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PlayStation (Games) XBox (Games) Entertainment Games

Should Online Console Games Have Dedicated Servers? 69

Posted by simoniker
from the scale-scale-scale dept.
Thanks to GameSpot for its 'GameSpotting' editorial discussing the problems of online console gaming without dedicated servers. The author points out: "Let's consider the top upcoming shooters on both the PS2 and the Xbox: Killzone and Halo 2... the cold, hard fact is that these games will only offer a maximum of 12- and 16-player online multiplayer, respectively. In other words, if you can find a good nearby server, you'll be playing a game that isn't fundamentally different than what we've been playing for about eight years on the PC in Quake 1." He continues by contrasting this to the PC experience: "EA has promised that the upcoming Battlefield 2, currently scheduled to ship in the first part of 2005, will have more than 100 simultaneous players", before suggesting: "The bottom line is that console games need dedicated servers. As it stands today, only individual Xboxes are serving matches while simultaneously allowing the host to play. You simply cannot run a 24- or 32-player game with just a 733MHz processor and 64MB of system RAM available, hooked up to a potentially flaky cable or DSL line."
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Should Online Console Games Have Dedicated Servers?

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  • should they? yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @08:31AM (#9364543) Homepage Journal
    of course they should have, especially in cases where the whole game essentially is just for online play.

    They should give the server software for people as well to run dedicated servers.. it's the normal way anyways.
    • Console games NEED dedicated servers. Especially with the amount of Clan activity happening on the consoles. For matches to be even remotley fair, there needs to be the ability to have a machine serve as a dedicated, or for the game company itself to provide dedicated servers. Bungie had dedicated servers up for Unreal Championship on Xbox for a long time, as did MS, and the gameplay was very fun. When they stopped those servers, the game became a non stop argument over lag, and clan matches became almost i
  • Soooo (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Apreche (239272) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @08:44AM (#9364638) Homepage Journal
    The makers of those console games should distribute PC software for linux and windows so that college kids with high bandwidth connections can run servers on the spare pcs they have lying around. That's where all the counterstrike servers come from. If they don't then they are going to have to run their own servers, which might be higher quality but it will cost them more money.
    • by Pxtl (151020)
      I was thinking about this problem - maybe we are looking at this the wrong way - we keep thinking they have a fully developed network system like Quake. In console land, this is unnecessary - you control the client. So you can have a hyper-thick client that just sends out positional control information and "I hit you" info. Some OS PC titles work like this.

      With that kind of architecture, the packets would be so thin that 32 players on a cable modem wouldn't be a real problem. Yeah, once you start getti
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @08:48AM (#9364673)
    With Battlefield 2, I almost feel as if EA is running some kind of brainwashing campaign to convince me that 'more players in a server' means 'more fun.'

    Am I the only one who thinks that smaller servers are the most fun? First off, in my experience with games like Day of Defeat and the Battlefield series, larger servers usually equate to laggier servers, no matter what hardware you're running. Second, in team based games, one or two non-cooperative miscreants can ruin the fun for everbody. Let more people in a server, increase the chance that it sucks. Third, why turn a great, teamwork-oriented, strategic experience like you can get in Battlefield into an out-and-out Frag-a-thon by adding 32 players? I have really never, not once, ever, had as much fun in a 32+ person server in Battlefield as I have in an intimate 16-player game with even the most basic kindergarten-level teamwork going on.

    I think the console powers-that-be should avoid larger servers at all cost. Don't give in to peer pressure!
    • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:03AM (#9364801) Journal
      I think the point is that at 100 players you have something that more resembled an army. The only problem with this is of course. Respawning would make the game hell to complete any sort of mission, and not respawning would make the game boring as the wait between games would have to be longer.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        you forget what the #2 requirement of an army is, right after 'soldiers.'

        Discipline.

