I dragged myself into London last night for the London MMO Meetup. I had some clients that I wanted to chat to who were going and the programme looked good.
This was the first "meetup" that I'd been to, it was good and the format worked well. We were hosted by King at their London office on Wardour Street. The office was great, the presentation space was good and they provided a nice spread of food and drink.
Ben Hollis from King spoke first about the considerations of designing a casual, synchronous, multi-player game and the design decisions involved in insuring that people actually want to play and keep playing. It was fascinating stuff for a server dev like myself who rarely needs to think about this stuff even when my clients are gaming people. The biggest take away for me was how King tracks player activity, such as how many players progress to each level, etc. and uses this for feedback into how the game is designed. I'm always telling my clients that getting good data out of your server is important but my focus is usually on performance and server design issues rather than player/client interaction stuff. I can see that I'll be pushing even harder for people to understand the importance of getting lots of data from your server so that you can visualise what's going on.
Next up was Christof Wegmann from Exit Games who had a more technical talk about how 'netcode is hard', tell me about it... His guys had an interesting take on multi-player games and how more modern (and complex) forms of mult-user network interaction are unnecessary for some types of game and how something a little simpler (and more old school) can work. He then went on to detail his company's take on Deterministic Lockstep and how they'd overcome and replaced some of the non-deterministic APIs in Unity to allow them to implement a deterministic lockstep protocol which avoids lag with a 'guess ahead' algorithm and then uses an intelligent rollback technique if the guessing was incorrect. It all sounded pretty clever and for the game genres where it's appropriate it looks like it should be much smoother than a more normal deterministic lockstep design.
Thanks to Joe Nash for organising and Viviane Costa from King for hosting.