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The Problem of Shards, Servers, and Queues In MMOs

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the you-are-two-thousandth-in-line-to-read-this-story dept.

Networking 253

An editorial at GamesIndustry takes a look at a couple of problems many MMOs have failed to solve as the genre has evolved over the last decade: log-in queues and a split player base. The most recent example is Aion, which launched in Europe and North America a few weeks ago. Players on some of the game's servers had to deal with lengthy queues until enough people left the starting areas and spread throughout the game. To NCSoft's credit, the queues are mostly gone already, and it wasn't simply launching with too few servers that was the problem (nor was simply launching more servers a perfect solution, as Warhammer proved). In fact, several servers had no queues at all, but many players had set their sights on the more popular ones — a problem facing other MMOs as well. At this point, it becomes a matter of programming — how can the developers for these MMOs build the networking aspect of the game such that more hardware can easily be allocated when it's needed, and also make it easier for people to play together without the restriction of different shards or servers? EVE Online has done well with a single game universe, but it's not clear how far that model can scale upwards.

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253 comments

fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711885)

I hate sharts! You think you'e going to fart and... whoops, shit all over your underroos.

Oh em gee (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711893)

I fucked your dead great grandmother's searing gorge!

Re:Oh em gee (0)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712401)

*insert Wailing Caverns joke*

Guild Wars (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711905)

Had one "shared world". It was initially restricted to US/EU/Korea or some such, but you could change your territory, at first X number of times, and later on as often as you wanted.

Re:Guild Wars (1)

Rewind (138843) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712779)

but isn't most everything in Guild Wars instanced off? Even towns and the like based on the number of people? I could be wrong, but I thought I remembered that being the case.

Champions did it too (5, Informative)

Locklear93 (1285700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711911)

Champions Online has also launched with a single world architecture. Each zone has multiple instances, dividing the population in dozens of copies of each region, across which players can freely move if they wish to do so. Zones with friends, supergroup (guild members), and party members have priority, of course. These instances CAN fill, but if they do--just get your friends and all go to a new one.

Re:Champions did it too (2, Interesting)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711947)

I rather wouldn't play a game which world is "instanced" like that on zones. You're basically in the same world, but you're not. It just complicates things, and in that case multiple servers would be better.

EVE Online's one world model would be the ideal and it seems to work good there. Of course its also divided into zones and most popular ones can get laggy if theres lots of players and stuff going on - but its still the same world where everyone is.

Having one single world would also make the areas with fewer players more interesting (most 10->60 areas in WoW have been quite empty for long time)

Re:Champions did it too (3, Interesting)

Locklear93 (1285700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711967)

I fail to see how multiple servers is better at all. With an architecture like Champions', if the people with whom you want to play aren't in your zone, you go to them. With traditional server separation, such as WoW's or Aion's, your only hope is that server transfers or the like are allowed. I'm also not sure that it complicates things in any significant way. What's complicated about clicking "Change instance," and looking at the top of the list--which is where the instances in which you have friends, teammates, and guildmates will appear? The confusion of "I'm standing right by [landmark here] and I don't see you!" doesn't really last long.

Re:Champions did it too (4, Insightful)

Nylathotep (72183) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712083)

the complication is its impossible to meet people because they are scattered amongst a hundred shards. Multiply it by the different zones and you never see the same people. Add to it the drop in drop out nature of grouping and the social aspect suffers. Having seperate servers like WoW have their own issues with having friends who play but are not on your server, but at least the people who are on the server you see day in and out.

I'm kinda stalled at 29 because of the group instances, but I don't know people. I don't even know where to go for lfg grouping (ala IF). The built in lfg tool seems to be ignored, to the point that when I tried it, trying to send a message to the people in the list showed noone was online. Maybe they were on an alt, I don't know. You would think the interface would send the message to the currently online character.

I suppose I could join a random supergroup recruiting but I like to actually meet people before joining a group.

Re:Champions did it too (3, Interesting)

theantipop (803016) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712315)

As the above poster describes, it's the social aspect. I appreciate the camaraderie being part of a well defined realm brings. And adding hundreds of personalities to a friends list isn't really the same thing. The most prescient example I can think of was the gate opening event for Ahn'Qiraj in classic WoW. Realms competed to be the first to achieve a collective effort of quests in order to open their gate first. My realm was neck and neck with another to be the world's first, resulting in one of the most exciting atmospheres I've ever been a part of in a game.

Re:Champions did it too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712715)

The most prescient example I can think of was the gate opening event for Ahn'Qiraj in classic WoW. Realms competed to be the first to achieve a collective effort of quests in order to open their gate first. My realm was neck and neck with another to be the world's first, resulting in one of the most exciting atmospheres I've ever been a part of in a game.

Do you remember what happened when everyone tried to be in Silithus when the gates opened?

Re:Champions did it too (2, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712877)

read the anon's post. Eve is the only game to be able to handle tons of people in one area. Wow horribly crashed during AQ opening...do you remember the >3000 MS pings during the event? That thing was beyond laggy both for the pc's and the servers.

population maximums (single server)
Eve: ~45K players at once

Wow: ~8K players at once

Champions online: less.

Basically, nobody can handle the parallelism of eve, mostly because they actually had open instances within the cluster that people could go to (deadspace, missions, etc).