        Why do I want to run around with 100 12-year-olds who still think killing teammates is hilarious?
        • Well they could impliment a master server honor system also Americas Army. Hopefully they will.
          For the uninitiated, basically you create characters and have to go through a single player training exercise in order to play at all. And the better you do on training and the more training you do (there is optional additional training for medic and special ops and such) the more abilities you have in the game. This makes it harder to have throwaway identities. Also you start out with 10 honor points, you if you
        • That's why you patronize servers with attentive and fair admins. I used to play on BF1942 MP demo servers for ages (I've found it's much easier to organize a quick pickup game with the demo than the full version, the retail version servers seem to follow the mantra of if you aren't in a 'clan' you aren't worthy to play) until I finally got fed up with all the servers out there where teamkillers were allowed to just go off and do whatever they wanted. It was enough to get me to start my own server with a han
      • America's Army- which has been used as an example a lot in this discussion...used to drive me nuts with the 'no respawn'.

        Actually, what they did made sense. Once you died, you didn't respawn, and you had to wait until someone either won, or the time ran out. Usually the timer was somewhere in the 8:00 range.

        Sometimes you could die in the first 30 seconds. Or even the first 10 seconds if you were trying something new. And then you had to wait...7 minutes plus...to play again for another 30 seconds. Th
        • The original Rainbow Six had this very same problem: missions were complex and players were fragile; combine that with long round times, and most players were sitting around waiting for the next round. Counterstrike was actually the first FPS to make round-based play really popular because it cut the average round time to under 3 minutes.

          As for me, I don't like America's Army because of the hoops you have to jump through before you can play (they call it "training"). The single player training is fine, b
      • IMO, the spawning problem can be solved with limited lives. Tweak it so that it provides a medium-skilled player just enough lives to complete the given map in the given time. That way, you have several chances, but you still have to make each life count (because it does.)

        For example, my FPS of choice at the moment, Enemy Territory [enemy-territory.com], has the option for limited lives. Once you've tried it, going back to unlimited lives anything is like being a Sumo wrestler beating up first graders: It's boring and far too easy.

        • enjoy sitting out the match when i watch your spawn point and pop you in the head 5 times in a row
        • I like ET too but your method would not suit my style of play.

          I play the medic. I get shot a lot when trying to heal my team mates - I tend to be in the thick of the action. Sometimes I heal them, run off, then heal myself. More often than not I have to re-spawn.

          Finishing a level will 20 kills and 30 deaths is not uncommon for me. Limited lives would suck.
          • Trust me, all it will do is improve your skills.

            Come and join us sometime: 67.18.55.148:27965 (=SG= Clan ET server). We have a great crew of regulars, not to mention some of the best-ranked ET players.

            Best of all, no freakin' panzers, so we have a very low percentage of idiots.

            Give me shout if you plan on coming over, I'll try to be on and introduce you around. We're always on the lookout for new faces to join the fun.

            A quick word of warning: the server runs the shrubmod and a few custom maps so

    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:04AM (#9364808)
      I agree, even though for different reasons. See, when I get together with friends to play games over LAN, we're maybe 4 or 5 people, sometimes only 2 or 3 meet. That means we cannot play most team games. UT2004 Onslaught would have been impossible without bots and most teamplay based games/mods don't have that good of a bot support.
      With the attempt of having more players on a server, the gameplay gets adjusted to require more players (ever tried to play a duel in RTCW?). This usually results in larger maps and vehicles that require more people to control. In UT2004 you have vehicles that can be controlled by a single person, but most games attempt to differentiate between driver and gunner(s) to "encourage team play".
      Sometimes I wish for the days of Doom with four players max to return. Doom 3 seems to do that, but I expect people to prefer modding HL2 instead so they can continue making "truly teamplay dependant" mods.
      • Well, one big problem is that ffa with huge numbers is freaking pointless, and team games tend to need to have very simple gameplay so that the team strategy doesn't become too complex. Compare, say, RTS games that tend to be very complex and focus on individual player-vs-player action, wher FPS games have almost entirely moved away from simple 1-on-1 or 2-on-2.

