2014.01.11 - Procyon is Greenlit!

Valve recently announced that Procyon is in the most-recent batch of titles to be given the green light for release on Steam! This is super-exciting news!

There are a few things that I want to add to Procyon before it’s ready for general Steam release: achievements, proper leaderboards, steam overlay support, etc. Basically, all of the steam features that make sense.

It’ll be a bit before it gets done, as we’re working on putting the finishing touches on Infamous: Second Son at work, so I’m a little dead by the time I get home at the moment. But once we’ve shipped, I’ll likely have the time and energy to get Procyon rolling out onto Steam.

Yeaaaaaaaah!

2013.08.25 - Procyon is released!

It’s been a ridiculously long time coming, but I’m finally breaking my radio silence on this poor, poor blog to let you know that Procyon has, in fact, finally been released!

It’s available on Desura and IndieCity:

Procyon

Also check out Procyon’s nifty homepage: http://procyongame.com!

Thanks to everyone who helped get this thing out the door!

2013.01.05 - The Procyon Update Post

So. Here I am, back again after another long hiatus in blog posting. But now that Procyon is almost done, I figured I should share some news!

First and foremost, Procyon has now been posted to Steam Greenlight!


Please go vote for it! Every vote gets the game that much closer to being able to release on Steam!

And, to share some of the fun pieces of video, here’s Procyon’s trailer:

Next up, and just as fun, here’s a look at the in-game intro to Procyon:

Procyon now has a website! You can check it out at http://procyongame.com

Additionally, you can now check out Procyon on Facebook!

Finally, you can also listen to (and purchase) Procyon’s soundtrack on Bandcamp!


Anyway, that’s what I’ve got for now!

2011.09.10 - Oh Hey, There’s A Blog Here

Is this thing on?

Wow.

So apparently I forgot how to update my blog for over a year, making the previous post’s title even more accurate than it should have been.

What’s been going on, you ask? I’ll tell you.

  • I’ve switched jobs! Now I’m working at Sucker Punch Productions as a coder (working mostly on missions and the like). It’s a totally fantastic place to work. If you look ever-so-slightly close, you can find my name in the Infamous 2 credits :)
  • I’ve entered Procyon into DreamBuildPlay and this year’s PAX 10 (no love from the judges, though)
  • I’ve been lazy about updating my blog!
  • And I’ve updated the holy craps out of Procyon!
    • Entirely new enemies (and enemy art)
    • New levels
    • Updated special effects
    • A new level
    • All sorts of new craziness

Okay, the list isn’t as long as last post’s, but I have been busy. Some new videos:

 

Hopefully I’ll update a bit more often than once per year. Sorry for the radio silence. I have a lot of things that I could write about, if only I’d take the time to do so.

2010.07.22 - Ridiculously Sparse Update For A Relatively-Unloved Blog

I’ll go into more detail later, but here’s a SUPER quick synopsis of the last (yikes!) six months:

  • Completed the demo build of Procyon
    • Level 3!
    • New title screen!
    • Finished game flow!
    • Working local multiplayer!
    • New control scheme!
    • New font rendering mechanism!
    • New tutorial!
    • Another bullet point with an accompanying exclamation point!
  • Sent it through several (sometimes-painful) rounds of playtest on the creator’s club forums, and got some great feedback (especially the feedback from one Jason Doucette of Xona Games, who gave some painful-to-hear but necessary criticism)
  • Submitted to the PAX 10 competition
  • Learned that I was not accepted into the PAX 10 competition :(
  • Started work fixing the networked multiplayer that I broke while working towards the demo (I’d disabled it for the demo so that I could keep my focus elsewhere!

Anyway, that’s my short update.  But fear not, for here, too, is a pair of videos!

2010.01.13 - Level 2 Boss-In-Progress

Just another quick update to show off a pair of videos of the in-progress level 2 boss.

First, note that the textures that I have on there currently are horrible, and I know this.  It’s okay.

The first video was simply to test the independent motion of the various moving parts of the boss:

aaaaand the second shows off the missile-launching capabilities of the rear hatches (complete with brand-new missile effects and embarassing flights into the direct path of the missiles!):

That’s all for now!

