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Concurrents is a startup that has been toiling away at a cool graphics technology, and now it is preparing to release Slice, a way to experience a game demo instantly with almost no loading times and limited bandwidth.
The company’s tech gives streamers and game companies an easy way to play and share digital experiences such as gameplay demos.
Freeman noted it’s not a big step to think that Epic’s recent acquisition of Bandcamp to provide “content, technology, games, art, music and more” will lead to further exploration of digital in-person entertainment experiences.
As digital experiences absorb more of our leisure time, that’s where most of the real content we’ll want to share and experience together will live, either through broadcasting, sharing together, or memorializing moments using technologies like NFTs. Concurrents wants to make it easy to share that content.
“We are at a point where we can engage with a game in two seconds with unlimited bandwidth and stream at 35 megabits per second,” said Bill Freeman, a cofounder of Concurrents, in an interview with GamesBeat. “So you’re instantly in the game and flying. We stood up our company Concurrents and we’re coming into the market this summer with a product we call Slice.”
Freeman, who is also president and chief operating officer of parent firm Primal Space Systems, said the company is in talks with several game publishers to use Slice for several new game titles later this year.
Concurrents’ goal is to fundamentally reimagine how to interact with deeply immersive experiences, making it easy to jump between experiences as well as to create and share content with others. The goal is to get players into an in-game experience, one built with hundreds of gigabytes of assets, in seconds.
Concurrents is building a tool suite at Slice.gg for game publishers, influencers, and budding streamers to collaborate on content creation. Slice.gg provides publishers and streamers with the ability to manage the Slices that get pushed to their communities through game distribution channels (Steam, etc.) and social media partners. The vision is to make game distribution and social sharing part of a single strategy for game publishers and the streamers they work with.
Slice.gg is a platform where the publishers and influencers will come to get the tools. This is where a publisher can push out various game slices to the players. The company is preparing to show off the tech and raise more money. Slice.gg will be launching in early fall 2022.
Concurrents was born from a couple of companies that have been working on the tech for more than a decade. Freeman did a live demo for me in February 2020.
Primal Space Systems raised $8 million a while ago for its subsidiary Instant Interactive, and it used it to make a technology dubbed GPEG, which is like a cousin of the MPEG format used to run videos, but for graphics.
Primal Space Systems holds 13 patents and is expanding its focus on the geospatial applications for GPEG with both commercial and military focus. Instant Interactive is a business unit under Primal Space Systems focused on the entertainment market (animation, anime, live event, and all non-game content developed in game engines and could benefit from the GPEG streaming protocol.
But GPEG, a content streaming protocol, is a different way of visualizing data, and its creators hope it could be a huge boost for broadening the appeal of games as well as making people feel like they can be part of an animated television show.
The idea for the Geometry Pump Engine Group (GPEG) originated with Instant Interactive cofounders Barry Jenkins (a medical doctor who became a graphics expert), John Scott (chief technology officer and formerly of Epic Games), and Solomon Luo (a medical vision expert and chairman) — who have thought about this challenge for years and created the startup, Primal Space Systems, and its entertainment-focused division Instant Interactive. Now the tech for the game market is part of Concurrents Inc., which is a standalone company only partially owned by Primal.
The underlying technology that powers this creativity and instant shareability is GPEG. GPEG prefetches the assets needed by the game (texture tiles, geometry clusters, etc.) directly to the client-side game engine for local rendering.
The GPEG protocol is implemented as game-engine plugins including encoder, server, and client software components. The GPEG server software monitors the player camera position in the game in real time and prefetches the pre-encoded packets to the client-side game engine typically hundreds to thousands of milliseconds before the assets are needed by the client-side game engine.
At GDC last week, Concurrents delivered private demos of a very detailed 3-gigabyte game level being streamed over the rather limited convention center public WI-FI (and in some cases using 4G cellular hotspots) using GPEG. The GPEG stream allowed this game to be playable in 7.2 seconds at 180 frames per second with no compression artifacts at 1440p on a gaming laptop, said Jenkins.