        I still play old RTS games for just that reason - BattleZone 1 or Total Annihilation work fantastically with only 4 players, whereas I figure the
    • well.. with 16 players per team, you're more probable to get at least 8 guys that have brains and don't just go camping somewhere with a sniper rifle.

      the thing is that dedicated servers is the only way to have those bigger games without serious lag, with consoles even more so because the consoles simply cannot cope with the performance requirements and nobody of the players has a pipe fat enough for the serving.

      sure it's funner to have teamwork and smaller teams, but fuck, you ain't getting tha ton public
    • Yes, the really large, official servers suck big time. The EA 64 player servers are mostly too laggy to play on when full - updating once or twice a second is not exactly good for aiming.
      That said, on maps with a well defined structure like Tobruk and Battle of the Bulge, I find large games (~40-50 players) can be great fun. The structure of the map encourages some limited team work, so you end up with large-scale gunfights and semi-coordinated attacks.
      Of course, large servers with stupid maps like Stalingr
    • most of the maps on battlefield are way too big for only 16 players. I have never had a laggy experience on the couple of 48 player servers I have played on. The 64 player servers can get slightly laggy at times, but sticking to only green servers has kept the lag to a minimum for me.
    • "Am I the only one who thinks that smaller servers are the most fun?"

      Well, I'm sure you're not the only one, but I certainly disagree with you. I LOVE the chaos of a massive battle. I was dying to play Planetside, but then learned that it required no real FPS skill to play.

      Some truly cool games could be created if massive numbers of players were possible.

      Imagine the battle of Helms Deep, where each enemy is a real person. Now, of course none of this will truly be possible until major leaps in computing

      • You should have given Planetside a try. It uses as much FPS skill as an Americas Army or Battlefield 1942. Namely the Cone of Fire that modifies how your FPS 133t aim skillz are modified based on whether you are jumping, running or crouching. I really enjoyed Planetside and would go back if I had a quality squad.
  • This is why... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hookedup (630460) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @08:56AM (#9364735)
    I've taken to playing FP shooters on PC like Battlefield Vietnam. Last night I played on an official EA games server with 52 people.

    Let me tell you, there's no better way to play an online shooter than with 26 teammates..
    • Re:This is why... (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Teammates? so that's what you call them... I was calling them 'non-targets.'

      Seriously, in big 32+ public servers, do you ever see any real, cohesive teamwork? They're chaos, and basically the only thing that having 'teams' does is cut the number of opponents in half.

      Except of course if you have TKers.

      50 player games may be more STIMULATING, but I ask you to think critically whether they are FUN.
      • Yup, very true.. there's always the group of kids standing on the runway waiting for planes to spawn.. and of course the TK'ers..
      • I'll start out by saying I don't like "realism" games like Counter Strike or any of the war-based games nearly as much as I like games like Quake3 and Unreal Tournament* (I like being able to be hit by a couple rockets and still run). Maybe I'm talking out of my ass for not playing them regularly, but here it goes. In my experience, the way to get the most fun out of a game online is to play with a group of people on a semi-regular basis, especially if you're playing team-oriented games. Onslaught and As
      • Seriously, in big 32+ public servers, do you ever see any real, cohesive teamwork? They're chaos, and basically the only thing that having 'teams' does is cut the number of opponents in half.

        I do see teamwork possible in large servers (although the server I was on was technically around 16 players at the time.) There was one player using voice chat to order people to gather around and await an attack signal. From there, the entire team attemped a big rush to the next capture point.

        This tactic failed tw

      • It's all a matter of size. In small maps, lower is better. Otherwise, you have an insane fragfest where you die immediately after spawning. In larger maps, more is better. If you have a few people in a very large map, you spend all your time looking for somebody or capturing each others flags while never seeing your opponent. Currently BF Vietnam is best to me on a server of about 24 players. And, I'm sure most people won't agree with me, but I think occasionally TKers can turn a game that's getting m
  • Microsoft reneging (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GeorgeH (5469) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:04AM (#9364810) Homepage Journal
    Part of the deal with XBox live was that you were paying for a superior online experience. Why would I spend $70/yr to play a game on someone's laggy cable modem? I can get that for free with the PS2 online or a PC.