This creates way more social aspects than any other game, but gameplay itself has to be handled differently. Seriously, the social aspects of single server are a thousandfold greater.

an MMO with that many people, as smart as it would be to see companies do such a thing with their technology, would just crash at the idea of 500 people trying to kill the same rabbit for x quest. Only now is blizzard getting around it by letting people see their own live instancing of certain things (aka cataclysm at the same time as the barrens).

Technology takes time. Give it 10 years or so before this is fixed.

Re:Champions did it too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712235)

And before that Dark Age of Camelot did that, although they had different clusters theses clusters were for different play styles but you could switch zones and be on another server like you mentioned.

Re:Champions did it too (2, Interesting)

Veggiesama (1203068) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712737)

Champions Online has the best strategy, in my opinion. As far as I've been playing, they've never had an issue with lag, because they can cap each zone-instance's population to whatever they deem the best. They don't have serious overpopulation problems (like where you can't do a quest because you're waiting for 50 other people to finish it), because of the same reason. You can jump back and forth between instances by clicking one button, and zones with your friends are clearly marked (though it'd be nice if it told you WHICH friends).

What they are unfortunately lacking is a world-wide group searching interface, like a global LFG channel. Currently you are force to instance-hop when you're looking for party members.

I don't buy the "immersion-breaking" factor. What's far more immersion-breaking is finding a new friend in real life who plays the game but plays on a different server, then having to cough up some money to switch servers (in WoW's case).

Eve online runs Windows Server (4, Interesting)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711937)

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (5, Funny)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711955)

Dear Sir or Madam,

The responsible Anti-Microsoft Troll that should have replied to this post by now is on sick leave and was unable to prepare a custom flaming reply to this particular post. In lieu of that, attached is our generic template which we use to write all our flaming responses.

1. Make a general anti-Microsoft jab
2. Blame Microsoft for it's stance against Free Software (and also for lack of network neutrality, the current state of patent laws, the Iraq war, and the extinction of the dinosaurs)
3. Accuse the poster who wrote something positive about Microsoft of being either a fanboy or a Microsoft employee. If the poster in question made a comment about Microsoft's actual support of Free Software in a particular instance, accuse the poster of being an oblivious idiot unable to see through their Embrace-Extend-Extinguish approach
4. State that the Linux revolution is inevitable
5. Finish off with another outpour of flames

We hope you will be able to infer the potential content of the post that should have been done by the respective Troll. Please accept our apologies.

Sincerely,

Assistant Secretary,
Anti-Microsoft Trolling Association, Ltd.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711995)

LOL - that is so awesome - I hope that becomes a new meme

keyword rf

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (5, Funny)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712003)

Sorry, I'm new.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712115)

The only reason people use M$ is because that's what they use at community college. If M$ didn't use their lawyers and lobbyists, Eve would run on a superior free software alternative. The developers were probably scared of a patent lawsuit from Bill Gates himself, who does this all the time. In fact the "poster's" (his ip shows him in Redmond) page stating Eve runs on Windows server is a MS page, so it is probably just FUD from the company who patented FUD as a business process (look it up). I actually heard the Eve servers run FreeBSD, so who knows? It is only a matter of time before no one even plays games on Windows cause Linux is so much better, and then the last games using M$$$ anything will rot forever. EAT THAT MS LOVING CUNTS ALL WHO COME TO SLASHDOT. I KNOW YOU)(*)(F.

Sincerely,

AC

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (1)

mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712473)

I just had to congratulate you on making me laugh the hardest I can ever remember laughing while reading something on the internet.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712827)

I fully support this! It's about time we get our act together and take back this forum from the Microsoft trolls that have had free run for so long.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712187)

So THAT is why they need one hour of downtime every day...

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712481)

Yes, archiving the transaction logs, reorganizing table spaces and stuff like that. Nothing to do really with Windows itself.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712273)

Further proof that Windows is for games.

Re:Eve online runs Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712537)

That's cute. A niche player uses Windows. Meanwhile, the market dominator (WoW) uses Linux and Oracle.

RMT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711949)

Make it $ based... After a certain number, start charging extra to get on more popular servers....

Computational Problem (4, Insightful)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711951)

This is a computational problem that the major game studies are hopelessly under prepared to solve.

Mostly they hire people who get degrees in game design that include very little in the way of computer science. This is actually a fairly difficult problem to solve.

The fundamental design flaw they all have is that servers represent space in the game, it's a flawed assumption about the best model to use.

Re:Computational Problem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712127)

The fundamental design flaw they all have is that servers represent space in the game, it's a flawed assumption about the best model to use.

I'll bite, what's the best model to use?

Re:Computational Problem (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712159)

I have no idea what the best model to use is, but I'm certain it is not mapping servers to certain regions.

If you map servers to regions there is no way for you to have interaction between the regions, as the load increases on a particular area you inevitably must reduce the size of the area each server covers or restrict the number of players in the area. So either you have an ever reduced radius in which you player can interact with the environment or you have to restrict the number of players in a region. Neither of those options sound good to me.

Re:Computational Problem (0)

santiagodraco (1254708) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712337)

You have no idea because you are talking out your you know what. Don't make fluff posts and you won't have your ignorance called out in the open.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712399)

Uh it should be obvious to anybody that if servers map directly to area in the game, and there is no interaction between the servers except to transfer players, then you either have a fundamental density limitation based on the most powerful single server you can get, or you have a direct correlation to player density in an area and the size of the area they can interact with. Obviously with servers mapping to in game area you could end up with a situation in which you cant see the guy standing right next to you because the servers have split right there.

