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Azure-based environment gives users the power to make games

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In 2019, Kadokawa (now known as Gotcha Gotcha Games) released Pixel Game Maker MV, enabling anyone to create an action game without programming knowledge. After the initial release on PC, a console version hit the shelves in January 2021. However, the company had to overcome a major hurdle to create the console version—namely, game files developed on PC, couldn't be copied to game consoles for testing. Software.Advanced.Research came to the rescue with a proposal for downloading files from a server and began building a server environment using Microsoft Azure as the development platform. Gotcha Gotcha Games is thrilled with the Azure-based server environment, for which a combination of platform as a service (PaaS) features and containers provide essential functions.

Expanding from PCs to game consoles
Since the dawn of computer gaming, countless fans have dreamed of making their own games despite not knowing how to program. Adventure Maker was launched in 1987 to satisfy such ambitions. RPG Maker appeared later, sparking a boom so huge that fans who created games with these tools were called "makers." The products went on to become part of the "Maker" series, with 2009's Pixel Game Maker garnering attention as the series' first entry dedicated to creating 2D action games. Gotcha Gotcha Games (GGG) made numerous improvements to the product and released a remake, Pixel Game Maker MV, in 2019.

"With independent data showing that action games constitute 60 to 70 percent of new game releases on Steam, we began planning Pixel Game Maker MV as a modern remake of Pixel Game Maker, which had previously been released as part of the Maker series," recalls Noboru Mogami, Producer at Pixel Game Maker MV, Game Development Department at GGG. According to Mogami, the original plan was designed at Kadokawa, with GGG established as an independent division for the Maker series in September 2020.

Although games created with Pixel Game Maker MV were initially made for PC and released through Steam, GGG expanded into the publishing business as a distributor for games made using its software, with many of these games now available on PC.

"However, we felt that use of Pixel Game Maker MV wouldn't grow with PC distribution alone," says Mogami. For developers to gain more players, their games also needed to be available on consoles. "But there was one hurdle. For developers to test their games on a console, they need to copy game data developed on PC to that console. However, it's impossible to copy data directly to standard consumer consoles."

GGG consulted Software.Advanced.Research (SAR)—a software development, system construction, and video production company with many achievements in game production—on how to solve the problem. In March 2019, Masanori Takada, General Manager, Consumer Products Headquarters at SAR, met with GGG to discuss requirements, and proposed a solution of downloading game data via servers.

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Adopting Azure for infrastructure resilience, high speeds, and extensive support
SAR adopted Microsoft Azure as the platform to build the server environment.

"From the moment I spoke with GGG, I wanted to use Azure," says Takada. Since 2018, the company had operated a policy of Azure being the first and only option for its cloud services business. Takada explains the reasoning behind this approach.

"From a technical perspective, the infrastructure and network systems of Azure are stronger than other mega clouds, so data can be sent in and out at high speeds," continues Takada. "Game developers need to send bundles of data—sometimes exceeding 1 GB in volume—to a server, so I felt that the speeds of Azure were a huge advantage. And the friendly technical support of Azure is another asset that other cloud providers cannot match. Microsoft has built a proactive partner support system that reliably provides information on new services and other news, and issues accounts with credits to verify functionality when launching many virtual machines."

SAR was also in charge of building the server environment. Software development and server construction started in February 2020 and completed in September. With game developers helping to test functionality following completion, new features and improvements were added, and the server environment for game developers to test their games officially launched in January 2021. Operation of the server environment transferred from Kadokawa to GGG, which had been established during the project.

The following diagram shows the configuration of the system.

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​​Developers who make games with the PC (Steam) version of Pixel Game Maker MV gain access through a portal screen, bundling and uploading game code files to Azure Blob Storage.

This configuration prevents the back end of the server environment from being overloaded by incoming files. Since game developers' IP addresses are unknown, it's impossible to implement a defense against denial of service (DoS) attacks using IP addresses to be footholds in DoS attacks. Azure Blob Storage absorbs excessive loads and reduces the impact on API servers.

Containerized game functions are accessed via API servers using Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), with access distributed by Azure Load Balancer. Azure Database for MySQL manages the data required to execute these functions. Developers can access a portal from a gaming console, download the necessary files, and run them to test their games.

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Combining PaaS and containers enables lightning-fast development from scratch
"For this project, we basically built a server environment from scratch," says Takada. "We developed essential functions using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and containerized them. Development went smoothly because we had used this method in other projects. We relied on PaaS for all non-functional requirements like databases, backups, load balancers, and CDNs, which helped to cut development time."

GGG is pleased with the stability of Azure. No major issues have been encountered, and systems are sufficiently scaling. Takada says that Microsoft's support has been excellent. In addition to explaining the new services being used, Microsoft has also shared guidance on server configuration, and the complementary credits provided for testing helped keep development costs down.

According to Mogami, Azure has provided plenty of benefits already. "Using the services of Azure allowed us to implement a design that provides stability and scalability, so there's no need to worry about excessive access loads in the production environment," he says. "Our system involves uploading and downloading large volumes of game data via servers, so the excellent network bandwidth and stability of Azure are immensely beneficial."

This new server environment also boasts a sales surveillance server, which allows games that have been certified by gaming console manufacturers to be distributed and sold—a step which will bolster GGG's game publishing business.

"We want to find ways to make uploading files even easier as our server environment's user base steadily grows," says Takada. "We're already thinking about ways to apply the knowledge we've accumulated in this project elsewhere.

"Another attraction of Azure is that new features are continually being added. Azure PlayFab back end as a service (BaaS) is one that has recently captured our attention. With its capabilities, you don't have to develop the various backend features needed for a game from scratch. If Azure PlayFab is missing a feature, you can add it as a container with AKS, like we did in this project, or use a tool like Azure Functions for serverless implementation."

Skillfully combining these technologies will revolutionize game development and distribution environments. We can't wait to see the exciting new environments that SAR builds in the future.

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​​​"We developed essential functions using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and containerized them. Development went smoothly because we had used this method in other projects. We relied on PaaS for all non-functional requirements, which cut development time." 

Masanori Takada: General Manager, Consumer Products Headquarters, Software Advanced Research Co., Ltd. 


​To hear more customer stories like this one, visit us at Microsoft Game Stack​.

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