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Ballerium Preview
game: Ballerium
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Majorem
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Jun 23rd, 2002
last revision: 11:47 PM Thu Oct 27th, 2005

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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 \"let\'s-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 they\'d seen all day, I found myself taking more notes than if I\'d stuck upstairs. Such is the tough life of a video game reviewer.

I admit that my approach was weary. I hadn\'t ever heard of the company. I\'d 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 couldn\'t help but look impressed. Ballerium was different, and in the gaming industry that\'s quite a claim.

How is 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 he\'s 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 don\'t disappear when they log out, but are instead taken over either by a friend of yours who\'s online when you\'re 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. They\'re able to do this by using a concept similar to Seti\'s. 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 friend\'s, it\'s 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 shouldn\'t ever have a boundary (except on the off days, like Christmas, when most people are not playing, but I\'m sure they\'ll get around that easily enough).

Technicalities 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, there\'s even a novel coming out based in its world of many different races, natural disasters, and weird sun-cycles.

It\'ll be interesting to see how the \"always-on\" element of the game plays out. It\'s 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 doesn\'t 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, they\'ve got tons of information on their website.

While I\'d be surprised if we see Ballerium hitting the covers of any major gaming magazines just yet, it doesn\'t mean they don\'t have one hell of a brain up their sleeves. It\'s people like them that keep innovation on the market, and I\'ll 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 can\'t wait to see what this rolls into.

Aaron Stanton (06/23/2002)