Re:Computational Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712501)

coded many multi-million user games have you?

Re:Computational Problem (1)

oPless (63249) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712601)

Actually, the 'not seeing' part is reasonably straightforward to solve (lots of interaction between servers), but there would be a lot of cases of "weirdness along the edge"

Anyone who's done at least the modicum of thought into the solving of player density & server loading in MMOs would have hit this one.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712643)

In EVE, servers are mapped directly to solar systems and they are in turn connected together. The market, contract system, chat, maps, everything in the game works the same no matter what system/server you are in.

If your alliance is having epic battles you can submit a request for more power in abcd-e system and they will temporarily allocate more power there. Typically this is done in advance because when you jump in 100+ capitals and 300+ support ships you want everything to be running smoothly from the get-go :)

Re:Computational Problem (4, Interesting)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712629)

This fellow was inadvertently correct. Representing space (volume) by putting sections of it onto single computers is a bad idea. Inevitably, no matter how good your design or how well-ordered your content is, some areas are going to become more popular than others. Hence, you're going to get congestion.

A much better model is representing player (and non-player) actions as work units then distributing them evenly across a network of linked computers then getting an integrated result for each "region" (zone, map, city, whatever) each server frame. Make the server frames something like 50 frames per second and have player actions lag about 2-3 frames behind server-side action and you'll see little delay on the client machines but help mitigate potential race conditions between player actions (both players simultaneously attacking and reporting that they attacked on server frame 2,348,342 and both score a fatal blow on the other).

To mitigate player lag you can distribute update packets based on the density of the update vs the distance of the events from the player vs the player's average data rate.

Of course, that's just my two cents.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712151)

None of the major studios hires people out of the game design programs. And certainly not for software development.

Re:Computational Problem (2, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712279)

It depends what you count as "game design". CMU's ETC gets a lot of its grads hired, though it's a masters program, and a large proportion of people there have CS bachelors' degrees already. UC Santa Cruz gets its game-design/CS grads hired also, but it's in the CS department and more of a "game-flavored CS" degree than a game-design degree. Even the more humanities-oriented game-design programs seem to be having some success, but their graduates tend to get hired as designers or artists rather than programmers.

The GP's post doesn't really make any sense, though. The people at major studios working on network-architecture problems are of course network-architecture people, not game designers. In some cases they might not even really know much about game design, beyond what they've needed to learn to deal with the network architecture.

Re:Computational Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712391)

Getting your grad hired, and hired into a major studio are different things.

Re:Computational Problem (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712447)

They're pretty close to equivalent statements, though, since the major studios are such a large percentage of the total job market. If you're getting your grads hired somewhere, that somewhere is likely to be, in large part, Electronic Arts, UbiSoft, Activision/Blizzard, Microsoft Game Studios, etc.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712445)

Wow! I had no idea Central Michigan's program was so well regarded. ;-)

Re:Computational Problem (2, Interesting)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712161)

The fundamental design flaw they all have is that servers represent space in the game, it's a flawed assumption about the best model to use.

I'm probably just being naive here, but isn't the flaw really that the servers represent a fixed amount of space in the game, while at the same time the amount ("density") of user activity in a given space can vary, and therefore the amount of processing and I/O needed to support that space can become more than the server can support?

If so, perhaps a solution would be to make the server's "game-space-allocation" variable... i.e. if a server gets too busy, it allocates another server (from Amazon's E3 cloud or wherever) and transfer half of its game-space (and therefore half of its load) over to the new server. Conversely, if a server becomes underutililized it could merge itself back together with another underutilized server to cut costs.

Of course that would still leave unsolved the problem of seamless interactions across neighboring servers, but it's Sunday so I'm not going to think about that.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712177)

If you simply split the in game area between two servers every time the load gets too great you'd end up with areas where you can neither see nor interact with players right next to you.

Re:Computational Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712365)

You missed the "seamless interaction across neighbouring servers" bit.
Though really, call it a feature. Evil Adversary X, whose dark magic is terrorizing the whole of kingdom Y, has released a mystical Death Fog that feeds on life force, and will close in on any great gathering of people. That explains the sparse population of even the largest cities. (Most everyone has moved to smaller settlements), it discourages large gatherings of players, and it gives you a means of handling them when they happen.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712371)

> If you simply split the in game area between two servers every time the load gets too great you'd end up with areas where you can neither see nor interact with players right next to you.

That is only an issue, if you insist on no communication between servers (hard-handover). If you have a soft hand-over, and servers share information about the border regions, it becomes a non-issue.
You might be limited to interact only with the next, say, 1000 people next to you. Hardly unrealistic.

While keeping such a world consistent would be quite challenging, I wouldn't consider it impossible. The question remains, would the required amount of communication between the servers get overhand?

Re:Computational Problem (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712353)

What about this: Do not let a server reperesent a region of space in the world, but a process. The regions should be smaller than they would be for a whole server representing them. Then run several of these processes on one server. If one server has too much load, move a process to a different server.

Re:Computational Problem (1)

santiagodraco (1254708) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712329)

Ah huh?

