Demystifying Cloud Integration for Titanfall

By Dread Reaver, 3 years ago
You have seen the behind the scenes video. Now Jon Shiring, an engineer working on the cloud technology for Respawn's upcoming Titanfall, has attempted to cut through the marketing hype and explain what exactly cloud technology is all about, and why it will be a boon for upcoming cloud enabled games.

First, Shiring explains the typical "player-hosted" gaming model that we are probably most familiar with:

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.
The "player-hosted" model is cheap, since one of the player's machines are doing all the work. However, this model is fraught with downsides, mostly related to the various factors involved with residential Internet connections. The players bandwidth and latency (or to simplify, connection speed) may be less than ideal, and are susceptible to drop-outs. The host also has the benefit of "host advantage", whereby they experience none of the connection speed issues and subsequently have a better chance of winning a competitive session. Of course, the host might also be a cheater...

Shiring goes on to discuss the other traditional online gaming model, known as "dedicated server". Here all the players can just be simple Xbox clients, with the heavy lifting being performed by a big server machine sitting somewhere, hopefully not too far away from each player. However, these servers are expensive to buy, rent and run. This explains why companies, such as Electronic Arts, are keen to turn them off when demand for their games falls.

Shiring explains that the team behind Titanfall wanted to take advantage of the dedicated server model, but without the massive cost that it would have entailed. The Xbox team subsequently came back to Respawn and told them they could use Microsoft's "Azure" platform. For those who don't know, Azure is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure, created by Microsoft, for building, deploying and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers.

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.
The primary difference between Microsoft's Azure infrastructure and the standard "dedicated host" model is that Azure is much cheaper, and can perform some technical wizardry such as automatically configuring the right number of servers based on demand. Therefore publishers don't need to fret over whether they have the correct number of servers available on launch day, make various expensive contracts with ISP's and datacentres worldwide, or manually copy game files to each individual server.

Shiring sees a lot of potential in this new model:

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.
Titanfall will be available in Spring 2014 on the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One.