Gaming is moving to the cloud, period. Being one of the first movers into a new frontier is never straightforward. It usually comes with severe expense – both in time and cost – never mind the number of iterations before the market sees the full potential of your game.
CCP Games has been taking full advantage to cloud gaming’s new frontier to usher in a new era of their space MMO, EVE: Online. With EVE: Aether Wars, they’re raising the cloud gaming bar by partnering with Hadean and Azure. This partnership has enabled CCP’s developers to build this brand-new game of unprecedented scale, whilst allowing gamers everywhere to play EVE: Aether Wars across any device, at any time.
“Cloud Gaming is an incredibly exciting space and it’s only the beginning. Through our work with CCP, we’ve been able to see the power and opportunity Aether Engine offers when placed in the hands of game developers. No longer are they limited by old technical limitations but instead can explore and achieve unprecedented levels of fidelity and scale.” – Craig Beddis, CEO (Hadean)
MMO giant CCP Games has decades of experience building substantial games and scaling them with next-gen technologies.
The Icelandic video game developer is the creator of EVE: Online the compelling, community-driven sci-fi MMO where players can traverse vast solar systems completely formed by their own path – whether that be space exploration, huge space battles, or mining for rare resources in an ever-expanding universe.
EVE Online has seen momentous growth over the last fifteen years with a seismic growth in player-base as well as breaking the world record for the most concurrent players simultaneously involved in a single multiplayer PvP videogame battle with over 6,000 players taking part in The Siege of 9-4 or hosting the most destructive battle ever with over $300,000 of in-game items lost in the Bloodbath of B-R5RB.
Creating compelling large-scale multiplayer experiences is one of the trickiest challenges developers face today. The technical complexity often results in compromises, which erode ambition before the first line of code is even written.
CCP, even with all of their experience, still has to troubleshoot. Some players think the experience still has a way to go. CCP’s developers are exploring mechanics to compensate for tech difficulties, such as Time Dilation, which eases the computational load on the server when thousands of players meet on the battlefield. These large-scale feats have inspired CCP to find full, scalable answers to the technical challenges inherent in a legacy architecture.
Which brought them to Hadean.
Founded in 2015, Hadean is a London-based deep tech start-up and the creator of HadeanOS, the world’s only cloud-first operating system. Hadean’s solutions enable AAA gaming studios to write, ship and scale massive, real-time, distributed applications. Aether Engine is Hadean’s pioneering distributed simulation engine that uses HadeanOS to power games and simulations of unprecedented fidelity and scale.
Ever since meeting at the Microsoft Accelerator in 2016, Microsoft and Hadean have become close partners. Microsoft has helped Hadean tackle the serious amounts of research & development required to ensure viable, practical, and applicable new technology. Leveraging the power of Azure’s high-bandwidth-low-latency global data centers, Hadean has delivered global large-scale experiences as epic and powerful as the EVE universe.
CCP Games and Hadean joined forces to create EVE: Aether Wars. Built with HadeanOS and Aether Engine, EVE: Aether Wars intends to achieve unprecedentedlevels of scale and performance. HadeanOS enables CCP Games to unlock the full potential of Azure’s cloud by dynamically scaling massively multiplayer game worlds, and integrating with existing tools like Unreal Engine, allowing for easier development.
The first phase of EVE: Aether Wars went live for an hour at the Game Developers Conference in March 2019, bringing 3,852 players together for a simple deathmatch. The event gathered traction with headlines globally in the likes of Business Insider, EDGE magazine and PC Gamer.
Even though the first phase was a success, it was clear there were opportunities to improve. CCP and Hadean decided to further expand on the original gameplay, exciting developers with the possibility of creating compelling large-scale multiplayer experiences.
EVE Aether Wars: Phase Two had three goals.
Firstly, CCP and Hadean wanted to improve the player experience for a more compelling, enjoyable, and fulfilling time. To achieve this, CCP assembled a dedicated, experienced team focused solely on improving player experience.
Secondly, increasing the gameplay performance at large scale. To deliver, Hadean increased the tick rate to 30Hz, doubling the tick rate from EVE: Aether Wars Phase One, and bringing it in-line with current generation consoles. Hadean’s aim was to deliver a fully synchronously simulated world and not just handover at the boundaries. This meant the entire game sim for Phase Two would be consistent at every tick.
Lastly, CCP and Hadean wanted to drastically reduce the cost of deployment. Egress charges can make cloud gaming prohibitively expensive, as evidenced by the numerous late-stage cancellations from several high-profile and ambitious large-scale multiplayer projects. Hadean drove down the operational costs of EVE: Aether Wars by focusing on server and bandwidth efficiency.
Seven developers from CCP Games built EVE Aether Wars: Phase Two in just eight weeks, producing a cost-effective multiplayer prototype that supported over 4,000 players on a single shard.
“Hadean’s technology has the potential to unlock huge creative and design-orientated freedom within virtual worlds such as EVE. We are very happy as always to join up with intrepid pioneers setting out to push the boundaries of what is possible. Continuing to do that I believe will bring about the conditions where EVE will outlive us all.” – Hilmar V. Pétursson, CEO (CCP Games)
EVE Aether Wars: Phase Two went live for an hour during Gamescom 2019. 4,369 players joined the single-shard battle, peaking at 3,047. Over 1.2 million missiles were fired and 20,000 ships destroyed in the multiplayer mayhem.
832 cores across 13 virtual machines were used at the simulation’s peak, which were accessed by users from 88 countries which were supported by seven Microsoft Azure data centers distributed around the world.
Crucially, Phase Two achieved a new feat by attaining a stable 33 ms tick rate running on hundreds of cores with many thousands of geographically distributed clients. As new players joined, resources were constantly allocated and de-allocated, while superfluous resources were deprovisions, resulting in a consistent and smooth gameplay experience.
Phase Two reduced the bandwidth required by over 100x in comparison to Phase One. The simulation processed an average 69mb/s of bandwidth, which included adding ‘simulated’ players to further test the technology, resulting in just under 250GB of data being processed over the hour.
After the success of the first two phases, Phase Three has one goal in mind: to surpass the existing world record for the most concurrent players simultaneously involved in a single multiplayer PvP videogame battle (currently standing at 6,142 players) whilst providing a smoother and more enjoyable gaming experience.
Taking place on 23rd November 2019, Hadean & CCP have their sights set on achieving this new level. To get there, there have been a number of strategic changes made behind the scenes, including bringing in Steam and Azure Playfab.
In the previous two phases, friction in the user experience held the player numbers back by hindering registrations and downloads in comparison to what could be achieved. Phase three will be available via Steam, one of the world’s most popular video game digital distribution services, ensuring players can pre-register, download, and play easily without having to do anything that is potentially disruptive to their user experience.
Phase three also harnesses Microsoft Azure Functions and Microsoft Azure Playfab - providing CCP Games & Hadean access to a suite of brilliant off-the-shelf tools designed to reliably work at scale. These tools allowed developers to ship quickly and focus on the fun stuff, like building great gameplay, instead of figuring out bespoke solutions for standard pieces like client-side analytics or player authentication.
Cloud Gaming has been a massive talking point for 2019 with the rise of new solutions and opportunities, like Microsoft Project xCloud, which will allow players to enjoy any game, across any device, at any time.
The work done with EVE: Aether Wars constitutes a seismic shift for developers. Unlocking the full potential of the cloud enables developers to create unparalleled new worlds for gamers to explore, with whole new genres of gameplay. If projects like this are just the tip of the iceberg, where will we go next?