The Night of the Clones Video

Nov 30, 2017

“The first time I really felt super-powered in City of Heroes was when I stumbled into a Rikti invasion with my level eight scrapper.

I’d been cautiously fighting groups of two or three enemies, unable to defeat stronger ones.  Suddenly, I was on an eight-man team surrounded by forty other players, moving across the battlefield like an unstoppable demigod.  Of course, looking back my success was fueled by dozens of buffs from the many other heroes in the event.  But the excitement of joining a big raid and taking down alien bosses even at a low experience level never left me.”

-Consultant, CEO of Heroic Games

It has been about eight months since we released our network test video, and we think we’ve made a lot of progress in optimizing the game since Remember the Torch.  In Remember, we showed about 14 characters logged in from multiple locations.  This time we’ve logged in over 100 characters!

As far as we know, no other development team is using UE4 to show 100 highly-customized characters like ours in regular gameplay where the characters can see each other and interact.  Some famous and popular MMOFPSs like PlayerUnknown’s Battleground and Fortnite have 100-player battles.  But the nature of PVP is such that one rarely sees a large number of other players simultaneously during gameplay.

We do not yet know precisely what number of players we can enable in raid situations, where all of the players will be closely-packed, using their powers and fighting enemies who are also using powers.  But this test result suggests that we can enable the kind of large raids that many MMORPGs simply cannot do.  And in Ship of Heroes, large raids are NOT just end-game content; they will be open to players at every level of progression.  We already have a Nagdellian invasion in the planning stages that will be open to all players, from newbies all the way to those at the level cap.  There will be no waiting for the end-game, or tedious grinding to get the minimum gear to participate, or being restricted to a specific team composition to win.  This ideal is an essential part of the friendly, upbeat player experience we are creating.

This video also gives you, our community, real and tangible information about how we are doing with the networking side of Ship of Heroes.  You can see the actual FPS numbers from a test computer, and how they vary as the test proceeds.  We’re demonstrating the results of quite a bit of coding and art development over the last year to get here.  The code and the art are intertwined – some improvements make the game look much better, while other changes allow it to run efficiently despite the rising complexity.

We decided to measure FPS because that is the metric that best reflects the player experience. Does the game lag, or not, when a lot of players are in a real area in the persistent world? Not in a barren test map, not in the Editor, but in the real game. And you can see that we have made considerable progress.

Technical Notes

 

The Night of the Clones is a big raid test video revealing our progress towards a unique style of gameplay only available in Ship of Heroes.  This video combines our October and November milestones for network and stress tests.  We’ve shown 100 copies (clones) of a real, fully-customized character, made in our own character creator with our own art assets.  The clones are in motion, in-game (not in the editor), in a mission map we built and showed off last July, and our servers are currently contracted from AWS.  We’ve come a long way since our last video with a large number of characters, Remember the Torch.  Back then, even a dozen characters generated some lag – and they were mostly standing still!

For this test, four developers in separate locations in the US and Europe logged in as players, and recorded their FPS numbers.  We coded over 100 individual accounts with separate copies (clones) of Sword Blossom, and brought the clones into the test environment like a player would when logging in.  In addition, we logged the clones in from different server locations across the US to more closely mimic real-life playing conditions.

The first stress test component of this video comes in when we increase the number of clones to 100, 200, and then 300.  While there is some clumping of the many Sword Blossom clones as they walk around, there is no significant degradation in the animations or gameplay, other than a small amount of skipping.

The second stress test component of this video is having 100 Sword Blossom clones simultaneously fire a power (Darkness Ray, from the Dark Magic powerset) at a large mech monster.  Darkness Ray spawns particles and also has a beam component, so it is a mid-level power in terms of bandwidth requirements; Sword Blossom’s own powers are less graphically intensive, and therefore not suited to a stress test.  While FPS dropped into the 20s in this situation, we are pretty pleased with the outcome, and with the engine data we recorded during the test.  This data is helping to guide us as we make a series of improvements for our next few stress tests.

While recording the video, all four computers used a 1920×1080 screen resolution.  It is possible to trade off screen resolution for more frames-per-second, and this will likely be an option in real gameplay, but we did not need to do so during our test.  In addition, shadows are turned on, and no mechanisms are active which would limit usage of the CPU or GPU, so this test reflects what some games refer to as “ultimate” graphics settings.

Character animations in Unreal Engine 4 have their own data channel, so we wanted to ensure that we were testing this element of networking as well.  All of the clones move, stop, and re-start according to our programmed instructions.

For this sequence of tests, the computer used to record the video is a desktop machine with an NVIDIA GTX980 graphics card. We have set a target level of 30 frames per second (FPS) for the game, and the recording desktop easily achieved the goal. Of the other three computers we included in the test, two had higher FPS values, and only one had lower values.

By the end of the year, we still plan to show at least one more video with a new powerset, and also a video of the upgrades made to the Warehouse district of Apotheosis City. We’ll also be conducting some small scale escorted alpha tours to begin testing our combat system with a few members of our community.

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