2010.01.11 - Level 1 Boss Update

Just a quick update to show off the fully-(or mostly-fully-)revamped boss of the first level:

Vimeo: Procyon: Level 1 Boss Update

2010.01.05 - Update For The Past N Months

Yeesh.

It’s been a while.

What have I been up to since early June?  Quite a bit.  On the non-game-development side of things: work’s been rather busy (still).  Also, I now own (and have made numerous improvements on) a house!  So that’s been eating up time.  But, that’s not (really) what this site is about.

Invisible Changes

Much of my time working on Procyon recently has been spent doing changes deep in the codebase: things that, unfortunately, have absolutely no reflection in the user’s view of the product, but that make the code easier to work with or, more importantly, more capable of handling new things.  For instance, enemies are now based on components as per an article on Cowboy Programming, making it super easy to create new enemy behaviors (and combinations of existing behaviors).  It took quite a few days of work to do this, and when I was finished, the entire game looked and played exactly like it had before I started.  However, the upside is that the average enemy is easier to create (or modify).

Graphical Enhancements

I’ve also made a few enhancements to the graphics.  The big one is that I have a new particle system for fire-and-forget particles (i.e. particles that are not affected by game logic past their spawn time).  It’s allowed me to add some some nice new explosion and smoke effects (among other things):

Boomf!Turret Fires

Also, I used them to add some particles at the origins of enemies firing beams:

Beam Particles

Additionally, particles now render solely to an off-screen, lower-resolution buffer, which has allowed the game to run (thus far) at true 1080p on the Xbox 360.

Also, I decided that the Level 1 background (in the first two images in this post) was hideously bland (if such a thing is possible), so I decided to redo it as flying over a red desert canyon (incidentally, the walls of the canyon are generated using the same basic divide-and-offset algorithm as my lightning bolt generator):

Caaaaanyooooon

Texture + Generator = Texture Generator

The big thing I’ve done, though, was put together a tool that will generate the HLSL required for my GPU-generated textures, so that I didn’t have to constantly tweak HLSL, rebuild my project, reload, etc.  Now I can see them straight in an editor (though not, yet, on the meshes themselves – that is on my list of things to do still).  It looks basically like this:

ShaderEditor-15-AllGeneratedShaderEditor-16-Interesting PatternShaderEditor-19-CircuitBoredom

The basic idea is, I have a snippet of HLSL, something that looks roughly like:

Name: Brick
Func: Brick
Category: Basis Functions
Input: Position, var="position"

Output: Result, var="brickOut"
Output: Brick ID, var="brickId"

Property: Brick Size, var="brickSize", type="float2", description="The width and height of an individual brick", default="3,1"
Property: Brick Percent, var="brickPct", type="float", description="The percentage of the range that is brick (vs. mortar)", default="0.9"
Property: Brick Offset, var="brickOffset", type="float", description="The horizontal offset of the brick rows.", default="0.5"
%%
 float2 id;
 brickOut = brick(position.xy, brickSize, brickPct, brickOffset, id);
 brickId = id.xyxy;

Above the “%%” is information on how it interacts with the editor, what the output names are (and which vars in the code they correspond to), and what the inputs and properties are.

Inputs are inputs on the actual graph, from previous snippets.  Properties, by comparison, are what show up on the property grid.  I simplified the inputs/outputs by making them always be float4s, which made the shaders really easy to generate.

Then, there’s a template file that is filled in with the generated data.  In this case, the template uses some structure I had in place for the hand-written ones.  The input and output nodes in the graph are based on data from this template, as well.  In my case, the inputs are position and texture coordinates, and the outputs are color and height (for normal mapping).

So a simple graph like this:

SimpleBrick

…would, once generated, be HLSL that looks like this:

#include "headers/baseshadersheader.fxh"

void FuncConstantVector(float4 constant, out float4 result)
{
 result = constant;
}

void FuncScale(float4 a, float factor, out float4 result)
{
 result = a*factor;
}

void FuncBrick(float4 position, float2 brickSize, float brickPct, float brickOffset, out float4 brickOut, out float4 brickId)
{
 float2 id;
 brickOut = brick(position.xy, brickSize, brickPct, brickOffset, id);
 brickId = id.xyxy;
}

void FuncLerp(float4 a, float4 b, float4 t, out float4 result)
{
 result = lerp(a, b, t.x);