It's a design problem, plain and simple. If your designers are dumb enough to dedicate a server without instancing areas, and then expect those servers to not max out, then they need to be fired.

Aion's design is just as bad as everyone elses.

Champions Online, Anarchy Only even, and others have shown how it can and does work with proper design.

If you try to stuff 100 sardines into a can designed to hold 50 you are going to end up with a mess on your hands. Pretty simple logic.

Re:Computational Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712475)

what i find intesting about these disucssions, is everyone forgets about the more important side. the client side.

you mention AO in doing some things right. as a player since 2002, i can tell you, its problem with lots of players in an area is the game client, not the servers (which were recently all replaced to modern hardware). the client just cant handle loading all the textures of everyone, and then having to remember where everyone is. then add on any dynamic lighting, etc. the clients have to make a trade off... and find some balance between pushing out uber graphics and being able to render a ton of people.

Re:Computational Problem (4, Informative)

Matthew Weigel (888) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712433)

Heh, no. I'm an MMOG server programmer, and I know a fair number of others, and a lot of us have backgrounds in distributed computing, with plenty spending time in academia before being lured into games. That game companies mostly hire people with game design degrees is a falsehood propagated by the institutions that offer those degrees. For one thing, there simply aren't enough people going through those schools to feed the industry's need for fresh meat; for another, the quality of programmers fresh out of any school is generally insufficient.

As for fundamental design flaws... eh. I've heard plenty of that kind of talk from (for example) Project Darkstar; it's easy to say that, it's a lot harder to actually do the research to understand all the options and the inherent flaws in each. Interestingly, even EVE Online - lauded for its one-world approach - uses geographic decomposition too, and it works just fine most of the time (and now they've got a system for dedicating special hardware to the corner cases).

Re:Computational Problem (1)

TTimo (253584) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712479)

It is fairly difficult to solve, and it's arguable what you gain from solving it. Truth is, most of the MMO player base is used to the sharding and isn't clamoring for anything else. EvE appeals to the nerdiest of that group, and scalability past their current numbers is far from proven (specially around the large trade hubs and markets like Jita).

Re:Computational Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712759)

No. The problem isn't lag or poor server performance.

The problem is how to avoid overpopulated areas (or almost empty ones) because playing with too many / too few players is not funny. It's a problem of game design, not a technical one.
You need a good balance of low/high level players for the game to be fun (specially for PvP): e.g. 500 players @lvl 1-10, 400 @11-20, 300 @21-30, etc...


The solution is to use queues, and let new players enter the game when the older ones have already leveled up a few levels.

It's not just technical scale (3, Interesting)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711961)

The question of scale for an MMO applies to more than just the ability of the servers to host an increasing number of simultaneous players in a single virtual world. It's also about gameplay, and the MMO paradox: the more massive the world, the less important each player. I would argue that one of the factors in WoW's enduring success is that Blizzard knew when to add new servers not purely for performance reasons, but also to keep the number of players in any particular server at a particular sweet spot.

Too few players and there's no sense of a living, persistent world; too many players and that world is stifling and uninviting.

Actually, it will be interesting to see how things play out with Sony's MAG -- an action game that sits somewhere between classic multiplayer and MMO scale.

Re:It's not just technical scale (3, Insightful)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712343)

Too few players and there's no sense of a living, persistent world; too many players and that world is stifling and uninviting.

It will only be stifling and uninviting if you force/encourage everyone to go to the same places and dungeons. In EVE there's regularly 50k players online at peak hours, and the central market system has up to 1300 players. The game play is such that you do not feel yourself 'crowded in', while still making it clear that you're one amongst many.

You might think it's a bad thing, yet that's looking at it from the WoW perspective were 'everyone is a hero'. In EVE there are only a few real hero's, yet those that are well known have done something of true significance in the game. It's not just a fake hero feeling from playing a game that was designed to make everyone achieve the same thing.

Re:It's not just technical scale (0, Offtopic)

murdocj (543661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712449)

You might think it's a bad thing, yet that's looking at it from the WoW perspective were 'everyone is a hero'. In EVE there are only a few real hero's, yet those that are well known have done something of true significance in the game. It's not just a fake hero feeling from playing a game that was designed to make everyone achieve the same thing.

I question the meaning of being a "hero" in a video game. Are we talking about the rare gamer who has faster reflexes and a deep understanding of how to counter every move his opponent makes? Or is it just Cartman sitting in his basement spending 24x7 killing boars?

The strength of WoW is that I can go in to the game, play for a bit, have some fun, feel a sense of accomplishment, and leave. If I want to feel like a grunt supporting some massive guild or corporation, all I have to go is go in to work, where my status is abundantly clear.

What Blizzard understands and has mastered is that games need to be fun. WoW, unlike a lot of MMOs, is not necessarily an alternate life. You don't have to live in the game to enjoy the game. Blizzard makes the game fun, regardless of how you like to play: pvp, pve, exploring, crafting, alts, endgame, social experience, whatever.

Re:It's not just technical scale (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712887)

Because of the nature of EVE's gameplay, being a "hero" is a lot more than memorizing moves or grinding. The cut and thrust of the gameplay is mostly tactical- there are relatively few different "things" you can do in battle, but how you choose to balance and utilize them is you decision.

But to be honest, what really makes the difference in EVE is bravery. In EVE, the losses of an exploding ship are extremely meaningful- you lose something, and it's lost.

