Respawn Engineer Jon Shiring, aka “Slothy”, is grateful for Xbox One’s Xbox Live Compute program built upon Microsoft’s Azure server database, powering a number of the standout features that Titanfall delivers.
Speaking to Xbox Live’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb in a recent podcast, Shiring explains how the new tech has made the lives of Respawn’s designers all the more easier and how the studio was able to incorporate elements that “no one’s really tried before”.
“There’s a lot of things we’re doing in this that’s really different from how any other game has done it before,” he said.
Shiring went on to compare the traditional use of dedicated servers in first-person shooters to the new approach that Respawn is taking with Titanfall.
“In sort of the traditional model of dedicated servers is you go to your server and that is your home base and you love it,” he explained. “One of the key things that is interesting about the Xbox Live Compute that runs on Azure is that they’ve commodotised servers so much, that we just don’t care. I can ask for a server, use it for 10 seconds, and then go like, ‘ah we don’t need it anymore’ and throw it out.”
“We bounce people around server to server, and so you’re hitting a lot of different servers and that let’s us do cool things,” Shiring continued. “But it completely upends the old model of like, ‘I’m going to find my server and stay there forever’. And so there’s been a lot of interesting changes because of that idea that’s gone through everything from matchmaking and skill and how we do the training in the beginning of the game and all these things that are – no one’s really tried before and kind of left everyone scratching their heads for a while when we were figuring out how we were going to do it. But it was really interesting to me.”
Shiring admits that Xbox Live Compute has seemingly been shrugged off as a marketing gimmick by many onlookers, but thinks that all that might change with Titanfall: “And I know that the internet is very sceptical that this is real. Hopefully less so now that Titanfall is out and they realize that they really are playing on these servers out there.”
So, what do these servers actually do? How does it make Titanfall better than it might have been otherwise? Shiring explains that the key lies in the amount of freedom in brings the game’s designers, saying that it let them “go crazy and do things like throw AI in multiplayer and have these ships flying around the world and all these things that in a peer-to-peer hosted game – I know this is a little technical, but in a peer-to-peer hosted game, the bandwidth isn’t there.”
He continued: “You’re not going to find all these home consoles that have the amount of CPU and bandwidth you need to be broadcasting that there’s 400 things moving this frame. It just melts down everything that is there. So once we can just tell the designers, ‘yeah don’t worry about it, just spawn that thing and make it move. It’s fine.’
Ultimately, what worked out for Respawn was that their designers “weren’t constantly fighting limitations, they were just trying to, ‘hey you know what’d be cool? It’d be cool if this happened,’” Shiring states. “You know if you had a gun that shot all these things and each one was a real particle and it’s going to travel through the air, you’re doing a lot less compromising and you’re just letting them go do great stuff, cause our designers are really, really good, and the worst thing we can do is tell them ‘no’.
So far, it seems to be making for a pretty good game that is resulting in a lot of happy online multiplayer FPS nuts. With that, be on the lookout for a number of improvements and new features in the near future.
Keep your sights on MP1st for everything Titanfall.