}

void ProceduralTexture(float3 positionIn, float2 texCoordIn, out float4 colorOut, out float heightOut)
{
 float4 position = float4(positionIn, 1);
 float4 texCoord = float4(texCoordIn, 0, 0);

 float4 generated_result_0 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 FuncConstantVector(float4(1, 1, 1, 1), generated_result_0);

 float4 generated_result_1 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 FuncConstantVector(float4(0.5, 0.1, 0.15, 0), generated_result_1);

 float4 generated_result_2 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 FuncScale(position, float(5), generated_result_2);

 float4 generated_brickOut_0 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 float4 generated_brickId_0 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 FuncBrick(generated_result_2, float2(3, 1), float(0.9), float(0.5), generated_brickOut_0, generated_brickId_0);

 float4 generated_result_3 = float4(0,0,0,0);
 FuncLerp(generated_result_0, generated_result_1, generated_brickOut_0, generated_result_3);

 float4 color = generated_result_3;
 float4 height = float4(0,0,0,0);

 colorOut = color.xyzw;
 heightOut = height.x;
} 

#include "headers/baseshaders.fxh"

Essentially, each snippet becomes a function (and again, if you look at FuncBrick compared to the brick snippet from earlier, you can see that the input comes first (and is a float4), the properties come next (With types based on the snippet’s declaration), followed finally by the outputs.  Once each function is in place, the shader itself (in this case, the actual shader is inside of headers/baseshaders.fxh included at the end, but that simply calls the ProceduralTexture function just before that) calls each function in the graph, storing the results in unique values, and passes those into the appropriate functions later down the line.

More Content

In addition to all of that, I have also completed the first draft of level 2′s enemy layout (including the level’s new enemy type), and am working on the boss of the level:

Boss2-ClosedHatchesBoss2-OpenHatches

Once I finish the boss of level 2, I’ll start on level 3′s gameplay (and boss).  Once those are done and playable, I’ll start adding the actual backgrounds into them (instead of them being a simple, static starfield).

Bug Tracking

Finally, I’ve started an actual bug tracking setup, based on the easy-to-use Flyspray, which I highly recommend for a quick, easy-to-setup web-based bug/feature tracking thing.

In the case of the database I have, I’ve linked to the roadmap, which is the list of the things that have to be done at certain stages.  I am going to try, this year, to submit my game for the PAX 10 this year, so I have my list of what must be done to have a demo ready (the “PAX Demo” version), and the things that, additionally, I’d really like to have ready (the “PAX Demo Plus” version).  Then, of course, there’s “Feature Complete”, which is currently mostly full of high-level work items (like “Finish all remaining levels” which is actually quite a huge thing) that need to be done before  the game is in a fully-playable beta stage.

In short: I’m still cranking away at my game, just more slowly than I’d like.

2009.06.03 - Networking Is Hard (Part 3)

In my previous two posts, I started looking into what it would take to code the networking for my game, and came up with a first draft, before realizing that floating-point discrepancies between systems totally threw my lockstepping idea for a loop.

Lockstepping With Collisions

In order to solve the issue with different systems having different floating-point calculation results, I decided to somewhat revamp the network design, and really leverage the fact that I don’t care so much about cheating – you could never get away with a networking scheme like this in a competetive game.

  • First, the timing of the scrolling, player bullet fire rates, enemy fire rates, etc were all modified to be integer-based instead of float-based.  There are no discrepencies in the way that integer calculations happen from machine to machine, so the timings of things like enemy spawning, level scrolling, etc. are now all perfectly in sync, frame by frame.
  • Next, when the client detects a collision between entities, it sends a message to the server (which, you may recall, is running on the same system as the client – each machine gets one) notifying it of a collision.  These messages are also synced across the network.
  • Thus, whenever an enemy does on any one client, it dies on both servers on the same tick (that is, the “first” client relative to the game clock to detect a collision determines when the collision took place).  This means that there are no longer any timing differences between deaths on each server (and if a collision happens to be missed by one client, but hits on the other, it will eventually reach the other client).
  • Because players were already sending “I died!” flags as part of their network packets, these were already always perfectly in sync, so no change was needed there.

As an added bonus, since all collision detections are now handled by the client (and communicated to the server), the server never has to do any collision detection calculations on its own, which eases up on the CPU load somewhat (previously, the client and server were both doing collision calculations).  All the server has to do now is apply collisions reported by either the local client or the remote client.