When you come across players with a good mind for tactics, the willingness to put themselves on the front line, and the charisma to persuade others to do the same...that's the sort of person that becomes a famous name.

The strength of EVE is that everything really feels like it really, really matters. Much of that would be lost without the feeling of the single shard.

Typo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29711973)

typo: EVE online has done well with a single universe game, not single game universe.

Dark Age of Camelot (2, Informative)

Renraku (518261) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711991)

DAoC is now, for most intents and purposes, one server. The cluster is called Ywain, and I think it goes from Ywain-1 to Ywain-9. Each server shares its RvR (realm versus realm) areas with the other servers, so all Ywain players go to the same RvR instance. The main cities do as well. However, outside and in dungeons, the servers are independent. This is to keep 1,000 people from showing up in the same area.

You can change the server in main cities and other important areas by means of an NPC.

It's a nice way to do things. If Ywain-1 is too populated, go to Ywain-2. It lets the player decide how full or empty they want their experience to be.

Re:Dark Age of Camelot (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712361)

Sounds like a nice way to keep the PvP(a.k.a., RvR)areas populated and the PvE areas from being over populated.

But the cloud... (-1, Offtopic)

Nursie (632944) | more than 4 years ago | (#29711997)

... surely with its unlimited processing power on demand the cloud will solve this problem?

It's obvious, we just need to move MMOs into the cloud where everything just works because the usual rules don't apply.

Nature Online (5, Funny)

Bazman (4849) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712007)

...manages to run a single world instance - it does raytraced graphics in real time, the fees aren't too bad but I'm not sure how to respawn.

Re:Nature Online (5, Funny)

Locklear93 (1285700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712041)

Respawning is easy. It's not coming back as a level 1 dung beetle that's hard.

Re:Nature Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712051)

LOL I almost did a google search for "Nature Online"... *sigh*.

Re:Nature Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712065)

Did you take the reincarnation option when you created your "Avatar"?

Re:Nature Online (1)

prionic6 (858109) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712173)

Gameplay is shitty, though.

Re:Nature Online (4, Funny)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712423)

Depends on your race, class, and faction.

Re:Nature Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712545)

WASP is so over powered, needs balancing.

Re:Nature Online (4, Funny)

Cloud K (125581) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712283)

Ah, no, you combine two characters roughly around level 30 (although some elite players manage it at 13, against the rules in most zones) and spawn a new avatar from that. Curiously, Slashdot players often neglect to work on that particular skill set and often fizzle the Matefinding spell.

The new avatar does start at level 1 though and you are normally expected to mentor them until at least level 18. And you don't get to play the new avatar yourself - character death is permanent and linked to your account. However there are rumours that your account may be ported to a secret project when your character dies, either on the good or evil side depending on your actions during the original game.

I also find it quite difficult to get vendors to buy spider legs and pieces of rotting zombie skin from me in this world - it's a lot more focused on tradeskills as a way of earning money.

Re:Nature Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712463)

Zombie killing isn't a tradeskill?!?! That's it, I quit, and I want a refund on my monthly payment!!!!

Re:Nature Online (5, Funny)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712905)

The Crafting system is definitely the best in any MMO I have seen. Literally anything can be made and sold if you can find other users who want to buy it, and if the item in question doesn't exist, the system is flexible enough to allow you to create it yourself. Some items are banned though, and there can be severe penalties for attempting to produce or sell them - although in some cases if you have secured a position with an in game guild (called a "Corporation" in Nature Online terminology, or a "Government" in some cases (although usually Corporation own Governments, its complex)), you can get away with it due to guilds have superior rights in game over individual player characters.
Actually Nature Online is really quite cutting edge with regards to the player created content aspect of the game. Pretty much everything in game is player-created.
The PvP system is quite evolved, can be highly stressful, and quite well supported. Perma-death does tend to decrease player willingness to participate in PvP however. The fact that PvP can theoretically break out anywhere at any time does lend a certain frisson to the game for some people, although often the likelihood of such impromptu PvP, or even dueling (which has gone out of fashion amongst players) can be determined by the zone you are in.
Oh, yeah, zoning. The Zoning system is perfect, there is literally no noticeable difference when you zone from one area to another.
Communications can be a problem. There are great communications tools available (although strangely no universal guild chat of any kind), but while spatial/local chat is free, virtually every other type of chat costs the player "money" (the term for credits/gold in the game).
Its quite common for players to complain about the maintenance periods in an MMO. Virtually every MMO requires some downtime to do maintenance on the system, but players often find it extremely annoying that they can't play during this period. NO has solved this with a unique approach - each player character regularly undergoes a downtime for maintenance - often as much as 8 hours per day - but the whole system remains running at all times. This asymmetrical approach to server maintenance means that each individual can choose the time for their downtime maintenance, and its even flexible enough to allow you to break the roughly 8 hours required up into smaller periods stretched out over the day (although this is not recommended) or even to skip nightly maintenance entirely - although this can end up in resulting in a longer maintenance period the following day, and if repeated too many times in a row can result in distorted graphics, lag and lowered response times in many areas of the game.
Overall Nature Online is a superior title and one that many MMO players should investigate more (although virtually all of them have one of the free accounts you recieve if you are lucky enough to be invited to the game, many do not participate beyond the minimums required to get started). It does have a long learning curve. It does have permadeath (although as noted above some people believe you do get a new account at a later date, some people believe you end up in new secret projects that are perhaps in beta at the moment. Its all based on wild player speculations, so take it with a grain of salt). It does have the most unique and engaging new player creation system ever devised, which allows 2 players to create a new account that will be handed out to a random recipient. In fact this system is so much fun many players engage in it just for the enjoyment of the process - sometimes even to the degree that they ignore the actual requirement that both players cannot be of the same "gender" (an obscure classification of character sub-type that is one of the things you can't choose when you are spawned). If for no other reason I highly suggest you explore this subsystem of the game, it really is unrivaled by any other system in any other MMO, period. Its even better than PvP for most players!
My personal ratings for Nature Online:

