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Why Project Flare Might Just End the Console War 166

Posted by samzenpus
from the to-the-cloud dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Project Flare, the new server side gaming technology from Square Enix, turned heads when it was announced last week. The first tech demos do little more than show the vast number of calculations it can handle with hundreds of boxes tumbling down in Deus Ex, but the potential is there to do much more than just picture-in-picture feeds in MMOs. As a new article points out, what's most interesting is the potential to use the technology for games that use more than one system — OnLive may have used this tech before, but only to play games you can buy on discs in the shops anyway, but the future is in games that need the equivalent of dozens of PS4s or Xbox Ones to power them. Ubisoft has already partnered with Square on the project."
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Why Project Flare Might Just End the Console War

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  • by faragon (789704) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:24PM (#45385899) Homepage
    Why to spend power in datacenters when people can use it at home? Other than vendor-lock, is non-sense. Another thing is how scalabe the thing is, etc.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'd imagine there'd be some scalability advantages for specific use-cases (re-use of assets, models, animations and the game world across multiple instances of the game), so MMOs could generally benefit from this approach because many users share the same content at the same time, while it would be close to useless for single-player games where basically every player has different content on-screen and in-game than every other player.

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:34PM (#45385969) Homepage Journal

      Why to spend power in datacenters when people can use it at home? Other than vendor-lock, is non-sense. Another thing is how scalabe the thing is, etc.

      One example is to provide functionality which cannot be provided by the console machines themselves. For example, games for the Xbox 180 are going to have the option to use Azure to run game servers. One of the major frustrations of console gaming today is that one of the game consoles has to play server.

      From the summary, though, the idea is to provide games more powerful than what your console can actually run. With a large enough playerbase it might actually be feasible. It costs a lot of CPU to perform a lot of physics calculations, but if you only have to perform them once for a whole bunch of players' updates because they're all looking at the same thing, then you're going to save some cycles there.

      • by abies (607076)

        Are reallly contemporary FPS games calculating physics separately on each machine? Given that physic calcs tend to be non exact and a bit of chaos theory you could end up in really different worlds very soon.
        If we are just talking about moving 'server' from one of player consoles to the dedicated datacenter (like most 'normal' games do it), then it hardly looks to be exciting?

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Are reallly contemporary FPS games calculating physics separately on each machine?

          The answer is sort of and also sometimes. I can't actually speak to FPS specifically, but in GTAV the game clearly does independent physics calculations when it thinks you're far away from other players. You can tell because things get squirrely when you catch up to a lagged player, or when a lagged player catches up to you. The game doesn't bother to synchronize events which it decides can't affect other players.

        • by epyT-R (613989)

          The physics stuff is done on the server. The non interactive animations are done clientside. However, the clients have code to anticipate the server's next state, 'correcting' itself when the prediction fails to match. This results in smoother animation and reduced apparent lag.

          • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @05:11PM (#45386269)

            Write a mod for ut2k4 and you'll soon start seeing how it works. The local game runs a simulation, but subject to correction by the server. Extrapolating events until the packets catch up. Really latency-sensitive things like sniping are handled locally. This can lead to some very strange things happening at times:

            1. Run past a window.
            2. Clear the window.
            3. Your movement is passed to the server, and then to another player.
            4. Other player snipes you.
            5. Snipe victory is reported back to the server, then to you.
            6. Half a second after passing the window, you drop dead. Headshot. Even though from your perspective, you were in a place you should have been out of sight. Serves you right for running past a sniper-visible window.

            Generally the game is good enough that almost all of this is transparent though. Only the exceptionally observent notice it. Still rather strange to code for, as everything you write is actually being executed three times in parallel (On the server, on the client, and on everyone else's client), and you need to make sure that all three executions eventually give the same result, even if not at quite the same moment.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by wwalker (159341)

              Sniper rifle should be the *least* latency-sensitive weapon. In real life, no sniper can hit a running target at any reasonable distance (unless they are running directly towards, or away). More so if the target is passing by a window and is only visible for a fraction of a second, which makes any sort of leading practically impossible.