So now, the actual mechanism by which the game keeps in sync from system to system is set, but how does it handle the three main enemies of the network programmer?

Network Gaming’s Most Wanted #1 – Latency

“Lag” is one of the most dreaded words in the network gaming world.  It’s always going to be present – nothing can communicate across the internet faster than the speed of light (and, because of transmission over copper, it’s really more like a sluggish 2/3rds the speed of light!).  Routers and switches also add their own delays to the mix.  According to statistics gathered by Bungie from Halo 3′s gameplay, most gamers (roughly 90%)end up with a round-trip latency of less than (or equal to) 250ms.  That is, it takes a quarter of a second for data to go from System A to System B and back to A.  That’s a long time for a fast-action networked game!  Thankfully, because messages sent from system to system in this game’s network design are never dependent on messages from the other, nothing has to round trip, so the latencies can effectively be halved, making the system much better at handling lag (because, quite frankly, there’s just less of it!)

As discussed previously, because the client can run ahead of the server and, thus, process local player input immediately, there’s no latency in what the player presses and what actually happens on-screen.  But what about how the remote player’s actions look?  With a ping under 100ms, there are next to zero visible discrepancies on the system.  That is, low-ping games are virtually indistinguishable from locally-played games.

At around the 400ms ping mark, it does start to become obvious that things aren’t quite right – due to the interpolation of remotely-shot bullets, they accelerate up to a certain part of the screen until they reach their known location then slow down to normal speed, which is fairly noticeable (I’m still trying to smooth this out a touch).  When enemies get too close to the remote player as it fires, due to the delay, the bullets will collide with the enemy, but the enemy will live longer than it appears it should (because the local client does not reliably know that the remote bullet is actually still alive, it can’t deal actual damage to the enemy, it has to wait for the server to confirm).

Above 1-2 seconds of latency, all bets are off – the local player will find the game still perfectly playable, but the movements of the remote player will be completely erratic, and remotely fired bullets won’t act at all like they should.  But, since 90% of gamers have much lower latencies, this is not really an issue.  For the majority of gamers, the game will look and play pretty close to how it would if both players were in the same room.

Network Gaming’s Most Wanted #2 – Packet Loss

Latency’s lesser-known brother is packet loss, which is where data sent from one machine to another never makes it (due to routing hardware failure, power outage, NSA interception, alien abduction, etc).  On a standard internet connection, you can generally assume that about 10% of the packets that you send will get lost along the way.  Also, just because you send Packet A before Packet B doesn’t mean they’ll arrive in the right order – a machine might get a packet sent later before one that was sent earlier.

With the XNA runtime, there are four different methods that you can send packets with (obviously you can mimic these with any networking setup, but I’m using XNA so it’s my frame of reference here):

  • Unreliable – the other system will get these in potentially any order, or it may not even get them at all.  The name says it all – you can’t rely on these packets.  This is probably not the best option to use.
  • In-Order – These packets are for data for which you really only need the most recent data; you only care about the most recent score, for instance – not what the score was in a previous packet.  Thus, these packets contain extra version information so that the XNA runtime can ensure that packets that arrive out of order don’t reach you.  As soon as a new packet comes in, it becomes available to the game.  If a packet that’s older than the most recent one comes in, it’s discarded.  You immediately get new ones at the cost of never getting older ones.  For many games, this is a perfect scenario.
  • Reliable – These packets will always arrive.  When the XNA runtime receives one of these, it sends an acknowledgement to the other system that it received it.  If the system that sent it doesn’t receive such an acknowledgement, it’ll resend (and resend and resend and…) until it finally arrives at the destination.  Packets sent reliably are not vulnerable to packet loss; if you send it, as long as the connection remains valid you know it will reach the destination eventually.  However, these packets may not arrive in the proper order (you may receive Packet C before Packets A or B).
  • Reliable, In-Order – On the surface, this sounds like the best choice!  These packets always arrive in the right order, and they always arrive!  That is, you will always get Packets A, B, C, and D, in that order.  There’s a hidden downside, though:  If the game recieves Packet C, but has not yet received Packets A or B, it has to hold onto that packet until both A and B arrive, which, if they need to be resent, can really ratchet up the latency.  Any one packet that needs to be resent will hold up the whole line until it arrives.  Clearly, this type of packet should only be used when absolutely necessary – for normal gameplay, it’s better to use In-Order or Reliable on their own.

