into those worlds that can be done in Flash, and that's a pretty interesting new way of thinking about a virtual world experience."

Indeed, he added that he sees the 2D to 3D cross-over element of the tools being a good way to get players hooked on a game concept before convincing them to upgrade to a full 3D version. Yet, they would be able to play against people running the full 3D game in order to get a sense of what the entire experience might be like.

"This demonstrates that Flash is well on its way to becoming the default real-time interaction platform for the Web," said Raph Koster, founder of Areae, which is making Metaplace, a platform that lets anyone design their own Flash-based virtual world, "and it enables more kinds of games than people generally think possible."

As of today, Metaplace is in closed beta, but hopes to be opening up to the general public before too long.

Koster said that it's clear that Multiverse is making important strides in developing new kinds of real-time, multiplayer Flash games, but said that others, including Metaplace itself, have created games enabling such types of play.

Still, Bridges said he differentiated Multiverse's tools by their ability to create real combat action in a game like Battle.

Peter Haik, a co-founder of the virtual worlds development company, Metaversatility, which is using Multiverse's tools in some of its projects, agreed with Bridges' assessment of the Flash games market.

Haik said there are other multi-player Flash games, but they tend to be casual titles aimed at kids.

Multiverse's tools, he suggested, are geared mainly toward producing full-scale virtual worlds or massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), and therefore have much more scope for being used to create crossover between rich 3D games and 2D Flash versions.

"The true innovation" of the Multiverse tools, Haik said, "is that it's sort of an agnostic client, where if someone is in the Flash application, and someone else is in the 3D client, they can interact, and it doesn't matter what the other one is running."

And he said, Multiverse brings serious server technology to the table that runs separate from the various social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, and that is what enables the rich crossover experience.

One other important element of the toolset Multiverse provides, Bridges said, is a rendering engine that allows developers to generate Flash assets using the items from their 3D virtual worlds.

"It's really cool," said Bridges. "We have a Web-based automated system where a development team just uses a Web page, uploads a 3D model, and back comes the generated Flash files. It's a really quick way to convert a 3D game into a Flash game and make it look really, really good."