              • by Dodgy G33za (1669772) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @11:01PM (#45388123)

                Unless they have an aimbot

              • Sure, but you also get a lot of good hits out of knowing where doorways and passages behind walls are: I've sniped a number of people behind walls because I knew, at spawn, there would be a high chance of *somebody* being behind it - given the narrow passageway and the odd curiosity of players going "should I step out there...," the chances for a hit on that wall are insanely high. If you train on a frequented path in an FPS, other than Battlefield which is HUGE, and shoot one round every 5 seconds after sp

            • Woah... dude... what if, like, that's why we have relativity. The computers running the universe are on Comcast.

        • AFAIK with server<-&grclient you have all clients doing physics calculations BUT they are only used for prediction; the server updates the final position and orientation using its own physical calculations (but since the clients are predicting it can do it with a low-resolution in terms of time).
          • by abies (607076)

            Thanks for clarification. But this only proves that whatever they are planning doesn't help with this - if they are already going to transfer something from the server, then they can transfer real stuff.

        • by cgenman (325138)

          For network gaming, physics engines get rewritten with deterministic results. This can include very base-level things like re-writing platform code, as the platforms handle floating point calculations differently.

          It takes a lot to get your physics simulation to be deterministic, but every game out there with multiplayer has to do it. Really, it's the player inputs that cause problems.

      • For example, games for the Xbox 180 are going to have the option to use Azure to run game servers.

        Although apparently, this is not without its down side:

        Xbox One's Cloud Servers May Have to Reboot and Update Mid-Session, Says Microsoft [xbox360achievements.org]

        While there may be some advantage for XBox-exclusive games, I can't see this taking off in general. It adds yet another layer of complexity, and can't be used in multi-platform games (and given the current market, many games require a multiple
        platform release to be profitable)

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      It's basically a way to keep the price of consoles at a point where people will still buy them, while being able to offer the level of processing power that would be too expensive. I'm sure the monthly subscriptions will cover cost of datacenters and power consumption.
      I don't know if it's vendor lock-in, but atleast this is a way to offer paying customers a better experience than pirates instead of the other way around with current DRM.

      • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:53PM (#45386095)

        It's basically a way to keep the price of consoles at a point where people will still buy them, while being able to offer the level of processing power that would be too expensive.

        Current consoles are well beyond the point of diminishing returns with regards to graphics power while cost of replicating existing capabilities keep getting cheaper year after year.

        I don't know if it's vendor lock-in, but atleast this is a way to offer paying customers a better experience than pirates instead of the other way around with current DRM.

        On what planet does high latency translate into a better experience?

        • On what planet does high latency translate into a better experience?

          On fictional planets in essentially turn-based games, like what Square Enix has been putting out since Dragon Quest/Warrior and Final Fantasy in the NES days. The latency doesn't have to be any better than, for example, the ATB recharge time in FFVII.

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        so then it's the cost of the console+per publisher subscriptions+console vendor subscription+internet subscription...

        Yuck..

      • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @06:36PM (#45386765)

        It's basically a way to keep the price of consoles at a point where people will still lease them, while being able to offer the level of processing power that would be too expensive.

        Fixed that for you. This has nothing to do with buying anything, it's a temporary lease and the servers will be shut off sooner than later.

    • Because consoles aren't something most people use 24/7. I probably use my 360 about 2-3 hours per week. It's not at all challenging to see the opportunity for increased efficiency. Why should everyone have a full powered machine that only is used 2-3% of the time. 2-3% usage is the perfect situation for usage based rentals.

      • Because consoles aren't something most people use 24/7. I probably use my 360 about 2-3 hours per week. It's not at all challenging to see the opportunity for increased efficiency. Why should everyone have a full powered machine that only is used 2-3% of the time. 2-3% usage is the perfect situation for usage based rentals.

        Good luck improving on the power button.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Good luck improving on the power button.

          With my old PC, 'powered off' still took about 7W from the wall. Unplugging was certainly an improvement.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        well then the question is why didn't you subscribe to onlive?

        it's not like this is a new idea in any way.

    • Why to spend power in datacenters when people can use it at home? Other than vendor-lock, is non-sense. Another thing is how scalabe the thing is, etc.

