Cambridge, UK gaming software company Millennium Interactive Ltd has sold its 50-person games division to Sony Corp for around $10m and has taken a further $3m R&D funding from the Japanese company to pursue the commercial implementation of its A-Life artifical life software called CyberLife which can be programmed and trained to exhibit real-life behavior. The A-Life group, now re-christened CyberLife Technology Ltd, will remain in Cambridge and is being run by the former Millennium executives. It’s looking to recruit 30 or so staff to extend CyberLife and is currently nailing down new partnerships with companies seeking to develop A-Life solutions. With Sony and NCR Corp already in the bag it claims to have another Japanese household name, plus one European and one US telecommunications company about to sign. CyberLife says Sony – which may in future become a shareholder – knows that there’s something special about the CyberLife technology and on that basis is handing it some major financial backing. Indeed CyberLife’s managed to lure Microsoft co-founder and employee number 30 Alan Boyd (who left Microsoft in the mid-1980s) on board as development director. The games division Sony has acquired currently develops games for the PlayStation and Hasbro. It’ll expand the unit which is not far from the site of Microsoft’s new R&D lab, also in the university town.
In a sense the variety of A-Life engines on offer – which all mimic the activity of biological cells to one degree or another, such as learning from experience, are technologies looking for homes. The company argues its CyberLife implementation applies biological metaphors to software-complexity problems and produces real behaviour capable of modelling a wide range of human interactions. It has potential use for many kinds of applications; from a traffic light control system that could learn adapt to changing traffic sitautions to 3D games. Indeed the first application of CyberLife is the company’s Creatures game in which ‘players’ have to hatch eggs, nurture their virtual pet and encourage them to breed. It’s not in any way related to Bandai Corp’s Tamagotchi virtual pet. Released in the UK last November after licensing Creatures to Time Warner and having it distributed through GT Interactive, the company claims 250,000 installs of the $50 software. Creatures comes to the US next week through Mindscape Inc for Windows and Mac. It’s looking for 200,000 sales. The company’s currently developing a 3D systems engine – the beta of which is called Gaia – based upon CyberLife which will support Java, VRML and NT which it claims will model animate, intelligent life-forms and the usual inanimate objects and environments common to other systems. It’s currently looking into 3D simulation games, massively parallel internet gaming, and a more general class of gaming it thinks can benefit from the use of intelligent autonomous agents. Work is also underway to develop industrial applications using CyberLife and it’s talking with a Hollywood production studio about the possibility of a Creatures-based TV series.