Graphics: 10/10 (The graphics are perfect, its hard to imagine any improvements that could be made)

Gameplay: 8/10 (it often seems quite hard and there is little balance between players. Equipment and credits matter a *lot*).

Documentation: (1/10 There are is no inherent documentation and players must seek all such out themselves. Moreover game content seems to change during play so documentation is often totally out of date).

Immersion: 10/10

Crafting and Economy: 10/10 (it can be very hard to get invested in the crafting and economy system though. Often it takes years to get placed well, although respecs are possible they can also be expensive. There seems to be a very large number of money sinks in game, perhaps too many).

PvE Combat: 5/10 PvE combat is frowned on in most areas except rural zones, and even then rules often exist to limit PvE combat to certain time periods related inexplicably to the in game weather phases known as "seasons".

PvP Combat: 7/10 Extremely graphic, traumatic to many, permadeath is definitely a negative factor. Level of gameplay to be had is widely varient based on equipment and training prior to engaging in PvP. Zones for PvP are spawned randomly in many areas of the map and there is sometimes no warning. Since TEF flags are automatic, you might find yourself in a combatant role suddenly without warning and while you have left your combat related equipment elsewhere - if you even own any or have trained in the appropriate skills. Luckily this is not true of all zones, just some.
Oveall Rating: 8/10 (Most players state that they would definitely prefer more use of the New Account spawning process in game. Left to their own devices some would engage in this process until their account expired).

Re:Nature Online (4, Insightful)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712317)

Yeah - but that system is riddled with bugs. People are always finding exploits. And the development team is unreachable. I mean, sure - there are those who claim to be community managers but I think most of them are con-artists and trolls. I don't think I've ever managed to get in touch with a real GM. I'm not even sure how their ticketing system really works.

So sure - you have one example of a single world instance that's pretty popular. But it has so many flaws. And that is really driving a market for a different implementation. Otherwise, you wouldn't see all this competition trying to come up with alternatives.

Re:Nature Online (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712327)

Isn't it just a single player game with really good AI ?

Re:Nature Online (1)

john951 (873321) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712553)

the player-driven economy has gone to hell these days though.

Re: The Problem of Shards, Servers, and Queues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712101)

The reason queues are such an issue is because the game "world" is layed out linearly. I.e. everyone does the level 1-10 zone, then moves to the 11-20 zone, etc. If each zone had a range of content for all levels, when the game launches you would be able to split the player base evenly across each zone (assuming each zone was on it's own box) without the need to throttle so heavily, rather than the current system of "limit the number of people online until X% amount have dinged level 10 and gone to the next zone, then let the next lot in".

Regarding EVE Online, the single-shard thing works because each solar system is it's own instance (you can't traverse the space between the solar systems and arrive at the next one) - when you use a star gate (or if in a big enough ship, your own build in jump drives) you are moved to a different instance which could be located on any number of the hundreds of blades CCP has for EVE. Usually the only time large amounts of players congregate together are in the big trading hubs (because they are lazy and won't sell the items in the system 60 seconds away) or during huuuuuuuuge space battles where usually everyone is killed by mass Titan AoE before the servers have a chance to crash.

Getting a single-shard working for a "traditional" - i.e. on one planet - MMOG would either require an enormous amount of spread-out content to allow hundreds of thousands of people to play in the same world at once, or heavy instancing like Guild Wars (please no "Guild Wars isn't a proper MMO arguments"). And if you didn't go for the instancing route, then I hope to god you don't have "kill xxx amount of mobs" in the starting areas. Having 20-50 people after the same mob was bad enough. 2000-5000? *shudders*

Re: The Problem of Shards, Servers, and Queues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712255)

Makes me think of Diablo, there's heavy instancing for you.
If you want a world massive enough to scatter players without instancing, you're probably looking at procedurally generated content. Though people tend to flock together due to social factors anyway. Even if you had an infinite amount of "level 1-10" places, I'm betting a good half of your players would end up in the same spot and then complain about lag. And as they level up they'll become even more integrated and homogenous, unless perhaps you try to segregate them based on choices like class, guild or other game choices you can be reasonably sure will vary among players.

On the other end of the scale (1)

Cloud K (125581) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712213)

One of the major problems facing worlds such as Everquest is the fact that it's been wonderfully expanded to accommodate the huge player base - and then they've all left. What you're left with is a huge sprawling world with a few players rattling around in one corner of it. Login queues certainly aren't an issue at that point.