“The game assets were streamed in real-time from a low-cost server in Oregon (no server GPU necessary), yet there was zero added latency because each of the game’s granular sub-assets (texture tiles and geometry clusters) were intelligently prefetched in real-time at least 2000 milliseconds before it was needed by the client game engine,” Jenkins said.
In the one week since GDC, Concurrents has further improved the streaming efficiency for this game, allowing the same game to be started in under five seconds at a third of the bandwidth of last week’s demonstration.
Concurrents is one of a new crop of companies that are looking past the constraints and costs of video-based game cloud gaming (as Google’s Stadia business has seen). In Concurrents’ case, the strategy is essentially to make the game engine a kind of media player, making it possible to stream actual game experiences to players within seconds.
The company’s CEO, Warren Mayoss, says the analogy is an important one. He said in a statement, “Once we recognize that game content can be accessed and shared as easily as other media, it’s not a big step to imagine sharing our in-game play and reactions as immersive content rather than through video.”
The company’s first product is targeted at game publishers. A Slice TM of game content will make it possible for publishers to release game trailers and demos with fully interactive, targeted pieces of game content that will be available to player in seconds.
With publishers onboard, Concurrents hopes to bring streamers onto their platform, offering them a way to create immersive, engaging content that will be instantly shareable and remain interactive for their followers and fans. That doesn’t just mean that streamers can share demos to games: They’ll be able to record their own Slices as replayable pieces of content, offering fans the ability to enjoy game replays and walk-throughs in a fundamentally new, fully immersive way.
Barry Jenkins, Concurrents’ CTO, said in a statement, “Creating slices of gameplay is fun and easy to do. Because
the technology can record gameplay events at high framerates using very little data, a whole world of new, cinematic content creation is possible. Things that are not possible in video editing like user-controlled cinematic drone cameras as well as ultra-slow-motion and bullet-time effects can become routine.”
He added, “And each of these cinematic slices can be shared with friends and followers in a format that, unlike video, invites interactivity and further creativity. Concurrents’ slice recording and editing will transcend the limits of video streaming and editing.”
The company has 18 people now.
Handing out slices
The tech could be useful to companies as they promote their games through playable demos.
“At its core, it’s instant access to gameplay. And so it is immersive content, not video. And we want people to be able to share content derived from the games,” Freeman said.
The company is working with game publishers to create slices of games that are easy to socialize and put out into the market. It’s a playable “slice” of a game or just a demo. But it’s not passive like a game trailer in a video. Rather, it’s a playable version of a scene in a game, and it can be shared as well.
“You can instantly jump in and play a portion of the game,” Freeman said. “An influencer can record their gameplay and share it with the community.”
The influencer can share that slice with the community, and players can unlock it and play it. It can be attached to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which can be tied to the slice and be used as a kind of currency to unlock the gameplay. Players can float gameplay cameras above the gameplay and record their own cinematic experiences in the game slice.
“We’re talking to a variety of different publishers right now, to do the first playable slices and work with their influencers,” Freeman said. “We can work with any game type and figure out which game slices are going to convert people to purchase the game.”
In contrast to cloud gaming, the GPEG-based tech renders the graphics on the local machine. So you don’t have any problems with latency or interaction delays.
“It’s instant access,” Freeman said. “There’s no lag. There are high frame rates. But it’s a fraction of the bandwidth used.
So when you run this technology, when you encode this way, you’re playing a game and for a large part, you’re really using five megabits of bandwidth to play a game. Now you’re going to have some peak moments when you’re entering into new areas, as you get some peaks on that.”
The company is working with the Unreal engine and it does predictive streaming or figuring out ahead of time what assets need to be pushed out to the local client or be rendered. Freeman showed me a demo of a scene from a game where the tech was working.
“If you’re at home, this behaves just as if it’s a fully downloaded game,” he said.
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