PSLS Presents – Kevin Jenkins, Jenkins Software, RakNet
With online gameplay becoming an increasingly integral part of console games, the time and effort spent creating the framework and lobby system for a game takes away crucial development time that could be better focused on the actual game. The RakNet networking engine provides this multiplayer framework ready made, thus allowing for developers to spend extra time perfecting their title. To learn more about the engine, as well how the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Network compare to their counterparts, PlayStation LifeStyle interviewed Kevin Jenkins, the founder and President of Jenkins Software in an exclusive and in-depth interview.
PlayStation LifeStyle: Who are you, and what is your position at Jenkins Software?
Kevin Jenkins: My name is Kevin Jenkins, the founder and president of Jenkins Software. Despite my title, I’m a programmer at heart and still personally do much of the work on RakNet.
PSLS: Could you provide a brief description of what RakNet provides to developers and consumers?
KJ: In a nutshell, RakNet gives developers more time to focus on providing a great gameplay experience to their users. It is a reusable framework for multiplayer, so rather than say spending a month on a lobby, developers can spend it on adding a new multiplayer mode. Moreover, where the developer may only be able to write the bare minimum lobby in that month, we spend six months writing the best possible lobby. So not only do players get a more feature-rich game, but a more polished one as well.
PSLS: What does RakNet provide that other networking engines do not?
KJ: As part of RakNet’s focus on saving the developer time, we provide dozens of plugins that add functionality “for free”. These plugins drop in similar to how you download plugins for your webbrowser; where with a few minutes of effort you suddenly can run Flash, or can FTP to your webserver, or download a file in multiple parts. In a similar way we provide features such as lobbies, voice chat, host migration, and game state synchronization.
RakNet is also the only major network engine for games that is open-source. This makes it especially easy to use and popular with students and independent developers. This large user base helps keep the code free of bugs. And there hasn’t been a new feature request in quite a while since we already support almost anything a user could ask for.
PSLS: RakNet is available on multiple platforms, how does the PlayStation 3 compare to its peers?
KJ: We try to provide a similar interface to our supported platforms to make it easier for developers to write cross-platform titles. However, the PlayStation 3 is easier to develop on in some ways. For example, you can debug one system without losing the connection to the other, because debugging only stops one thread, not all of them.
Players shouldn’t see a difference between the platforms though. While it would be nice to give extra features to the PlayStation 3, in practice developers usually want the same features in order to make testing more manageable.
PSLS: How does the PlayStation Network compare to other online services?
KJ: For developers, the uptime has been very good. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t work because the servers were down. The design is also more closely traditional to how PC games do things, which makes cross-platform development easier.
PSLS: SOE recently partnered with Jenkins Software to bring RakNet to their games, how has this improved their titles?
KJ: I can’t speak for SOE, but I can provide a quote that I think answers your question:
“As the Technical Director at Sony Online Entertainment’s Los Angeles studio, I developed both JEOPARDY! and Wheel of Fortune for the Playstation Network. We used RakNet for the online gameplay and matchmaking systems on the PS3. We budgeted a substantial amount towards network integration, but RakNet dramatically reduced the cost. Support was excellent. Since the two games’ releases, both JEOPARDY! and Wheel of Fortune have had flawless network performance.”
Former Technical Director
Sony Online Entertainment”
PSLS: Jenkins Software provides a free Indy license for RakNet to smaller developers on the PC, Mac or Linux, are there any plans to extend this license to PlayStation developers?
KJ: Not at this time, but our licensing fees for downloadable games are flexible and very reasonable compared to our competitors.. While of course we are in business to make money, our mission is to get RakNet as widely used as possible.
PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Kevin Jenkins and Jenkins Software for taking the time to hold the interview. Stay tuned to PSLS for more interviews and PlayStation news.