Thursday, February 20, 2014

How Respawn and Titanfall is a positive step in the right direction ...

For PC gaming, that is.

I've been a gamer for a long time. As long as I can remember back to messing around with an Atari 2600 to Colecovision.

In recent years, I transitioned from PC gaming to console gaming. It made sense at the time. The graphics were great, the community features and online aspects were strong plus "it just worked". There were no upgrades to deal with, drivers to mess with and again, everything was built in to the ecosystem.

One of the best things about consoles is the matchmaking system for multiplayer games. There are no server lists to dig through. It either did it in the background or it was host based which has it's own issues but matchmaking was a very simple affair. Either way, it tried it's best to set you up in the lowest latency/best connection and that was it. Combine that with VoIP/team chat enabled as long as you plug in a mic and you have an painless experience for the most part.

But things started to change.

The community changed which is going to be a given as the price of said systems dropped and more people started adopting it. But that wasn't the worst change. It was the rage quitters and the players who can't gracefully take a loss. That and silly initiatives like skill based matchmaking which is another issue entirely and should be saved for another post.

Rage quitting is a huge issue. More so with host based, multiple player scenarios. When a salty individual decides that he/she can't handle the beating, they opt to just quit out instead of trying harder or learning to play better. Not sure what the big deal is with taking a loss unless these "e-stats" that are recorded mean that much to that individual - which it shouldn't because those stats are technically useless because of the fact that they rage quit to save their stats ... 

Anyway, the ease and speed of host based matchmaking has that huge drawback of affecting every player in that match if the crybaby, who may happen to be the host at the time decide to "dashboard" or quit out of the match. Sometimes the game is smart enough to initiate a host migration but other times, you're dropped back to the matchmaking screen. So that's a disruptive event.

So what alternative is there? Server based matchmaking? The rage quitting issue is resolved but others are introduced. You sometimes can't insure that you'll be placed on the same team as your friend because a lot of the game servers aren't coded for that. It's just not set up that way and it never really was. And watch out when there is a "balancing" feature enabled. Chaos everywhere. 

I mean, look at the current top server based shooter (commercially) - Battlefield 4. You still can't form a party before starting a match and getting in to the same server is a crap shoot. Sadly, this is also the preferred method of PC matchmaking for competitive type gaming. So it's harder for me anyway to make "casual" nights for gaming with friends harder.

So ... to the meat of this post. What has Respawn done with Titanfall that is so different. It starts with having the ability to invite friends into a party so that everyone will end up on the same team in that party - every single time. But what they've also done is something interesting. They utilize matchmaking servers to set players and parties. Then they throw them onto server instances in Windows Azure - the "cloud" shit that Microsoft keeps on touting for Xbox One).

What Azure does is that, in theory, they spin up additional instances of servers depending on the need at the moment. There are no dedicate server constantly up. It's all based on a pool system. So if there are less players, those instances should spin down. More players, instances spin up. The HUGE benefit to this, as long as there is enough infrastructure, is that everything should be seamless and invisible to the player. There are no server addresses to remember. No coordinating of where to connect with friends. Friend join party, party leader launches matchmaking and boom, you're in a game.

Add to the fact that now, you don't need a Ventrillo or TeamSpeak server for game communication up (Google Hangouts or any of the other VoIP apps work GREAT!) ... Respawn and Titanfall is pulling me back into PC gaming. If this trend keeps up and other developers figure out how to use Azure or other cloud technologies for server and matchmaking management, I think my console time is going to diminish quite a bit. 

Hell, having Titanfall being that much of a better experience on PC than it's going to be on Xbox One also cements my choice of not purchasing a One in the foreseeable future.

Thanks Respawn. Keep up the good work. Don't bother looking into putting in kill streaks in Titanfall 2. Please stay the HELL away from death streaks.

Also, the beta was awesome as fuck. Seriously. Only found one real bug and that was a minor graphical issue that I'm sure will be resolved by launch. Most fun I've had on a FPS game since MW2. I can't wait till March 11th.