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The Movies(TM) Online - Interview with Georg Backer

We've asked Georg Backer - Lionhead's Online and Infrastructure Manager - a couple of questions about The MoviesTM Online. And on top of that; when he was playing the game, he made us two brand new screenshots of his upcoming movie!

Hello Georg, could you tell our readers first who you are, what you do and how your experience with Coca Cola Light has affected you these past two years? Was it really that exciting as we read on the Lionhead website?

Georg Backer: Yes. Very much so. Thanks for brining it up. It only took me years to make sure less and less people know about it. Pah! Imagine being entered and voted into competition behind your back. Imagine you get a phone call one day telling you that you've just made it into the second round of a big soft drink competition. Imagine yourself with twelve other people who not only knew that they took part in the competition in the first place but also had the time to work out and sunbath. And now combine all those thoughts and imagine yourself with a pale body and no strength to lift up even the smallest of bugs standing next to those trained bodybuilder bodies. Then try to smile and embrace the situation.

(No, honestly. It was good fun. And I'm still resenting the idea of going to the gym.)

Ok, slightly changing the subject now; the Community Website! With something big like The Movies Online, you can't just get some free web space and host it? Serious equipment was needed I presume. Did you have any problems finding reasonable hosting for the website and its movies?

Georg Backer: Well, the Community web site is much more than just free web space. It is a complete system which the game connects to. Remember, it is not only about uploading your movies, it is also about other people watching them, rating them and hopefully liking them. Depending on how you do you'll either climb up the box office charts or you'll descend into the unknown depths. Every month will reward the top movies and the better your movies do in the box office the better your reputation for your online studio will be. And you get virtual credits for every film uploaded (the amount depending on your reputation) which you'll then be able to exchange for additional content and other things in our props shop.

For us the community site is a very important game enhancing feature: It allows the movies to be easily seen by lots of other people. Also the system is easy to use and as mentioned above we think it is very important to let the community give feedback on the movies.

If you'd compare the community site to the real movie world you should think of it as the biggest movie distributor.

It took us a while to find a sensible and affordable way to host the community system. We thought carefully about the architecture of the whole system. Our main goal was to make it as efficient and as fast as possible (optimized for performance, speed, etc) and keep it maintainable and affordable at the same time. We have a huge amount of storage space just for the movies. But storage isn't enough so we had to make sure we've have a reasonable amount of bandwidth so people can stream and download the movies.

The website will be used by everyone who has a copy of game and wants to show his/her movies on the internet. That can become a very large group of people! Do you have an estimate of how many players will use the website?

Georg Backer: We hope lots of people will use the community web site. We also hope people who don't have the game will browse through the site and watch the movies other people have created. It is difficult though to pin down a number: We obviously worked with estimates but I'll keep hush, hush on those ones for now. But the system and its architecture can be easily expanded if needed.

This isn't going to be like a 'normal' website, the pressure on hard- and software will be tremendous because of all the user info, extra content and downloadable movies. Were any special measures taken to test if it was possible to provide so many people with a good service?

Georg Backer: Lots of calculations on paper, lots of stress testing on the actual production servers, lots of thoughts went into the architecture right from the start so its powers are used efficiently and of course - as mentioned earlier on - we planned with the future in mind.

This must have been a massive investment for us - Lionhead Studios - as well as for The Movies' publisher - Activision. Were their any arrangements made for this unique feature of the game?

Georg Backer: Both Activision and Lionhead are very keen on the online part and we strongly believe that it is a very important part of the game. It is not only a gimmick: It provides an additional layer of game play: Expose your movies to the public and let them compete against movies from other players. See what the audience likes best and go back into your game and make even better movies to get fame and (virtual) fortune.

So rest assured: publisher and developer are working very hard together and both have made not only a financial commitment but will also devote a lot of time on and after the release of the game to keep the excitement going.

Players can get virtual money in many different ways. But I read in the design documents of the Community Website that players also get virtual money when they upload a movie. This is just a small amount, but this could mean that if I upload a movie and get the money for it, I can delete it straight away and upload it again to get the virtual money again. And I can repeat this over and over... Wouldn't that be cheating?

Georg Backer: No. You can't. Because if you immediately pull out your movie after you've uploaded it we'll take back the virtual money - better call it virtual credits - we gave you. You have to leave the movie online for a certain amount of time before you can delete it and keep the virtual credits. We've spent a lot of time to ensure the system is fair.

What did you find the biggest challenge in setting this all up?

Georg Backer: The whole system. The technical architecture for once because: We have several servers, several storage devices, several operating systems and other advanced technical equipment; we wrote quite a lot of software ourselves, we designed and planned the whole technology carefully right from the very start, and so on and so forth.

But we obviously had to put lot of thought into the design itself: All the features of the site, which features make sense, how should things work, etc. I remember us also spending a long time discussing virtual credit and rating formulas.

How much heat do the servers produce on average?

Georg Backer: Without a proper AC enough to host a BBQ. When I had to setup the final production servers in our office I felt like I'm in a sauna. You should ask how loud those servers are (they are louder than me and apparently that means something).

Do you get the chance to watch a movie every now and then? What do you like in movies?

Georg Backer: The community system is up and running (on our testservers of course, we're not exposing it to the public just yet) and I therefore get to watch quite a few movies people make and upload. It is very interesting and encouraging to see people within Lionhead and Activision using the site not only because they have to make sure everything works but also because it is fantastic fun to show off the movies and check out what other people think.

One of the coolest things of the game is the amount of content. We want you to make your own movies, we want you to come up with your own stories, your own music, your own sound effects, your own ideas. It is very exciting and refreshing to watch movies where people took the time to make an original piece based on their own idea. That's what we want you to do: Come up with your own original idea and show it to the world via our community site and don't rip off other peoples existing ideas or content because for one it isn't very nice and secondly it is very unfair.

The Movies' Community Site has been made a reality by the Online Team of Lionhead Studios; Georg Backer , Pete Coward, James Unwin, Jamie Durrant, Rex Crowle, Woody Hennekam, Jeremie Texier , Sam Van Tilburgh

And on this bombshell we'd like to thank all the people involved in this project;

Georg Backer - Online and Infrastructure Manager

Pete Coward - Web Developer

Jeremie Texier - Online Producer

James Unwin - Design

Woody Hennekam - Community Manager of The Movies

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