I was wandering around Kentia Hall
at E3 2002 on a break when I stumbled across Ballerium. The break was necessary. After a
few hours of madly jotting down notes and avoiding the three-dollar sodas, the need to
escape on a thirty-minute "lets-go-play-with-toys" break was not only
necessary, it was required. Required to keep my brain from exploding with the noise, to
prevent myself from breaking into hysterical laughing, or having conversations with
non-existent game characters. It was required for survival, but it was also short-lived.
Stumbling across Ballerium was the E3 equivalent of accidentally getting your hair tangled
in an electrical socket while lying down to take a nap. Majorem, the developers of
Ballerium, had been on my list of things to see before the end of the day, and so, though
their booth was a little off the beaten path and I suspected I might have been the only
gold Media badge theyd seen all day, I found myself taking more notes than if
Id stuck upstairs. Such is the tough life of a video game reviewer.
I admit that my
approach was weary. I hadnt ever heard of the company. Id added the name to my
list the night before after seeing that they were pushing a massively multiplayer game of
some sort in the E3 literature. At first I listened, then I explored. I asked a question
at the booth and then listened some more. I grew interested. Someone mentioned Seti@home
(the Berkeley based alien-hunting project that graces the screen saver of each of my
computer systems) and pretty soon I couldnt help but look impressed. Ballerium was
different, and in the gaming industry thats quite a claim.
it different? Ballerium takes a different approach to the technology behind massively
multiplayer games, and that makes a major difference in how the games themselves play out.
The twelve-person company based out of Israel has said goodbye to separated servers
and zones. No more trying to play with your friend online only to discover hes been
building his character up on server X instead of sever Y. Ballerium is a real time
strategy game in which everyone plays on the same map with units that dont disappear
when they log out, but are instead taken over either by a friend of yours whos
online when youre not, or by an A.I. that attempts to mimic your playing style.
Majorem claims to be able to fit everyone and their brother into the game, easily in the
hundred thousands, possibly to the infinite, all on an auto-generating map that expands as
the players expand. Theyre able to do this by using a concept similar to
Setis. The main servers basically divide up the processing of the game, and feed it
out to all the computers that are connected and playing. So in other words, whenever your
computer is chugging away making sure you see the bloody gore of your army tearing into
your friends, its also working its little fanny off making sure the entire
gaming network has enough processing power to support everyone else. As long as each
computer can help process for itself and one other computer, the system should be
infinitely expandable. Aware of the unease that goes along with computer systems sending
non-necessary info back and forth, Majorem promises that your computer will never talk to
anything but one of the game servers. What results is a robust game network that
shouldnt ever have a boundary (except on the off days, like Christmas, when most
people are not playing, but Im sure theyll get around that easily enough).
aside, Ballerium promises to satisfy all of us gamers who have always wanted to not only
play RTS online in a massive world, but also add a little Risk style world domination and
strategy. Supporting the abilities to trade, form alliances, and join clans -- as well as
the classic ability to construct bases and units -- Ballerium puts the player at the head
of a kingdom, not just a military. They also promise an expansive and in-depth story and
world, one built with enough rich cultural fiber that it could be used as the source of
storybook fiction. In fact, theres even a novel coming out based in its world of
many different races, natural disasters, and weird sun-cycles.
be interesting to see how the "always-on" element of the game plays out.
Its more realistic, and somehow appealing, to think that your army is still living
and breathing while you sleep at night, watched over by your friendly A.I. On the other
hand, realism can be a drag. It would suck to build up your empire only to have it torn
down in a single week long vacation to some forsaken island that doesnt have an
Internet connection. Plans to provide some sort of insurance (literally) to the players to
minimize loses in the event of a kingdom "death" are in place. As with other
online games, death will enact a penalty, but not one that makes you throw your hands in
the air and flip the switch on the computer to the off position. While still only in
Alpha, with no plans to launch a Beta until first Quarter of 2003, Ballerium looks to be
the first massively multi-player RTS, possibly the first truly massively multi-player game
ever (most MMPs divide up the populations over severs, so that only a few thousand are
playing together at any given moment). In the mean time, theyve got tons of information on their website.
While Id be surprised if we see Ballerium hitting the covers of any major gaming
magazines just yet, it doesnt mean they dont have one hell of a brain up their
sleeves. Its people like them that keep innovation on the market, and Ill be
looking forward to what they come up with in the next year or two, not to mention that
they have a sense of humor. I loved the line from their website, "Of course we can't
prove the world is endless, but as long as no one else can prove otherwise, we're in a
relatively good position." I love that, and I cant wait to see what this rolls