    Basically it's paying for developers who are too lazy to impliment Jabber as a standard presence protocol for online gaming.
    • by *weasel (174362) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @10:15AM (#9365528)
      With the PS2 or PC you get the privilege of playing on people's laggy analog modems - along with poorly secured protocols that can, and have been, repeatedly hacked. Sure PC internet gaming can have good servers and good connections -- but it comes with a PITA I don't have to deal with.

      Consoles should have seperate servers because a console can ensure the integrity of the experience. I get no HPBs, headshot scripts, wallhacks when I play counterstrike on XBL.

      I can get out-of-game invites that don't cause compatability problems or suck performance like Gamespy does.

      I get voice comm in every title.
      Then there's a myriad of new and smaller bells and whistles it's got - but those weren't there when I made my purchasing decision, and frankly - they're insignificant compared to the big 3 of quality/security, out-of-game invites, and voice comm.

      That's the quality of service I pay $50 a year for. If you're going to slam the service, apparently without ever having tried it, or knowing much about it, you could at least get the numbers accurate.
      • My point is that the article claims that XBox Live games are hosted on customer systems. When Live was announced and there was pricing involved, Microsoft had to justify that. One of the ways they did so was to say that you were paying for high performance servers to run, which guaranteed a certain level of service.

        Yes, the broadband-only requirement keeps modem users from serving games, which is a Good Thing. Yes, the fact that you will be kickbanned from XBox Live if you connect with a mod chip is a G
        • Neither of these things require a centralized service and both can be run by publishers.

          And yet no PS2 game offers anything of the sort.
          It can be done - but it hasn't. They haven't even tried.

          In the meantime, the service means alot to me, the gamer - and I'm willing to pay for it. I don't particularly care who's delivering cheat-free gaming. All that matters is that it only exists on one platform today, that platform has games I want to play, and the price for the service is extremely reasonable.

          If
          • I'm willing to pay for it. I don't particularly care who's delivering cheat-free gaming. All that matters is that it only exists on one platform today, that platform has games I want to play, and the price for the service is extremely reasonable.

            Which platform has no cheating online? There is cheating on XBL. Check out PSO for XBL. Full of cheaters. Also people can use glitches in the games to cheat without mods: for example, there is a glitch in Crimson Skies where a Gyrocopter can get INSIDE a buil

  • Easy answer , Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by curtisk (191737) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:20AM (#9364962) Homepage Journal
    Hard Answer, well......

    In an ideal world, this question should answer itself. The problems are simple, how many servers? You don't want to buy and implement 200 servers, when the game turns out to be received luke-warmly (LOL luke-warmly) it can easily turn into a huge time/resource waste. But if you don't have enough servers to meet demand, people get pissy quick and write off trying to play. Maybe they'll come back when you have more servers, maybe not.

    Another poster had a great suggestion to allow the server software to be released, which seems like an easy answer as well. But, what will it take, 2 days before a hacked server first appears, then you opening up your customers to an experience that is out of your control and usually unpleasant. They would have to have some serious code verification to validate the server code when clients connect to make sure everything is (still) on the up and up.

    Ideally yes, they should host the servers, but it would be with alot of risk

    • But, what will it take, 2 days before a hacked server first appears, then you opening up your customers to an experience that is out of your control and usually unpleasant.

