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AGDC: Hanna Talks Google Lively's Game API Extensions

AGDC: Hanna Talks Google Lively's Game API Extensions Exclusive

September 16, 2008 | By Simon Carless

September 16, 2008 | By Simon Carless
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

In the Worlds In Motion Summit keynote on Tuesday, Google Lively's Kevin Hanna explained the genesis of the search engine giant's online world space, along the way revealing an upcoming API to embed playable games inside Lively.

In a key announcement, Hanna, who worked on the project since its inception and now works as creative director at X-Ray Kid, which built the core content for the title and was formed in association with Google, explained: "We're going to update the API for game development - I think that opens up the world for possibilities."

The game-related APIs for the title will take both a short-term and a long-term perspective. In the short-term, Google Lively is opening up the platform so that the Google Gadgets API will work on surfaces in the game, meaning that people can embed and play casual games on polygonal surfaces (such as TV screens) in the world, much like Sony's Home has been experimenting with.

Further into the future, Hanna says that the company intends to open up a more general API to game developers to potentially create 3D multiplayer games using Google Lively's technology and back end -- though this is intended to be a long-term goal, and neither of the two plans have specific timeframes on them now.

Although indicating that he would like game API and virtual item creators to be able to make money from Google Lively, Hanna did not reveal whether a virtual to real-world money exchanger was in progress for the online space -- for which all items are currently free.

The Google Lively platform, which runs embedded in webpages and requires a plug-in download for Windows, will be getting versions for other platforms and browsers, according to Hanna.

He noted that in its early Beta stage, "we developed for one platform", but that "very soon" in the Beta it'll be working across multiple platforms - fortunately including a compatibility fix for the Google Chrome web browser. Hanna also hinted that Mac compatibility may be in progress, but there were no specific announcements on this.

As for the online space itself, Hanna explained that: "We wanted to add something that is a piece of the puzzle", rather than an all-encompassing online world such as Second Life.

The world has drawn some criticism for requiring a reasonably robust plugin download, but Hanna indicated that the visual fidelity and quality -- and diversity of content -- is key to Google Lively's appeal.

For example, there's 16,000 base hair styles in the game, part of Hanna's point that: "You kind of get sick of seeing the same characters over and over again."

In addition, if you're a Google-approved developer you can start adding in-game content to the world now, further diversifying the choice available to users. Approved Google developers can add furniture, and 120 just got added to the system - Hanna noted it "goes to the Google core philosophy of empowering the user."

As the user-contributed system gradually opens up -- with hopes to eventually have regular users upload content from Google Sketchup, 3DSMax or Maya, inappropriate content may be vetted by users in a similar way to YouTube, according to Hanna.

Finally, Hanna indicated that, despite some negative blogosphere buzz for the application, it has actually been remarkably successful compared to initial estimates - with the unspecified target for the first month's downloads and userbase exceeded in the first 12 hours after launch.

He actually quipped that for the first 2 days, "we thought we were under attack by spam bots" - but it was actually just people downloading the game.

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