Monthly Archives: June 2013

Let’s talk about the Xbox Live Cloud

Posted by Abbie Heppe on Jun 24, 2013
Filed in News

Hi everyone! I’m Jon Shiring, and I’m an engineer working with the Cloud technology that you’ve heard about for Respawn’s game Titanfall. I have seen a lot of confusion online and I think it’s worth explaining more about what we’re doing on Titanfall and also more generally about Cloud computing and dedicated servers.

First, let’s take a step back and dive into the common multiplayer design and talk about why Dedicated Servers are better.

Player-Hosted Servers

The vast majority of games will pick a player and have them act as the server for the match. This means that all of the other players talk to them to decide what happens in a game. When you shoot your gun, the server decides if that is allowed and then tells everyone what you hit. Let’s agree to call this system “player-hosted” for simplicity.

What kinds of problems do you get with player-hosted servers?

What if one player has great bandwidth, but it’s laggy? Games are having to choose between different player hosts, and have to make hard decisions about which one should be the host, with two different measurements – bandwidth and latency. Sometimes it will pick a host who has good bandwidth, but whose latency isn’t ideal. But we don’t want the game to make compromises on lag and we really want the game to feel the same every time we play. We really don’t want to worry about this stuff – we just want to play and have the game feel good.

What about host advantage? The player-host has the game running locally on their machine, so they get super low latency access to the game world. You’ve probably seen this in action as some player seems to see you long before you get to see them or their bullets hit you before yours hit them. That sucks. Nobody should have an artificial advantage in a competitive multiplayer game.

What if the player-host is a cheater? Since the host gets to make decisions about kills, XP, and unlocks and such, it’s really bad if they abuse their power to wipe out your stats, or they cheat by flying around maps and insta-killing people. It’s infuriating, in fact.

What if the host disconnects? In the “best case” for this, you can do host migration if there’s another player who has enough bandwidth and everyone else can talk to them. If you hit that jackpot, you can migrate from the old host to the new one, which pauses the game and then unpauses when the new player-host is ready to start acting as the server. This isn’t a fun process, and it can fail.

What if the host’s bandwidth disappears? The game tested the host’s bandwidth at some point and decided that they had enough to host. But someone at their house is now torrenting files and their roommate is streaming Netflix. That “great” bandwidth the game detected earlier is now awful bandwidth, and the other players are lagging halfway through a match.

What if some players can’t talk to the host? You know all that “Open NAT” stuff? Your home internet router is generally trying really hard to keep bad people out, and games are sort of a weird case where the game is trying to get your router to cooperate and let other players create connections INTO your network. Games need to check if every player can talk to the host and if one can’t then that host won’t work. It makes matchmaking slower, and we hate that. Also, by telling you to open up your router, the game is asking you to reduce the security of your home network in order to make the game work. It would be great if you didn’t have to compromise your security in order to play games.

What if nobody has enough bandwidth? You got a great group of players together, but nobody has enough bandwidth to actually host a game. You can work around this by compromising your matchmaking a little to make sure that each lobby has a player in it that can be a host. But we don’t actually want compromised matchmaking, so this isn’t a good fix.

What about players who are paying for their bandwidth or have bandwidth caps? If you have a bandwidth cap on your home internet connection, or even worse, you’re paying for your bandwidth, what happens when you play a game and later find out that the game thought you were an awesome host? Your home internet connection is now slow or you have a huge bill waiting.

So if I’m hosting, my machine is doing all this extra work on behalf of everyone else? Yes! You are doing more work on your CPU than all of the other players are. This means the game isn’t as cool looking as it could be and everyone else has extra CPU just sitting there. Or worse, their game actually looks better than yours! We think the game should be consistent on every machine in a match. Don’t punish the host with a worse game or leave all of that extra CPU sitting empty on the other players machines.
Okay, so player-hosted servers have a lot of downsides. So why do so many games use them? They have one really big upside – it doesn’t cost money to run the servers! Running hundreds of thousands of servers can be extremely expensive. EXTREMELY expensive. Like “oh my god we can’t afford that” expensive. So your player experience gets compromised to save (large amounts of) money.

Dedicated Servers

Dedicated servers are when a computer sitting out on the internet handles all of the host duties, leaving every client free to just be a client.

  • You can get even more CPU on your dedicated servers to do new things like dozens of AI and giant autopilot titans!
  • Suddenly you have no more host advantage!
  • Bandwidth for the servers is guaranteed from the hosting provider!
  • You can use all of the available CPU and memory on the player machines for awesome visuals and audio!
  • Hacked-host cheating isn’t an issue!
  • Matchmaking can be lightning fast since it’s guaranteed that everyone can connect to your servers.
  • And since the servers aren’t going to go disconnect to watch Netflix, you don’t need to migrate hosts anymore!

The player experience is so much better. This sounds awesome!

But it costs a LOT of money.

This is something I have worked on for years now, since coming to Respawn. A developer like Respawn doesn’t have the kind of weight to get a huge price cut from places like Amazon or Rackspace. And we don’t have the manpower to manage literally hundreds-of-thousands of servers ourselves. We want to focus on making awesome games, not on becoming giant worldwide server hosting providers. The more time I can spend on making our actual game better, the more our players benefit.

I personally talked to both Microsoft and Sony and explained that we need to find a way to have potentially hundreds-of-thousands of dedicated servers at a price point that you can’t get right now. Microsoft realized that player-hosted servers are actually holding back online gaming and that this is something that they could help solve, and ran full-speed with this idea.