      Even if it is easy to hack a server to be unpleasant, which I'm not so sure it would be for something not intended to be modified (unlike most PC FPS servers which welcome modification), its not the same as hacking a client. User joines server, user sees something is wrong with server, user simply leaves and never goes back. In all my y
  • by Slyght (784581) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:23AM (#9364978) Journal
    The author seems to feel because Halo 2 is only going to have 16 people in a game at once, it's on the same level of Quake. I guess he's right, when you look past the better graphics, ability to wield two weapons at once, grenades, vehicles, and voice support, then yeah, I guess they are exactly the same game.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      he didn't say it was the same game, he was making point although games have come along way since quake, halo 2 still is constricted to only 16 players like quake was. Except Quake was released in 1996 and multiplay wasn't as widespread back then so it made sense. Today we have Battlefield, UT2004, CS, etc...and oh yes all of which have superior graphics, ability to yield two weapons at once(ut) grenades vehicles and voice support(socom2). And these are the games halo 2 should be on par with inch for inch, b
  • by superultra (670002) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @09:41AM (#9365154) Homepage
    I played Planetside with at least 60 people in the same area and I was not impressed. Factor in that at least 25% of (and I'm being very conservative) are morons, another 25% are jerks, and really you've got 30 players who hampered by poor CPU performance and the presence of morons and jerks. Realistically, there's probably only about 10-25% that are really wanting to play well and on a team. Besides, how many games can perform effectively with 60+ enemies on the screen at one time?

    I think we'd all agree that the constraints of previous systems actually meant that companies had to be more creative. The same is true here. I've had far more fun with the four player Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow than nearly any other online game. I'm not saying I don't run across my share of stupid people, but it's far easier to find 4 good people than it is 60-100. When you do find people that play fair, that don't camp, that play as a team, SCPT is an amazing multiplayer game - and usually lagless. I'm all up for more creative gameplay with what we have, not just adding more players.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I played Life with at least 6 Billion people in the same area and I was not impressed. Factor in that at least 25% of (and I'm being very conservative) are morons, another 25% are jerks, and really you've got 3 Billion players who hampered by poor brain performance and the presence of morons and jerks. Realistically, there's probably only about 10-25% that are really wanting to play well and on a team. Besides, how many lives can perform effectively with 6 Billion+ enemies on the planet at one time?
  • Distributed Server (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Has any game got some kind of 'distributed server', such that no one computer has total control and there will always be a random 'server' even as people leave?

    This may also be good for cheat detection as fragments of binary can be exchanged and compared (most matches is true code, no match == kick).

    Downside: Bandwidth?

    Patent this now! :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Neverwinter nights supports this actually.
      You can establish a "portal" to other servers. You have them link back to you and your set.
  • by Yaztromo (655250) <yaztromoNO@SPAMmac.com> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @10:06AM (#9365409) Homepage Journal

    The big problem I have with dedicated servers is this: are the game development companies goin to still be running them years from now? 5? 10?

    Probably not. However, what if I and a friend enjoy that game and want to continue playing online against each other past the date when the vendor decides to take their servers offline for a given game? We'd be SOL.

    The big advantage of being able to run your own servers in such games is that you don't have to worry about such obscelesence. If five years from now I want to play Doom against my brother across town, we can do so. But if we want to play Amplitude or SSX 3? Probably not.

    Yaz.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Easy solution to that. The game makers can distrubute dedicated server software for the game for windows and linux. You can now set up or rent your very own dedicated server. On top of that they can still allow clients to double as servers.

      If I want to 1 on 1 with a buddy in UT2K4 either of us can use our systems as the client and server. If we want to go head first into a battlefield with two dozen people I can join one of the many dedicated servers up already. Most PC FPS have acted like this since forev
      • Easy solution to that. The game makers can distrubute dedicated server software for the game for windows and linux. You can now set up or rent your very own dedicated server. On top of that they can still allow clients to double as servers.