      The power cost is passed down to the consumer, so it's not really an issue. If the customer/market will bear the monthly costs, then there are other advantages.

      1) The game doesn't have to deal with OS differences. The engine can be built for 1 OS in 1 language, and connect to simple video frame renders on the client system. No more "not available for Mac" or "Mac/OS, not Linux".

      2) The game cannot be easily pirated or hacked, since the software resides on the server.

      3) The game doesn't have to deal with slo

    • by khchung (462899)

      Why to spend power in datacenters when people can use it at home? Other than vendor-lock, is non-sense. Another thing is how scalabe the thing is, etc.

      How about 100% cheat prevention? When all the computing is done centrally, how could you possibly cheat in the game anymore?

      Plus, it totally eliminated the lag factor in FPS, as only the central server do the processing and rendering. Rubberbanding and blinking/shifting enemies will be eliminated.

      The only lag now comes between your end to the server, which, while non-zero, is at least consistent from game to game.

      With only 1 copy of the world, then the number of players will only be limited by the number

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        >How about 100% cheat prevention? When all the computing is done centrally, how could you possibly cheat in the game anymore?
        Most games have all, or nearly all, of the processing happening on the server as it is. Doesn't stop cheaters. Sure, they can't exactly just memory edit the amount of gold/points/health/whatever they have anymore, but there are an infinite number of other ways to cheat. Think about botters; that doesn't rely on client-side processing. Aimbots in FPS games do not need to rely on cli

        • by khchung (462899)

          >How about 100% cheat prevention? When all the computing is done centrally, how could you possibly cheat in the game anymore?
          Most games have all, or nearly all, of the processing happening on the server as it is. Doesn't stop cheaters. Sure, they can't exactly just memory edit the amount of gold/points/health/whatever they have anymore, but there are an infinite number of other ways to cheat. Think about botters; that doesn't rely on client-side processing. Aimbots in FPS games do not need to rely on client-side processing (from the game, anyways) either; they will detect enemies and simulate mouse movement to auto-aim.

          Think again. When all processing is done in the server and only the screen is sent to the client, wall hack becomes impossible. Aimbot? Your aimbot better be able to identify an opponent's head from the displayed graphics. Not the say that's as difficult as in doing so in real video footage, but it raised the bar so high, that anyone able to pull that off would be quite an expert in pattern and facial recognition, and not just a matter of finding the coordinate for the opponent's location in the data st

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      You could say the same thing about MANY consumer "cloud" services, and that app model seems to be doing fine...

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Not to mention the rotting elephant in the room is the ISPs are all going with worse data caps and as Onlive found out one huge Internet bill because you ran over your cap and that is a customer you'll never get back and this doesn't even take into account latency.

      So there really is no upshot for the user and the cons outweigh the pros..yeah..good luck with that.

  • by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:30PM (#45385945)
    Imagine your game not starting because the 'physics' servers are down or you can't connect to them.....
    • No need to imagine. It's already happened plenty [slashdot.org].

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      In theory, a properly designed system would have a local physics engine that takes over when the remote engine is unavailable, albeit at reduced fidelity.

      Of course, that's not how it will end up working, especially with Ubisoft involved. The real goal here is more control disguised as improvements.

    • by bondsbw (888959)

      Not everything that requires the Internet is DRM.

      And frankly, even if DRM was the primary intent, it's one of the less annoying DRMs since 1) online multiplayer, by definition, requires the Internet, and 2) economics:

      Let's take the Xbox One. Microsoft claims to be adding 3 more Xbox One units for each one sold in the cloud, but really that's based on an average or maximum use situation. In reality they will have 300,000 cloud machines powering the number of users that might be gaming at any one time. Com

    • by khchung (462899)

      Imagine your game not starting because the 'physics' servers are down or you can't connect to them.....

      And how is that different from how I cannot play multiplayer BF3 on PS3 when EA's or Sony's servers are down?

      Some games are intended to be multiplayer only, you can't play them when the server is down anyway.

  • Right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pinhedd (1661735) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:31PM (#45385957)

    OnLive was such a bastion of success wasn't it?

