Introducing Rival Peak
Starting December 2nd at 9:30PM ET/6:30PM PT, Facebook will be debuting a new interactive reality show called Rival Peak that’s powered by my company, Genvid, with design and creative by Pipeworks Studios and DJ2 Entertainment. You can find it at fb.com/rivalpeak. I could not be more excited to share this experience with the world.
Rival Peak may look like a game — and it is the culmination of a decade’s efforts to create the world’s first native cloud streaming experience. But Rival Peak isn’t a “game” — rather it’s something new: a “massive, interactive live event” (or MILE).
Rival Peak is built on the idea that interactive stories should be based around the entire audience, not just a single viewer. That your decisions should have consequences to you and to others. That there are no “do-overs”, no “pausing” and no way to know who will win. During its twelve week run, the world of Rival Peak never stops, its characters are constantly in motion, and the story unfolds as the audience decides.
This means you’re neither player, nor viewer. You’re a participant, a director, a God. And entrusted to you is a world inhabited by 12 AI contestants fighting to survive elimination and unravel the mysteries of the Rival Peak mountain. Over the next three months, these contestants will survive the wilderness, survive each other, and maybe survive elimination. As a result, the world will be changing weekly, with the map transforming and new areas unveiled.
And while there’s no “right” way to engage in Rival Peak, there is also not a predetermined winner. Facebook’s billions of users will have the opportunity to pick (or fight over) on everything. Every minute watched, dialogue read, and vote cast will increase a character’s score and change the story. Along the way, a weekly show starring Wil Wheaton will help guide the audience and recap what happened.
What Does Rival Peak Mean For Gaming and Entertainment
I have dreamed for many years of achieving the vision of Rival Peak. The foundation began in the early 2010s, when I worked for Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada, and later co-founded Square Enix’s cloud gaming division with Wada-san.
Over the years we regularly spoke about high powered AI on the cloud, social connections, and seamless game experiences that would change in real time, with no download or installation.
These concepts live on in Rival Peak.
Like a true cloud game, Rival Peak is shareable instantly, with just a link: fb.gg/play/rivalpeak (available from tomorrow). Unlike a cloud game, we use standard Facebook livestreams for each of the characters and embed those into a Facebook instant game. As a result Rival Peak works anywhere in the world Facebook does, on Desktop and Android. We have had playtesters interacting with streams in full 1080p from Portugal to Palestine, India to Mexico.
While not a “game” that you “play” in the traditional sense, I consider Rival Peak to be the world’s first native cloud streaming experience because Rival Peak cannot exist on a standard PC or game console, unless you have 14 high powered GPUs that you can network together in your home. Rival Peak’s architecture, which I’ll discuss a bit later, reminds me of a supercomputer- hundreds of CPU cores, hundreds of gigabytes of RAM all dedicated toward powering one experience.
In turn, nothing like Rival Peak has existed in entertainment before. Twitch Play Pokemon and Reddit Place showed the possibility of massive, live community driven content, but were experiments.
Enjoying Rival Peak
As a life-long Adventure Game and RPG fan, I’ve long thought about the concepts in Rival Peak: what if the characters were alive, not just avatars I controlled? What if I could experience stories live, with the community concurrently?
But Rival Peak isn’t an adventure game. I don’t have personal agency. I can’t simply solve a puzzle on my own and expect to get to the next part of the quest. However, my actions still matter. Not just in my individual taps, but in the way in which I can engage the community to help. My participation may be all that is standing between my favorite character and their elimination, and thus the ability for me to see their full storyline.
Rival Peak was built to let you lean back or lean in. Like traditional media, the characters have their own agency, and watching them go about trying to solve a puzzle is mesmerizing and charming. I’ve spent hours just listening to the music. You can hear cues from the characters when they’re waiting for input from you, and when you pop in you may see breathtaking vistas or quiet spots of nature.
Every time you open Rival Peak, you’ll catch live events. There are 160,000 words of dialog in Season One, each unlocking organically based on the story you help unfold, and some you will never see because of the choices made. And all available in EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish).
Some moments will be bizarre, hilarious, inexplicable. But every one is “real.” I once saw two characters argue for 40 minutes about sports via their emoji system. Turned out they were caught in a loop by programming error. It accurately reflected most of my family gatherings, though.
One day, you may spot a floating axe and think it’s a bug, then find the characters talking about it. And then your job will be to help the characters meet their goals, enabling them to solve puzzles relating to the axe and unravel mysteries.
This will take the characters to newer environments, new challenges and maybe even conspiracies that are at the foundation of Rival Peak.
While there’s no “right” way to experience Rival Peak, treating it like a game (sitting down and “playing” for two hours) is probably not the correct one.
I recommend leaving Rival Peak on in the background while working or studying — just be ready to occasionally pop in to help! Particularly if you want to see the full journey of any particular character.
