This might surprise some people, but Farmville and Mafia Wars aren’t the only games on Facebook these days.
This winter break, I had the good fortune to visit with John Bergmans, a long-time friend of my aunt and uncle (Dr. John Bossard of Plasma Wind, by the way–see sidebar). Along with being an engineer and entrepreneur, owner of Bergmans Mechatronics LLC, John Bergmans is also of late a Facebook app designer, the creator of the game EarthControl. According to the Facebook fan page:
EarthControl is a real-time, multi-player Facebook game in which players fly ships into space to pick up oil and bring it back to earth. Now includes sound effects and music, keyboard control, in-game chat support for Internet Explorer 7!
Here’s a short demo:
Bergmans describes the premise as a “cynical commentary” on our seemingly never-ending dependence on oil for energy; in his animated universe, oil barrels float around outside orbit and rival factions or space pirates can shoot your ship down with “plasma balls” to steal that precious black gold payload.
It’s surprisingly addictive—after a couple hours playing against some family members in a very intense competition filled with black looks shot across the room as we sat at our own laptops and opened fire on each other online, I was ranked 9th top player overall. I do not intend to give up that position. Ever.
Bergmans commented that working on the game put him in his own little world, and was pretty enjoyable. But he seemed at no time more animated (pardon the pun) than when discussing the Kaazing Communications Gateway’s WebSockets, the web communication system that allows for real-time updates to the game.
WebSockets allows the game to “push data,” update the content without constantly pinging a server to resend data (in other words, no hitting the refresh button). Earlier this month, EarthControl even hosted a transatlantic tournament, simultaneous with Peter Lubbers’s (of Kaazing Corp.) HTML5 Communication Systems seminar all the way across the pond, in London.
This is all the more impressive considering that every command sent to the game—shooting a plasma ball at my uncle’s ship to steal his payload, for example—gets routed through Bergman’s server in San Jose (that’s a pretty long way from England). Even two months before the tournament, the technology was performing flawlessly at long distances. Bergmans posted this on Facebook in early October:
I played the first-ever trans-Atlantic EarthControl game today with Peter Lubbers of Kaazing Corp. (Kaazing is the company which makes the WebSockets technology that enables web browsers to maintain continuous, real-time communications with servers.)
For this event, Peter was in Amsterdam, as part of a trip to Europe, while I was in Newport Beach, CA. Of particular significance is that, although the distance between Peter and the EarthControl server in San Jose, CA is about 5500 miles, Peter reported no apparent change in his ability to control his ship in real-time within the game. I noticed no difference either in my interactions with Peter from my location 340 miles south of San Jose. We were also able to easily carry on a conversation using the new in-game chat function of EarthControl.
This real-time, multi-player aspect is what makes EarthControl most fun—particular since the game has a Twitter account that tweets whenever a new player logs on (you’ll never have to play alone, and hey, that competitor could be halfway across the world). Let the grudge matches begin.
So if you’re on Facebook and killing time (and let’s admit, that’s what Facebook’s all about), check out EarthControl: it’s a lot better than chasing lost cows.