Eventually, I decided to send packets in the Reliable way, but not In-Order.  But, to minimize the amount that the game has to wait for resent packets to arrive, each packet contains eight frames worth of input/collision data.  That way, as long as one out of every string of 8 packets arrives, the server will have all of the relevant information to sync up to that point.  And if, for some reason, 8 packets in a row are all lost in transmission, they’ll be resent and make it eventually anyhow.

To handle this, the game essentially has a list of frames that it’s received data for (8 of which come in with each packet).

  • For each frame that a packet contains, if the frame already been simulated by the server (a frame from the past), that frame is ignored.
  • Similarly, if the frame is already in the list, it’s ignored.
  • If it’s not a past frame and it isn’t already in the list, add it to the list (in order – the list is sorted from earliest to latest).
  • After this is done, if the next frame that the server needs to simulate is in the list, remove it from the list and go!  Otherwise, wait until it is.

The game doesn’t care which order the frames are received in – as long as it has the next one in the list, it’ll be able to continue on.  Because of the redundancy, it rarely has to wait on a resend due to packet loss.  In fact, using XNA’s built-in packet loss simulation (thank you, XNA team!), the packet loss has to be increased to over 90% before the latency of the simulation starts to increase (hypothetically, the magic number is above 87.5% packet loss – greater than 7/8 packets lost).

The disadvantage of this system is that it does add to the bandwidth use, as each packet now contains an average of eight times as much data as it would normally, which brings us to…

Network Gaming’s Most Wanted #3 – Bandwidth

Ah, bandwidth.  There’s no point in having a low-latency connection between two systems if the game requires too much bandwidth for the connection to keep up.  Because the Xbox Live bandwidth requirement is 8KB/s (that’s kilobytes), that became my goal as well.

This is where I overengineered my system a bit.  I was estimating, as a worst case, an average of 10 collisions per frame.  With packet header overhead, voice headset data, and everything, with 8 frames worth of data in each packet, I expected to be just BARELY below the 8KB/s limit.

When I finally got the system up and running, it turned out the game was using less than 4KB/s.  The average amount of collisions per frame is closer to TWO than it is to 10 (unfunny side note: I had the right number, but the wrong numerical base.  My answer was perfect in binary), even with a lot of stuff going on (though an individual frame may have many more, there are usually large spaces between collisions as waves of bullets smack into enemies).  The most I’ve been able to get it up to with this system is about 5KB/s, which means the game still has a delightful 3KB/s of breathing room.  I think I’ll keep it that way!

Final Remarks

Hopefully this has been an informative foray into the design of a network protocol for an arcade-style shoot-em-up game.  I’m no network professional – in fact, this is the first network design I’ve ever done, so I’m sure people who do this stuff for a living are laughing at my pathetic framework.  If anyone has any suggestions as to how I might improve my network model, I’m all ears – while it works pretty well, I’m always open to ideas!

2009.05.30 - Networking Is Hard (Part 2)

In my previous post, I weighed the advantages and disadvantages of my game vs. a standard FPS with regard to networking.  After doing so, I came up with an initial network design.

The biggest issue, personally, was dealing with the causality of the network game.  Each player gets information about the other with a delay, so neither player is ever seeing exactly the same set of circumstances (perfectionism and network lag don’t mix very well).  I think Shawn Hargreaves describes it best in one of his networking presentations: he says to treat each player’s machine as a parallel world.  They’re not exact, but the idea is to try to make them look as close as possible.  It doesn’t matter  if things don’t happen exactly the same, but you don’t ever want the following conversation to occur:

Player 1: “Wow, can you believe I killed that giant enemy at the last second?  That was amazing!”

Player 2: “…What giant enemy?”

Procyon’s Initial Design

The design I started with was a hybrid of both the peer-to-peer lockstep and client-server models.

networkmodel1

Basically, within each system there is a client/server pair.  In addition, each server runs in lock-step with the other, so that they both always tick with the exact same player inputs for a given frame, keeping the two machines’ servers perfectly in sync.  Since the only data being sent across the network is player inputs, bandwidth use was ridiculously low.  And since nothing ever has to round-trip from the client to the server and back, the system still gets the effectively-halved-ping that a pure lockstep setup gets.  Also, because the client and the server are running on the same machine, communications between the two (mostly, the server notifying the client of events that happened based on the other player’s input) becomes very trivial – the server can just call callbacks to the client, and no sort of RPC mechanism is necessary.