If you do happen to miss a day, check on Rival Peak’s Facebook pages regularly for updates from the characters, and the community. And don’t forget to catch Rival Speak each week- Wil Wheaton’s wrap up show will contain parts of the story you won’t get from just watching Rival Peak, and vice-versa.
What Does Rival Peak Run On
Rival Peak works because of cutting edge technologies. At its literal core is an AI hive, which we call the Authority, that is located on super-powered AWS GPU servers.
The Authority that directs the AI is connected in the same datacenter to 13 GPU-enabled, Unity-based rendering nodes, one for each character and a Home stream. Each one of those nodes has their own encoding system and data streaming system, with 300+ servers in total.
The Authority also connects to the Viewer Data Service (located in Microsoft’s Azure datacenter), which records each viewer’s input and feeds those commands back to the Authority in AWS to parse back to each character.
When new media formats come, they are almost always tied to a particular medium. But Rival Peak is built on platform-neutral stacks: Genvid, Unity, Playfab, Photon. Any developer, anywhere in the world can build a Rival Peak and use any video platform. Right now. Just download our SDK!
The fact that Rival Peak was not built on proprietary tech but on a series of cross-platform technologies that any developer can access immediately, and stream to a platform of their choice, is nothing short of astounding.
We have multiple environments across Production, Staging, QA, Automation and Dev, all of which need their own set of Authorities and GPUs.
For Rival Peak Genvid has been managing millions of dollars worth of infrastructure across AWS and Azure, with hundreds of GPU instances and thousands of servers for game engine data.
We also have an incredible operations team running the streams 24/7 out of the Genvid NOC, the first Network Operations Center for interactive livestreams in the world.
The Genvid teams worked closely with AWS’ Enterprise team throughout 2020 to ensure we had access to the GPUs and tweak the networks for optimization. We have a lot of unique requirements relative to most games running on AWS, and actually ran out of cloud GPUs at one point!
We also worked with Microsoft Azure / Playfab Enterprise teams to connect the user scoring elements that will be critical to the gameplay experience.
Finally, we worked with the leadership at Photon to perfect the persistency and connection between Authority and rendering nodes in the datacenter.
The Next Peak
We built Rival Peak’s first season not knowing how users would interact, but over the course of this season we’ll make great improvements as we get the first user data on what you like, and don’t like. Like the first television episodes being radio serials, we need to learn.
Both the characters and the cameras are AI. But they’re still simple. Imagine what this could be in a few years, with better AI and even higher fidelity graphics. It could look like the start of Westworld. And the more we iterate, the better Rival Peak will become.
In the coming weeks you’ll see additional improvements to the viewer client- we have an ongoing roadmap. We’re looking to add live chat, SFX to the UI, among many other features. And of course the world itself, its interactions and fidelity will continue to improve over the course of the show.
Of course, the next Peak could also be made by you. Some games are major productions- like Fortnite- while other hits come from smaller developers- like Among Us. There’s no “right” way to build a new experience, and while Rival Peak was a big production, I’m excited to see what indies do with Genvid tech using Rival Peak as the inspiration.
I would like to thank my mentor and friend, Yoichi Wada, without whom I would never have embarked on this journey. And Matthew Ball, Producer on Rival Peak, who co-wrote an essay on Cloud Gaming and MILEs with me that I think is a must-read to understand why Rival Peak is so important.
I would like to thank Facebook’s Matthew Henick for the opportunity to create this world; you and the Facebook team have been an incredible partner on this journey.
I would also like to thank Vivek Sharma and the Facebook Gaming team for their support during our development phase, particularly in letting me push the platform in new ways.
The team working on Rival Peak are some of the best in the business, and without them this would not have been possible.
Pipeworks Studio, who built Terreria and Superfight, developed the AI, game design and simulation. And they did this in only eight months, with prepro having begun in April 2020!
DJ2 Entertainment and Dmitri Johnson, who produced the 2020 Sonic movie, developed the characters and the Rival Speak show with Wil Wheaton. Head Creative at DJ2E, Stephan Bugaj, was the former Creative Director at Tell Tale, and is writing Rival Peak along with several other ex-Tell Tale writers.
And of course, my team at Genvid, the former Shinra Technologies team at Square Enix, who have been trying to achieve this vision for building a game designed for the datacenter for an entire decade, and are still shocked we are getting to it first. We are 80+ strong today and growing, and can’t wait to see what more developers do with our tech, available at www.genvidtech.com.
Finally, for those of you watching Rival Peak, Coach Park has my favorite playlist. So thank you to the participants engaging with his stream; please help keep him from getting eliminated!
Where to Find Us
Please check out FB.COM/RIVALPEAK starting tomorrow and come back every day to determine the fate of this show. Be sure to check out every character’s page for updates. And watch Rival Speak with Wil Wheaton every week through the end of February 2021.