    • Yes. I thought everybody knew that OnLive was an angular structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of an artillery fortification of success.
    • by aiadot (3055455)
      When it comes to gaming, technology is hardly the only variable in the success of a product. Without a large game library and preferably some exclusive content alongside significant marketing, there is no way OnLive could even compete. I'm not dismissing the technical problems of OnLive but, that from being the whole story.

      Another problem is that they're the first (AFAIK) to offer a streaming gaming platform. Hardly ever pioneering business are successful, in particular when it comes to consumer electron
  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:35PM (#45385983)

    This reminds me of a certain coffee stand I drive by each day on my way to work.

    Every few months it closes down, sold to a new owner who improves it and re-opens only to close down a few months later.

    In the last few years I can count on one hand times drive thru was something other than completely empty.

    Sometimes people just can't take a hint.

    • That's weird. You would like that things would have changed with all the advances in coffee since 2005!
    • by GauteL (29207)

      Every few months it closes down, sold to a new owner who improves it and re-opens only to close down a few months later.

      They are probably just bankruptcy jockeys, using "new owners" to purchase out the assets of the old company while shedding debt to gullible investors. The new store can then skim off the income and close again in a few months time, finding more gullible investors to put money into it.

  • Great, Square ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:39PM (#45385999)

    The company that last released a good game 16 years ago. I can barely contain my excitement.

  • No thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:39PM (#45386003)

    There's a reason I've cut cable tv from my life. Being remote controlled and the only game in town, it's become overpriced, ad-laden, and content thin. If that's where gaming is going I will have to cut that too. The prospect of overpaying to 'stream' a laggy, ad-filled game experience with overly-constrained lossy-compressed AV doesn't sound inviting either. I LIKE the idea of having power under the hood locally, so to speak, just like I want server binaries for games to run my own servers and mod tools to make my own mods/maps. This way the game stays alive as long as there are interested players and doesn't die the moment it stops making money for its creators. To top it off, the current 'cloud' model for a lot of software now charges the 'owner-controlled boxed software' prices of the 90s for what amounts to a rent-a-go arcade level of service. What a rip-off.

    The more computing looks like ibm's wet dream of 'service', the less interesting and more oppressive it gets. No thanks.

  • Obvious: latency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by De Lemming (227104) on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:39PM (#45386007) Homepage

    Even with modern broadband, latency is still an issue for these kinds of applications. In the article are some examples of currently used server side gaming enhancements, like "Forza 5 will even use cloud computing to monitor the way you drive, and alter virtual drivers’ AI (artificial intelligence) accordingly." That has no need for low latency. But if you want the environment to immediately react to players actions, there need to be low latency. And you can't remove the distance (and related network infrastructure) between the player and the data center.

    • Surely colo security won't suspect a thing if I bolt rack ears onto my sleeping bag (It's, an, um, nearline hot-spare storage appliance...) and scrawl "Coolant" in sharpie on my 2 liter of Mt. Dew?
    • For a full rendered-in-the-cloud game, there are tricks you can do to minimize the impact of input latency. They are basically the same tricks that you use in today's multiplayer games. For small camera movements the game can just immediately warp the image client-side. To improve quality of the warp, some basic geometry could be sent in line with the video. For games with a HUD, it can be rendered client-side (think "pushlatency" in Quake-based FPSes).

      These of course only help to hide latency, not actually

    • The other issue with latency is that 'gaming' is something with pretty spiky demand over time. Evenings and weekends? The system will be hammered. During school hours and the workday? Demand minimal and largely impecunious. Holidays and vacation periods? Almost certain to be a peak large enough to provide lots of angry ranting customers (and at a time when lots and lots of other people are putzing around online, reading people's angry opinions and possibly making shopping decisions. Enjoy!).

      Unless they c
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Coppit (2441)

      Full disclosure: I work for NVIDIA on cloud gaming.

      I was as skeptical as you about the latency. In this interview [venturebeat.com]. Phil Eisler talks about 200ms of XBox + TV latency that people live with every day. (See page 2) If that's our target, then that's pretty doable, since with strategically located data centers you can get the network latency down to 20-30 ms.