Ignoring the clients for a moment, the servers are a very traditional lockstep system.  Each normal tick, the player input is polled and then sent across the network.  Once the server receives the input from the remote system for the next frame, it ticks forward.  As you can imagine, each machine’s server is a bit lagged, because it has to wait for inputs across the network.  That’s where the client comes in.

Each system also runs a client, which runs ahead of the server.  This client always ticks every (in Procyon’s case) 60th of a second, processing the local player’s inputs right away, and running prediction on the remote player based on the last set of inputs and the last known position that the server knows about.  That way, the local player’s ship always reacts right away to player inputs (on the client, which is represented on-screen).

Essentially:

  1. The current local player’s input is polled and sent to the server.
  2. The input is also sent immediately across the network to the other machine.
  3. The client ticks using this input – the position and actions of the remote player are predicted based on the last-known input and position from the server.
  4. If the server has the remote input for the next frame that it has to do (which is always an eariler frame than the client), it also ticks (no prediction necessary on the server, as it has up-to-date information about both players for the given frame it’s simulating).  Again, there is a server on both machines, but they’ll both end up with the exact same simulation.

(Mostly-) Deterministic Enemies

Here’s where one of the advantages of the game comes into play.  In my last post, I mentioned that enemies are deterministic in their movements.  This is actually a key part of the networking.  What it means is, there is no prediction required for simulating enemy behaviors ahead of the server.  For instance, say that the client is currently 5 frames ahead of the server.  While the client is ticking frame 450, the server is only on 445 (because it hasn’t received network input for frame 446 from the other machine yet).  Even though the server hasn’t simulated enemy movements yet, their movements are very strictly defined, so the client doesn’t have to guess – it knows exactly where an enemy is on frame 450.  Consequently, the client running ahead of the server is not a problem with regards to enemy positions – when you see an enemy in a specific place on the screen, you know that’s exactly where it will be on the server when the server finally simulates that same frame.

Unless the other player kills it first.

That’s right – there is exactly one case in which an enemy’s behavior is non-deterministic, and it’s most-easily described as follows:  your local client is currently simulating frame 450, the server has simulated frame 445.  You see a large cannon ship start to charge up its beam weapon for a massive attack.  However, the server gets remote player input from frame 446 (the next frame it has to simulate), and when simulating it, realizes that the other player dealt the killing shot to the ship.  Suddenly, the client’s view of that enemy is wrong – it should have died four frames prior.

In essence, the only way that a client’s view of an enemy is ever wrong is if the other player has killed it in the past, and the server hasn’t caught up.  This is a very important property: the only time, ever, that an enemy is not where you see it as is when it’s not anywhere at all (because it already died).  However, this is where it starts to get tricky.

Most of the time, it’s not a big issue.  The client kills the enemy as soon as the server tells the client that the enemy should be dead, and it just dies a few frames too late.  But when the enemy has fired bullets (or any other type of weapon), suddenly there’s a problem.  What has to happen in that case is that the client has to remove the bullets that shouldn’t really have been spawned.  With reasonable pings, the bullets will generally be close enough to the enemy’s death explosion that they won’t really be noticeable, they’ll blink up in the middle of the explosion and disappear by the time it’s done.  With larger lag times, though, bullets for dying enemies might spontaneously disappear.  Ah, lag.  How networked games love you so.

The real problem, though, is when, using the frame numbers above, you crash your ship into an enemy on tick 450 that actually died on tick 446.  What then?  You crashed into something that shouldn’t even have been there!  After much internal debate, I decided there’s a really simple way to arbitrate this: on your screen, you crashed, so you still get the consequences.  Even though you hit something (either a should-have-been-dead enemy or a bullet spawned from such an enemy) that shouldn’t have even been there, you still ran into something on your screen, and still pay the price.  So, in addition to player inputs that get sent to the server (and across the network), the client also sends a flag that says “I died!”