        Except that there aren't too many console games out there which prrovide such a service. The servers for PSS2 games such as Amplitude, SOCOM, and SSX 3 don't have publically available server software. What's worse, even if they did it wouldn't necessaily do you a w

    • You could just use a third party game tunneling service, such as gamespy. It uses your pc to recreate the system link play on your xbox. Yes, that means you can play halo online
    • I'd also like to note that this applies to the entire Xbox Live service. They may be relying on users to become the servers, but you are still forced to use the Xbox Live service in order to connect to others. Once that service is gone, you won't be able to play them online anymore.
  • by Jahf (21968) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @10:44AM (#9365924) Journal
    Remember that when playing an online "twitch" game, if the host is also a player they have an immediate advantage over the other players by getting a 0 latency connection.

    So yes, there should be dedicated servers. This doesn't mean it needs to be run by the company that sells the game (in fact, unless that company will guarantee X number of years of running the server, I would be worried if it did). You can distribute the dedicated server as part of the game.

    Make the dedicated server more interesting than a terminal window. Allow the host to view players and chat as if he was in "observe" mode. Perhaps have an opt-in system where anyone who connects to the game and meets the pre-defined Hosting parameters can become part of a Hosting round-robin so that the hosts have the option of playing (sort of like moving the dealer button around in Poker). Perhaps find a way to give some sort of reward to the host (in a team-game you could allow someone who had just hosted to have their first pick in what class they want to play, in a single-player game the past-host might enter the game with X seconds of invulnerability, etc).

    Besides, some people just like to watch. While you might not have enough people in this category, you would surely have -some- that would log in just to serve as the host. Especially if the game allowed the host to interact in some fundamental but non-player role (like a dungeon master).

    I also think people are starting to see why the cell/grid technology folks like Sony have been positing could be a big step forward. Someone would still need to be the aggregation host, but all parties could assist in the processing. Might not be as useful in a traditional FPS, but I think the FPS has been fleshed out pretty well, time for the next round.

  • There's actually a player made [gamerplug.com] server (AADS) for Tribes:AA that runs on a PC. it actually fixes a lot of the bugs in the game, too.

    This sort of thing really isn't a tricky thing for console game makers to do; they just don't want to let the players have that much control over the server environment.

  • by Luveno (575425)
    "You simply cannot run a 24- or 32-player game with just a 733MHz processor"

    Yeah, too bad Microsoft didn't think ahead and use a 800MHz processor or something.

    *rolls eyes*

  • Who here has ever jumped into a 32+ player online game, dedicated, non-private server and EXPECTED to find teamwork?
    • Oh and I love his last line.

      Whatever the case, it would be a very sad thing if Halo 3 was limited to 16 or 24 players, while PC gamers could blast away at 150 or 200 of their closest friends in another game.

      150 or 200?! Holy crap, how many friends does this guy have? Let alone how many of them play video games? I have like 10-20, but 150?! Christ dude, why not go and form a small village of gamers with that many friends?

  • This game works well as is. I wouldn't want a 32 player match. For quick DM large servers are cool. For a game with strategy and teamwork 32 players would be impossible. Hell, even with 8 people on a side with voice chat it gets hard to do.
  • The more players you add to a game the less will be accomplished. any team based fps has a sweetspot of 4-10 players per team, and after that the rounds begin to turn into complete chaos.
  • Battlefield: Modern Combat is using dedicated servers, both for PS2 and Xbox. And they can handle 24+ players. I think that we will see more of this in the future.
  • There is the ability in some titles to run dedicated servers on your xbox. Yes this means you'd have to have a second xbox to play on your own server, but at least if you've got decent upload speed you can run a smooth server this way. Honestly, my xbox live experience has been 99% lag free, I am really impressed how smoothly all the games run and how seamless online play is. I remember having my doubts before live came out, how it would work without dedicated servers, but my concerns lasted about 12ms.
  • If they worked on reducing the network overhead, it'd be much easier to host larger games.

    Update packets for some FPS games seem to be un-necessarely complicated. They have to keep updating the models and the positioning.

    Some packets should be always sent at an update on a clock.

    PlayerID X Y Z HDirectionVector VDirectionVector

    for where the player is and which way they're looking.

    But everything else should be sent as a delta; established at the beginning of the match and assumed to stay constant the res

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