The Xbox group came back to us with a way for us to run all of these Titanfall dedicated servers and that lets us push games with more server CPU and higher bandwidth, which lets us have a bigger world, more physics, lots of AI, and potentially a lot more than that!

What is the Cloud?

Amazon has a cloud that powers websites. Sony has a cloud that streams game video so you can play a game that you don’t have on your machine. Now Xbox Live has a cloud that somehow powers games. Cloud doesn’t seem to actually mean anything anymore, or it has so many meanings that it’s useless as a marketing word.

Let me explain this simply: when companies talk about their cloud, all they are saying is that they have a huge amount of servers ready to run whatever you need them to run. That’s all.

So what is this Xbox Live Cloud stuff then?

Microsoft has a cloud service called Azure (it’s a real thing – you can go on their website right now and pay for servers and use them to run whatever you want). Microsoft realized that they could use that technology to solve our problem.

So they built this powerful system to let us create all sorts of tasks that they will run for us, and it can scale up and down automatically as players come and go. We can upload new programs for them to run and they handle the deployment for us. And they’ll host our game servers for other platforms, too! Titanfall uses the Xbox Live Cloud to run dedicated servers for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

But it’s not just for dedicated servers – Microsoft thought about our problem in a bigger way. Developers aren’t going to just want dedicated servers – they’ll have all kinds of features that need a server to do some kind of work to make games better. Look at Forza 5, which studies your driving style in order to create custom AI that behaves like you do. That’s totally different from what Titanfall uses it for, and it’s really cool! So it’s not accurate to say that the Xbox Live Cloud is simply a system for running dedicated servers – it can do a lot more than that.

How is this different from other dedicated servers?

With the Xbox Live Cloud, we don’t have to worry about estimating how many servers we’ll need on launch day. We don’t have to find ISPs all over the globe and rent servers from each one. We don’t have to maintain the servers or copy new builds to every server. That lets us focus on things that make our game more fun. And best yet, Microsoft has datacenters all over the world, so everyone playing our game should have a consistent, low latency connection to their local datacenter.

Most importantly to us, Microsoft priced it so that it’s far more affordable than other hosting options – their goal here is to get more awesome games, not to nickel-and-dime developers. So because of this, dedicated servers are much more of a realistic option for developers who don’t want to make compromises on their player experience, and it opens up a lot more things that we can do in an online game.

Wrapping up…

This is a really big deal, and it can make online games better. This is something that we are really excited about. The Xbox Live Cloud lets us to do things in Titanfall that no player-hosted multiplayer game can do. That has allowed us to push the boundaries in online multiplayer and that’s awesome. We want to try new ideas and let the player do things they’ve never been able to do before! Over time, I expect that we’ll be using these servers to do a lot more than just dedicated servers. This is something that’s going to let us drive all sorts of new ideas in online games for years to come.

I know this got pretty technical and long-winded, so I thank you for reading this far. Hopefully I’ve cleared some things up, and you can see why I’m so excited about what Microsoft has done here and how it is letting us do awesome new things for our game. I’ll see you online in the spring to play some Titanfall on our dedicated servers!

Source

So it seems that Microsoft made changes to the DRM policy for the Xbox One.  They’ve announced it as having listened to “us” but it unfortunately seems like we’re taking a step backwards.  Here is the announcement:

Last week at E3, the excitement, creativity and future of our industry was on display for a global audience.

For us, the future comes in the form of Xbox One, a system designed to be the best place to play games this year and for many years to come. As is our heritage with Xbox, we designed a system that could take full advantage of advances in technology in order to deliver a breakthrough in game play and entertainment. We imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future.

Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.

So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:

  • An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
  • Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.

These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.

We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.

Thank you again for your candid feedback. Our team remains committed to listening, taking feedback and delivering a great product for you later this year.

Source.

I do have to say I’m a little saddened that rather than coming out and explaining what could have been a very good thing for gamers and instead have simply gone back to what we already had.  This response was pretty funny.  This Gizmodo article was also pretty good.  This MS Employee post is also interesting.

What do you think?

What do you all think? Looks a little like the PS3 interface matched with Facebook and Widows Phone 8.

Forum_Romanum_Rom

Hey, folks!  Our fearless leader wanted to look into adding forums to our existing WordPress page, so help us out and start throwing in some topics.  I was going to start some test topics, but that immediately felt ridiculous to me.  I started three forum categories to start and will add from there.  If you have any suggestions or other comments, this is as good a place as any for them.  Or any of my other hundred points of contact.  Enjoy!

DewRitosXboxOne

This fall, Mountain Dew and Doritos will give fans the opportunity to get their hands on thousands of Xbox One consoles through the biggest gaming promotion in brand history. To celebrate the partnership and a new generation of gaming, I have a couple of deluxe DEW/Doritos/Xbox One commemorative kits, complete with limited edition DEW and Doritos products. To enter, leave a comment below and tell me what Xbox One game you are most excited about. I’ll pull two random winners next week to win one of these exclusive commemorative kits.

More on http://www.dewanddoritos.com/

The rules: Deadline to enter is 11:59am Pacific on June 21, 2013. 2 randomly selected winner will be notified by e-mail or Twitter. One entry per person. Read this if you have questions about the Disqus commenting system. Contest is open to US residents only.

Note: If you do not have an e-mail address or Twitter name associated with your Disqus login, you must include your Twitter information in your comment to be eligible. Any winner who does not respond to my notification within 72 hours will forfeit the prize. For faster notification, follow me on Twitter where I can DM you if you won.  Source