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Blizzard veteran building cloud service for Stardock

Former Blizzard systems engineer Adrian Luff moves to Stardock to launch the cloud-based Project Tachyon

Stardock has announced the hiring of former Blizzard Entertainment senior systems engineer Adrian Luff, who comes on as the company's new director of platform architecture. During his 17-year career at Blizzard, Luff was a large part of getting the company's Battle.net project running and growing it into a major online service. At Stardock, Luff will be responsible for launching Project Tachyon, a cloud-based online infrastructure for the company's games. He will be working out of Stardock's Austin-based office.

GamesIndustry.biz spoke with Luff about his new appointment and what he hopes to accomplish with Project Tachyon.

"Blizzard has the wonderful ability to polish games beautifully and I'm sure they'll continue to be very successful. But Hearthstone aside, Blizzard does huge projects with large teams," replied Luff when asked about the new opportunities Stardock provides. "In contrast, Stardock is developing with and publishing small, focused development teams. The passion from these folks is really inspiring. Working closely with talented developers helps build a better platform. We're able to coordinate the developer's vision and the technology tightly. The benefits should be evident in Stardock's many upcoming games."

"This close working relationship is very rewarding for me personally. Infrastructure work in games is often the equivalent of janitorial services... no one cares who you are until something blows up! At Stardock however, there's mutual respect between all the disciplines."

"With Tachyon, we don't want to create yet another social network that gamers have to sign into."

Stardock CEO Brad Wardell

For Luff, launching Tachyon will be different from Battle.net, because there are already established cloud services while "there was often no one to compare against" with Blizzard's online service. One big difference with Tachyon is it will continue to leverage existing services on various platforms. On PC, for example, Tachyon will still make use of Valve's Steamworks. Luff compares Tachyon to Ubisoft's Uplay, which often slots in-between the game and a platform's account service.

"With Tachyon, we don't want to create yet another social network that gamers have to sign into," said Stardock CEO Brad Wardell. "Tachyon is about giving players new ways to enjoy Stardock games, such as integrated ladders, seamless matchmaking, or even data-mining shared ship designs for game AI to make use of."

"For all the flak Ubisoft has gotten for Uplay, they've done some cool things with metagame structures and rewards that haven't gotten much attention," added Luff. "Uplay Rewards and Assassin's Creed Initiates are fun ways to add something extra to a player's experience without getting in the way of playing the game itself. Stardock is ready to bring creative and fun ideas like these to Tachyon."

Luff also explained that Tachyon's benefit in using the cloud comes down to "reliability and efficiency." Stardock is currently testing public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure for Tachyon, but plans about specific cloud solutions are still in development. Luff said that Stardock will be running its own code on cloud providers for some features, "while others will rely on the 'as a service' offerings."

"Building Tachyon as a cloud-based platform allows Stardock to try new things without the massive financial commitment," added Luff. "We can scale up to meet launch demand readily. We can also scale back for older games without shutting down multiplayer entirely. We can add great features such as multiplayer servers without breaking the bank. Giving bright developers more tools means their creativity can shine. With Tachyon, Stardock is building a flexible foundation for whatever our developers build."

"Building Tachyon as a cloud-based platform allows Stardock to try new things without the massive financial commitment"

Stardock director of platform architecture Adrian Luff

"Public clouds have been rapidly evolving over the last several years," he noted. "The 'as a service' offerings available from providers make it possible to build complex and powerful backend systems without a massive team to operate and maintain them. Stardock isn't saddled with an existing platform to support. We're building it from the ground up to take advantage of the cloud features and manage its limitations."

Stardock Entertainment vice president Derek Paxton told GamesIndustry.biz that the overall benefit of Tachyon for the company is creating better games. He explained that it helps the company with robust player analytics, which should aid Stardock designers in balancing and improving their games. Paxton called Tachyon the next step of the Metaverse in Galactic Civilizations II and the Pantheon in Demigod, previous game-specific online services created by the company.

"A game engine that could simultaneously model thousands of assets in real time was critical to Stardock's ability to produce competitive, fun, strategy games," said Paxton. "So we invested in Oxide Games to create Nitrous. Likewise robust meta-game services are as critical to creating great multi-player games as in-game features."

Stardock's upcoming titles, including Galactic Civilizations III, Mohawk Games' Offworld Trading Company, and Oxide Games' unannounced title will all use Project Tachyon. According to the company, the first public rollout of Tachyon will come in early 2015.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor, USgamer

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.