Re:On the other end of the scale (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712387)

That is why the idea of spawning more copies of the same game zone as it fills up is not such a bad idea. Not just for spreading the load across different servers, but also for making sure the game world doesn't get too crowded. Age of Conan (and a few others) do this... when AoC launched, the servers were chock-full but I never saw any queue. The popular game zones could have as many as 8 instances, but each of those had a reasonable populace without being overcrowded. As players inevitably left the game (most MMOs these days seem to draw a big crowd and lose most of it in the first few months), the number of parallel instances of each game zone dwindled as well. These days most zones rarely spawn a second instance, but since everyone is in the same zones, they do not feel that empty either.

Easy fix (1, Interesting)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712245)

You know how sometimes when a popular game is released, you can't get it at the store because they're sold out? Do that for MMOs. Basically, limit the number of people who can start playing at launch, and let them eagerly await when their copy will arrive in the store, rather than letting everyone start playing immediately and be disappointed by having to wait 3 hours to log in.

Re:Easy fix (2, Informative)

drsquare (530038) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712313)

But most MMOs' business models revolve around selling as many copies as possible before people realise the game is shit.

Re:Easy fix (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712363)

True enough. The solution I proposed only applies if a.) the game is good, and b.) you don't want your good game marred by a bad launch.

Project Darkstar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712257)

I have been interested in Project Darkstar ( http://www.projectdarkstar.com ) for a while now. It's a middleware solution written in Java. It seems to be quite usable but the one "big point" is still not implemented afaik: Network Load Balancing. But might be worthwhile to remember it if you are trying to take on such an enormous project.

My Take on the issue: (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712297)

As I'm not a CS Major or even a competent programmer (I failed Basic), my idea might not hold water but here goes: Why not go with a Load Balancing setup, just like any high availablilty website/service? You'd need a Master Controller (Root DNS anyone?) and it parcels out clients to each server based upon how much load that sever is under. To me it makes more sense to do away with the Server/Shard/Region system in favor of the Load Balanced setup as it should allow for a seamless addition of resources instead of the problems currently being seen. Of course, as GW (NCSoft) offers, you can ensure that guild-members (special groups) are placed on the same server but other then special membership groups like that, why?

Re:My Take on the issue: (1)

zaffir (546764) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712421)

We aren't talking about serving up web pages, or single-player experiences. Each time you visit a website a different server in a load balancing setup can be used because the content is the same. But in an MMO, other players are part of the content.

Friendships exist outside of just guilds. Players form friendships with players in other guilds, players form friendships in real life and then want to play with those people, etc. This doesn't address the fundamental problem that most players want to be where everyone else is. You're going to have players abusing the system to get the desired effect: everyone joins one giant guild so they can all be on the same server all the time, etc. If you give the players any amount of control, they will use it to do damage. Maybe not with malicious intent, but it'll happen. This is why some WoW realms are overcrowded, and others are ghost towns.

Everyone wants to be able to interact with everyone else seamlessly. Anything less is a detriment to gameplay.

Re:My Take on the issue: (2, Insightful)

haruharaharu (443975) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712697)

Because load balancers are for situations where each request is independent and transactional. Online games depend on interaction between characters, which basically makes loadbalancers useless where it counts.

Re:My Take on the issue: (1)

Veggiesama (1203068) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712757)

This is pretty much how Champions Online operates, and I am quite happy with it. You avoid overcrowded game-spaces while avoiding ghost town game-spaces too. If your initial population of 1000 players dwindles down to 200, and your instance-size is 100, then your original 5 instances is simply reduced to 2 without impacting the players' perceptions.

Grid network (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712369)

Since the game world is essentially a 2-D surface, why not arrange the servers in a grid topology? Each server can talk directly to the servers north, south, west, and east of it. Long-range traffic can either be routed through the grid, or, depending on its urgency, sent through a central router that is one hop from every node (i.e. the nodes are connected both in grid and star formation). A front-end load balancer takes care of transferring players' TCP connections from one node to the next as they move in game-space. That's a total of six physical network links: four for the cardinal directions, one to the star hub, and one to the load balancer.

Depending on how busy any one tile of game-space might be, the node serving that tile could be anything from a dual-core to a four-way quad core. For sudden, extremely heavy use of a particular tile, a more powerful node in hot standby could be switched in to handle the spike -- you could have an array of such "super nodes" always in hot standby.

Re:Grid network (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712407)

The problem, I think, is this:
If I am on server A in some city, and you are on server B in that same city...you also have to be on server A, otherwise I can't interact with you. I'll admit, I don't know a whole lot about these things either, though I am a comp sci major, but it seems to me that the server sending me all the information about the world has to handle all the information about any people near me in the world, or I will not see them. So if we have two different servers sending us information, and we are right next to each other, then 90% of what those servers are sending us is the exact same information. If the issue was purely bandwidth, or mostly static content, then sure, you can just add more servers. But because of the way players need to interact in these games, that isn't quite possible. You can't just randomly throw players onto different servers, because the world content isn't static. In fact, I believe the way most of these games work is that the static content is hosted from your PC locally anyway. The only thing the servers really deal with are player (and NPC) interactions.

Re:Grid network (1)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712437)

That's not a problem... It's basically how EVE Online works with it's star systems.

You need to route communication that is 'global' to a dedicate machine, and considering that it's far less resource intensive than the game play itself, one machine should be able to handle millions of users. (Think IRC server with some extra fun stuff)

Re:Grid network (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712519)

I'm not talking about throwing players onto the grid "at random." The grid encodes the topology of the game space. Using the United States as an example, you could have a server for each state. As a player moves from one state to another their connection is transferred by the load balancer.

