Rocket Ninja’ Shr3d Engine Provides Boost in Social Gaming 3D Arms Race

Yesterday, we got our first look at a 3D social game engine that streams through Flash without the use of a plugin or download from developer Rocket Ninja in the game Wrestler: Unstoppable. The developer’s proprietary engine, Shr3d, marks another effort by developers to push the web technology that makes more sophisticated games possible.

When 3D first came to console video games, it changed both the way that players interacted with the games and the way the video games industry judged progress. An arms race emerged where the three largest console developers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — spent the majority of their development budgets on creating bigger, better 3D experiences. This created an environment where game designers focused on crafting games that showcased the technology, effectively changing the types of games players had access to.

So far, the social games industry has been immune to the 3D arms race, instead focusing on an art quality arms race where developers looked for ways to create vivid, distinctive visuals that ran smoothly on Flash. We’ve seen developers explore ways to create these experiences through hiring highly specialized artists, experimenting with data storage options for art assets on client computers, and also with plugins that provide games with additional functionality like Microsoft Silverlight. Now, with Rocket Ninja’s new engine, we begin to see where the 3D arms race could make its way into social games as Shr3d creates a 3D experience without the use of plugins.

ISG interviews Rocket Ninja CEO Oded Pelled, CTO Randy Fish, and Executive Producer Neil Haldar on the implementation of Shr3d and what 3D means for the social games industry.

Inside Social Games: Wrestler: Unstoppable was originally a 2D fighting game experience. How did you introduce the existing player base to 3D without overwhelming them?

Oded Pelled: When we launched [Shr3d] on Cinco de Mayo, the game was in 3D for all users. The game by default [now] appears in 3D for all users. [The upcoming] sound features will only be for 3D, and in the next month, there’s not going to be a 2D option. There’s going to be 3D animation with sounds, or there’s going to be basically [a mode] with animations turned off.

ISG: Did you experience any early performance issues by introducing 3D into the game?

Pelled: The unique thing about Shr3d is that it works with Flash version 10 and it works with low performing machines, so we’re very pleased to [report] that we don’t get complaints about performance issues. So far.

Randy Fish: The animations are pretty small. I think most of the size of the download is actually in some of the models, in the texturing. And in the background in the arenas. I’m not sure what the total size is of an actual character, but we have a pre-loader, so by the time the match starts, you’ve got all the assets you need. The characters themselves are very small. Right now we’re relying very heavily on the browser’s caching mechanisms and that’s been working very well. Our Flash engineer worked on Shr3d almost almost completely with a four-year-old laptop that’s basically a netbook just to make sure that we’re addressing [possible performance issues].

ISG: Now that you can render everything from animations to actual items in 3D, will you add more premium decoration features as a revenue stream?

Pelled: We haven’t yet. We have 10 new [arena] venues coming in the next few months. Some of them are very, very cool. There are more venues in different locations and obviously a person will have to buy them.

ISG: A lot of social game developers are beginning to think of 3D as an arms race. What is your attitude toward the rise of 3D in social games?