Electronic Arts is preparing for the future, and one that is increasingly focused on streaming and cloud technology. In a blog post, EA’s Chief Technology Officer Ken Moss revealed the company’s ridiculously ambitious-sounding Project Atlas, which is a technical framework that EA plans to use to underpin its efforts going forward.
Moss explains in the blog post that EA and the wider industry has made significant advancements in places like AI, cloud, distributed computing, social features, and game engines, but these have largely grown and evolved separately instead of together. With Project Atlas, EA aims to unify these developments, and the results could be profound.
“At EA, we envision a future in which games go even further beyond the immersive experiences players enjoy today,” Moss said. “I’m talking about games that offer living, breathing worlds that constantly evolve. You’ll play them one day, and when you come back the next, things have changed based on inputs from other players, AI, and even the real world. These new experiences will lead to deep, meaningful social interactions. The games you play, the characters you create, and the experiences you have together will create shared ground for friendships that span the globe. I believe this is a future where games become the most compelling form of entertainment. You will be able to play games with your friends anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”
Project Atlas is an “engine + services” game development platform, and at its center it aims to leverage the power of cloud computing and artificial intelligence. EA truly believes in this future, as it has tasked more than 1,000 people with working on it.
The engine aspect of Project Atlas will see EA further unify its engine work to focus even more on the Frostbite engine that is already used in the Battlefield, FIFA, Madden, Dragon Age, and Need for Speed franchises, as well as the upcoming Anthem. Whereas EA once used different engines for all of these franchise, they all now use one. In the future, Moss said EA is improving Frostbite further to allow for scenes to look better (the physical properties of light sources were specifically mentioned) and provide more realistic physics and animation, among other things.
On the “services” front, EA has big plans to deepen the “social capabilities” of its games, and this includes advancements to how you meet up with and spend time with other players in games, as well as sharing content captured in those games to the wider world. For matchmaking specifically, Moss said EA is making changes to allow for a more personalised experience that pulls from data you share with EA. Moss stressed that EA is being mindful of respecting player privacy.
Another part of Project Atlas is EA’s new streaming and cloud technology, which will allow gamers to play graphics-intensive titles potentially in a browser because the content is streamed and not stored locally. EA is working on a streaming service of its own, but details about subscription pricing, titles, and more have not yet been disclosed. Microsoft also has its own streaming service, while Sony has operated PlayStation Now for years already. Google, meanwhile, is working on a streaming service that lets you play graphically demanding games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in your Chrome browser.
EA also plans to leverage AI and machine-learning to make significant advancements to the believability of the interactions in its games. NPC behaviour stands to become far more realistic and dynamic, while the commentating in sports games could also get a boost of believability.
“Leveraging AI and machine learning will also give game makers the ability to craft in-game interactions with non-playable characters or NPCs in a way that is virtually indecipherable from a human interaction,” Moss said. “So, instead of a pre-scripted, pattern-based logic for NPC behavior, this would make it possible for an NPC to engage in a way that is dynamic, contextual, and absolutely believable. For example, imagine that you’re playing Madden, and you’ve just thrown your second interception of the game against the same cover 2 defense that caused the first turnover. Instead of the commentator simply stating that you threw a pick, the AI enables contextual, real-time commentary to reference the fact that you’re throwing to the sideline against a cover 2 defense and should have thrown against the weak zone over the middle to your tight end, who was open on the route. This would certainly push the game into a greater level of contextual and experiential realism.”
AI will also allow EA to create more original music–that’s right, robots are now making music for EA games. “We are today innovating with AI to write and perform original music in a way that is truly relevant and personalized to every moment of gameplay,” Moss said. “Imagine a world where a huge and talented virtual orchestra is behind every game, and new and unique scores get written depending on the current scene you are playing. Each environment may have its own musical motif, which gets merged with the motifs of enemies or allies who may be present.”
Everything in Project Atlas sounds expensive, and Moss agreed that in the past it might have been prohibitively expensive to make the advancements EA is talking about. However, Moss said the automation in Project Atlas is helping gets tasks done faster and cheaper.
“With Project Atlas, we are starting to put the power of AI in the creative’s hands. In one example, we are using high-quality LIDAR data about real mountain ranges, passing that data through a deep neural network trained to create terrain-building algorithms, and then creating an algorithm which will be available within the platform’s development toolbox,” Moss said. “With this AI-assisted terrain generation, designers will within seconds generate not just a single mountain, but a series of mountains and all the surrounding environment with the realism of the real-world. I’m especially excited about what all this means for developers large and small. And this is just one example of dozens or even hundreds where we can apply advanced technology to help game teams of all sizes scale to build bigger and more fun games.”
The blog post goes into many further details and specifics about Project Atlas. You can read it here on Medium.