      In the work we're doing, we're actually focusing more on hitching in the game than latency, since the latency isn't as big a deal if you're say in the Bay A

      • 20-30ms.... on a home broadband connection, anywhere in the world?
        Light only travels 185miles per millisecond.

        • by Nivag064 (904744)

          Light only travels about 300 km per millisecond.

          which is about a nanosecond per foot
          (while I prefer metric measurements,
          this a kind of cool non-metric factoid!)

          so if you see someone 10 metres away,
          the light took 10 nanoseconds to reach your eyes
          (and a 100 or more milliseconds for your brain to process!)

        • by Smauler (915644)

          I used to get single digit latency sometimes on my old ISDN line, with Quake. Most of the servers I went to were sub 20 ms. Unfortunately, every broadband supplier I've used since then has been a lot worse than this... currently the best I see is about 50 :P.

  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Sunday November 10, 2013 @04:51PM (#45386073) Homepage

    Some people kept saying "It's not that bad right now, it'll work eventually!", but Microsoft just (accidentally) tested OnLive's idea for low-latency games by introducing some small input lag into Windows 8.1 [slashdot.org]. Guess what? FPS gamers noticed.

    Other game types which don't need super low latency, I'm sure, will eventually get here if only because game companies are still annoyingly DRM-focused and this will make piracy impossible.

  • Basically instead of streaming the game they're talking about offloading the peak cases.

    The boxes example would of been fine as a precomputed animation. I'm guessing if the player interrupts the process real-time it becomes screwed up due to latency.

    No matter what the use cases are going to be somewhat limited. Calling it a game changer at this point is just silly.

  • download caps and lag kill this idea.

  • There's a few problems with that idea:
    1. monthly caps from ISPs
    2. latency
    3. bandwidth

  • Management: But you said it was working.
    Engineer: It is ... at 3 FPS on a standard PC.
    Management: Perfect, we can sell it by the hour until then.
    Engineer: You're kidding right?
    Management: No, seriously, BTW your new project starts tomorrow.
    Engineer: but....

  • All games will disappear when the publisher pulls the plug on the server, not only the ones from EA.

  • The example video is, well, just pathetic.

    Seriously, my PC could handle that now. It's hardly a "demanding" case. Especially with boxes, which are quite easily to simulate physically.

    Hell, the nVidia and GPU demos that I've seen do the equivalent with thousands of boxes - maybe not as pretty but they are unoptimised demos.

    Just because your console is crap doesn't mean that farming it out as a thin-client will work - somewhere there still has to be the horsepower to do the job, and thus we're still paying

  • Larry Ellison was famous for being a huge backer of thin client computing in the enterprise. Of course, it failed for a large number of reasons such as mobile computing, the need to be able to work on documents locally, user experience, etc. If the enterprise environment wasn't conducive to thin client computing (i.e. low latency, guaranteed bandwidth, etc.), why would anyone think that a thin client gaming environment that relies on the Internet would be a good idea?

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Yes, but... Vendor Lock-In.

      It's where every tech company is trying to go now the big profits from incremental improvements in old products have vanished.

      Past users had a choice between thin clients and PCs which would run anything. Future users will only be able to buy computers locked down with Windows Boot and App Stores.

  • Did they not know there was an 80s failed console called the flare? Didn't even get to market, sort of granddad to the Atari Jaguar.
  • the article seems to indicate project flare is something new, but it isn't, it's just Another streaming gaming service, just like OnLive ans gaikai already were, and there already were some other services like that (but not so advanced)..
  • First off: Square Enix? YAY! Now they can put up a countdown clock for how long until they (or someone breaking into their systems, or both) misappropriate your financial information to make unauthorized purchases on your account.

    Second off: Ubisoft? The "We're stupid enough to think DRM actually works, so fuck you, all you customers are really criminals!" company?

    Third off: The latencies involved simply preclude certain types of games (like FPS).

    Fourth off: It's still going to be in the shit-tastic con

  • The author of TFA clearly doesn't understand what 'the web' actually means. Four times the word 'web' is used, and in each instance, they should have used 'Internet'.

    Today's web-technologies do not address the needs of cloud gaming.

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