As an added bonus, the server no longer needs to calculate collisions against either player – when a player dies, the client signals it (This plays into another advantage of my game – in a competetive multiplayer game, you would never, ever trust a client machine to tell you whether or not its player got hit by something).

Random Number Generation

One issue has to do with random number generation.  Obviously, when connecting the two machines across the network, the machines have to agree on a random number seed so that random numbers generated on each are the same.  In fact, not only do the machines on either side of the network have to have the same random number seeds, but the client and server also have to start with the same seeds, or they’ll get out of sync (a machine getting out of sync with itself is always funny).

However, what happens when an enemy (Smallship 5) shoots a bullet in a random direction, and then dies “in the past” based on a server correction?  On the server(s), this random number generation never happened.  On the client, however, a bullet was shot, and a random number was created.  With a single random number generator, that means all of the random numbers from that point on on the client are going to be incorrect.  Thankfully, there’s an easy way around that.

Give every enemy its own random number generator!

I found a very lightweight (and very high-quality) random number generator: Marsaglia’s mutliply-with-carry generator (or, if you prefer, the infinitely more difficult-to-read Wikipedia version).  This generator only requires two unsigned integers for each generator to do its magic, so there wasn’t much overhead to hand one of these off to each enemy.  So, the initial random number seed is decided upon before the level begins to load.  As the level begins to load, and enemies are created, a new generator is created for each entity, using random seeds generated from the original generator.  This way, each enemy gets its own generator, and if an enemy ever generates any extra random numbers before it dies, it doesn’t affect any of the other enemies at all!  Problem solved.

Remote Player Bullets

Again, pretend the client is ticking frame 450.  When the server reaches 445, it notices that the remote player fired a bullet.  So it notifies the client: “Hey, 5 frames ago, the other player fired a shot!.”

  • The client knows that it needs to spawn a new remote player bullet.
  • It also knows exactly where that bullet will be at the current tick (since it was spawned at tick 445, but it’s now tick 450, it can tick the bullet forward 5 frames).
  • It does not, however, know that the bullet will actually survive until tick 450.  It’s possible that anywhere from tick 446 until 449, that it might hit something.

Even though it knows exactly where the bullet should be, it doesn’t display it there.  It actually starts the bullet in front of its current estimate of where the remote player is (the predicted position), and interpolates it into the correct spot.  That way, remote player’s bullets don’t seem to appear way out in front of the remote player, they still start right where they seem like they should.

The client knows exactly where the bullet should be, but not that it’s actually there (because it might have died on, say, tick 448).  So while it does collision detection against enemies, if the remote bullet hits an enemy, it doesn’t actually do any damage on the client – it just removes the bullet.  If it turns out it dealt damage after all, the server will eventually send a correction to the client.

However, eventually, the server reaches frame 450 (when the client first learned about the bullet).  If the bullet is still alive on the server, then we know that it never hit anything from frame 445 until then, so it was a live bullet when the client found out about it.  Also, if it’s still alive on the client (it didn’t collide with anything while the server caught up to frame 450), that means the client knows that the bullet is still alive.

Now that it knows that it has a bullet that is guaranteed to still be alive, and is at the exact position that it’s supposed to be, the bullet can flip from being treated as a remote bullet to being treated exactly like a locally-fired bullet.  Basically, this bullet now will deal damage and act exactly like a bullet fired by this machine’s own player!  It’s one less thing that will act different on the other machines, further strengthening the illusion that both players are seeing the same thing.

Floating Points Are Sharper Than Expected

However, there was one big issue with this entire design: floating-point errors.  Due to minute differences in the way floating point numbers are calculated on different systems (due to different CPUs, code optimizations, quantum entanglement, etc), the collision code on each system acted slightly differently.  Consequently, the two servers running in lockstep weren’t actually in sync.  This was causing all sorts of issues – slight timing differences on enemy deaths caused discrepencies in scores and energy amounts…and the real kicker is that it was possible that two objects would collide on one system and never collide at all on the other simulation (a grazing collision on one might not trigger as a collision on the other system).  Added bonus when an enemy died on one server just after shooting a ton of bullets, but just before shooting them on the other server.  Suddenly, one player’s screen would be full of enemy bullets, and the other’s would be clear as the summer sky.

This became a real problem, and it took a while to solve it (again, perfectionism and networking don’t mix)…and next time, I’ll present the solution.