COLOGNE, Germany – It seems the time has come when a single console is no longer enough to provide the raw power needed to run the most processor-intensive multiplayer games. With so many players running around potentially causing carnage, that humble black box under the TV is starting to give way under the strain.
We’ve already seen this happen with Fall of the Titans, the Xbox One mech-based shooter, which relied on Microsoft’s Azure cloud service to power its AI. The game showed that the cloud can indeed drive games in a real-time environment. But with the coming Crackdown 3—an Xbox One-exclusive action game due out in 2016 – developer Reagent Games has an all-new and much bigger way to use server computing power to back up a multiplayer game.
“We really wanted to do something [with the multiplayer] that was very much in the heart of what To manhandle is,” explained Dave Jones, Clearance 3 creative director and founder of Reagent Games. “It’s a very physical game where you can go out into the world and pick up any trash can, snatch stuff off the street, bust open car doors and use it as a shield, or even pick up the whole car. It was all about physicality, so we really wanted to bring that physicality online [multiplayer] room.”
To meet that original ideal, Jones and his team decided that every element is in it Crackdown 3’s world should be destructible. Plus, total destructiveness is something that Reagent Games believes more open world games should evolve towards.
“We thought, what if we made the whole world completely destructible for the first time?” continued Jones. “We asked ourselves simple questions like ‘why don’t my bullets go through walls when I shoot them?’ or “why can’t I step through the big holes I made in those walls?” It’s a whole different way of thinking about games. If there’s a guy behind the wall, I can just shoot him through the wall, blasting both the wall and the guy to bits. That’s the way we think game worlds have to evolve.’
So buildings are made to a specification that Jones describes as “physical.” Essentially, they’re more than just geometry in a digital space plastered with textures to make them look real. Instead, glass works like glass, concrete like concrete, and steel like steel. Blow up a concrete pillar and a floor of a skyscraper may come down. Destroy the steel core of a structure and the whole thing can collapse.
“My friends might be up in a building shooting at me,” Jones described. “I want to take that building down while they’re still in it. That’s definitely what I want to do. Our buildings are made physical and in order to do that, we have to make sure everything is in accordance with physics. Everything in the world is physical and everything remains. There is no cheating here.”
As an example, Jones shows how he shoots an assault rifle at a plain concrete wall, with each bullet that hits him peeling off small pieces of the structure. There are no predefined “rules” for destruction: where you shoot, the disintegration will happen. This allows you to subvert a structure in a way that suits you. You may want to create a new pass to flank an enemy, which you can do by defining a new hole in the exact spot you want. Alternatively, you might just want to make a small hole to give yourself a sniper spot with more cover, rather than relying on windows or doorways. Or, as Jones suggested, you can take out key supports to bring down an entire hostile building.
All this destruction comes at a price, especially when you consider that there’s also four-player co-op and competitive play – a price too high for the Xbox One to pay on its own. It is here that cloud technology, courtesy of Scottish company Cloudgine, comes into play, compensating for the local shortage of computing power and uncle required to create a fully destructible city.
By pulling up a custom HUD overlay, Jones showed us how much processing power is being used during his live demo. “This doesn’t represent the strength of the whole box,” Jones was eager to explain. “It shows how much we normally have to commit to physics on an Xbox One. As you create more and more destruction you can see that you are actually using the power of the servers you are connected to. Deal enough damage to the base of a building and eventually it should fall down the whole thing will fall and anything that falls to the ground will physically react to that fall you can see the debris falling to the ground the equivalent of an extra xbox one worth of power. The console pulls that extra power from the server when it needs it.”
Another overlay shows exactly which bits of debris are powered by which server, some chunks of concrete pasted green and others blue. These objects reside on different servers all powering the same game, allowing for more detail if needed. If you do so much destruction that you need even more power, a new server will automatically come into play and further distribute the processing workload.
“When [a building] falls, it crushes the building next to it, and that crushes the next building and you can see that uses about six times the power of the Xbox One,” Jones says proudly. “That could go on all over the city map. You can see how you think about using collapsed buildings as a ramp for cars to jump off and get to places you couldn’t reach before. We do a lot of destruction here for destruction’s sake, but this is a great technology test bed, opening up a lot of new areas of multiplayer gaming and making games much more physical.”
Despite how impressive the level of destruction demonstrated in this demo is, Jones refuses to get emotional. After all, what he has just seen is little compared to what he has already seen.
“We’re getting about nine times the power of the Xbox One here in this demo because of the way the guys are playing. However, I think 13 times is our record. You can really level the whole city if you want to. “