It is true that if two players are on different servers, there must be some inter-server communication for them to interact. It would be like two people standing on either side of the Washington-Oregon border for instance. But the idea is that this communication is limited to those users who are "physically" near each other in game-space. Long distance communication would be routed through a different network (the analogy in the physical world is the Internet itself.) The node is only an engine that serves to enforce physics and game rules. Players as well as objects and their accompanying behavior programs would actually be transferred between nodes as they move.

Re:Grid network (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712781)

Yes, and that's exactly how they work currently. The problem is, say your MMO world is the state of Pennsylvania. You have a server for Pittsburgh, a server for Philly, and a server for everywhere else. But the Philly server is still too full. What do you do? You can maybe divide the city up into a few regions and put those on their own servers, but eventually you reach a point where you just cannot add any more servers. In the specific case mentioned in the article, the problem was that there were too many players in the single beginning zone. It's hard to add more servers to a zone that small.

Re:Grid network (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712797)

The issue that comes in that even the article talks about. Is the problem of when say Oregon becomes wildly popular and tries to contain more people than the server can handle.

Re:Grid network (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712855)

The issue that comes in that even the article talks about. Is the problem of when say Oregon becomes wildly popular and tries to contain more people than the server can handle.

In the short term, you would switch in a more powerful zone server from a pool of "battle servers." In the long term, you would carve the tile/zone into multiple pieces and split them between servers on an on-demand basis.

Re:Grid network (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712565)

No, he already correctly addressed the problem you described. Since each server maps to a grid-space, if you are on server A and I am on server B, walk closer. It's an intuitive way of dealing with the problem, since it correlates with real-world experience. You cannot talk to me in real life simply because you happen to be in the same city -- you need to be on the same building, or at least the same block.

Re:Grid network (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712809)

No, he already correctly addressed the problem you described. Since each server maps to a grid-space, if you are on server A and I am on server B, walk closer. It's an intuitive way of dealing with the problem, since it correlates with real-world experience.

That's mostly what I am getting at, but if the game rules allow for it, you shouldn't have to get closer to the other player to communicate. In that case, servers A and B would exchange messages directly with each other since they share a border. The worst case scenario would be a battle occupying a large space than spans two servers -- both servers might have to track each arrow/missile/combatant that crosses the border of the two tiles. A possible solution would be to temporarily merge servers A and B such that A simulated everything and B was temporarily idle. If server A cannot handle the total load of the battle then one of the emergency hot standbys would switch in.

Secondlife Grid anyone?? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712857)

Most of the Problems are sort of being handled in SecondLife by working with a "Grid"

1Each sim/region has its "stuff" running on a single computer (for full level regions Homesteads and OpenSpace regions are "stacked")
2 Player inventory is on a separate set of servers
3 communications is also on a separate set of servers (in fact i think text and voice are also separate)

Of course this is not all working perfectly but it does scale since SL has a running average of about 50K-70K logged in accounts and most of the time
server updates are the only times that a sim will be down for more than 5 minutes.

Bind server on login, not character creation (1)

Informis (1654361) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712555)

The real problem is the way MMOs bind your character to a server. If you could pick the server at login, you eliminate the immersion problems instancing seems to cause people, and you give people a way to self-select their way out of overloaded server situations. It's still instancing/sharding, but without the restrictions MMOs feel they need to impose these days. Then again, you wouldn't get to rake in $25 every time someone wants to play with their friends on another server.

This problem will stay for a while (1)

lhoguin (1422973) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712561)

Because everyone has to start from the starting area. And it's kind of hard for a server to handle 100K+ players. Even if the server technically could, the game wouldn't be playable because it would be too crowded.

I can suggest two solutions, both with their flaws. They all allow single worlds to happen though.

* Make the world big. Really big. Big enough to have dozens of starting areas (and as much end-game areas, as the problem will move to those areas after a while). Problem is it costs more to develop and it's fragmenting the community in various areas.
* Let the servers dynamically add instances to crowded areas with an easy way for people to switch to join their friends. For example a party invite to someone on a different instance will "magically" move the players on a single instance (one that isn't already full). Here there is also a fragmentation happening but everyone will experience more or less the same game.

Distributed Computing (1)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712575)

It seems like the better way would be to develop and deploy the MMO in an environment much like super computers and their applications are. Connecting servers with ultrahighspeed interconnects like InfiniBand (or now maybe even 10Gb ethernet would suffice) to create one large fabric of processing - not individual hotspot servers. This would allow the environment to dedicate more processors and memory to hotspots and not have idle servers laying around waiting for a group of players to explore that part of the map.

It seems a little ridiculous in this age of virtualization and distributed computing that they couldn't have come up with something a little better.

RDBMS? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29712811)

Perhaps it's time to start looking at using an RDBMS for such a contraption. They've been bypassed in the past for such because their response time is not predictable and/or consistent enough for most real-time activities. (That's not the same as being "slow" I would note.) However, if the complexities of the other ways are causing timing problems anyhow, then maybe the RDBMS's downsides are no longer as large in comparison.

Problems With The Shard ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29712897)

Has none of you seen 'The Dark Crystal' [imdb.com] for details on how to solve that ?
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