Even now, with my 40th birthday behind me, I spend a fair amount of my free time playing video games. Videos games have been a pretty consistent part of my life for 30 some years, and I expect this to remain the case for most of the next 40 years too. Normally I reserve this space for my professional interests; things like Exchange, Office 365, Active Directory, and Azure. However, today I figured out that my professional interests have intersected with my personal video game interest so I thought this would be a good excuse to bring video gaming into this blog. It turns out that Windows Azure is a key component in making the new video game “Titanfall” work.
Titanfall is a new FPS (first person shooter) currently available on the Xbox One. The whole game is played online against human opponents. I’m not going to go too far into talking about the actual game play, but I will sum it up by saying the basis of the game is your character running around and trying to shoot other players before they shoot you. This type of game has been wildly popular for quite some time, highlighted recently by insanely popular “Call of Duty” series. Titanfall is in many ways very similar to Call of Duty (the company that made Titanfall was founded by game makers who left their last company over a dispute about the royalties from CoD), there is one way in which Titanfall is very much a large leap forward in this type of game.
In games like Call of Duty ten or twenty people all connect to a match via a service like Xbox Live. After the users are logged in and grouped together for their match, the Xbox Live servers turn management of the match over to one of the player’s Xbox for game decisions like who shot whom first. This design works well when all the game has to keep track of is the movements of a small number of players. The downside to this sort of system is that it does not allow for much in the way of Artificial Intelligence within the game.
Much like in Call of Duty, in Titanfall you are playing against other people. However, unlike in CoD, Titanfall also include a large number of AI controlled characters that you can play with and against. Your team in Titanfall includes other players, but it also includes “grunts” “specters” and even computer controller “titans” all fighting for and against the real players in the game. All the compute power to control the actions of the non-player characters (NPC) in Titanfall is coming from Azure. The different type of NPCs have different levels of AI so that specters are “smarter” and harder to kill than grunts, and titans are “smarter” and harder to kill than both specters and grunts. Titanfall also includes several types of “smart” weapons that are able to lock in opponents and work as “guided missiles” to track your target.
So why use Azure for all this artificial intelligence? This sort of application is ideal for a service like Azure. The demand on these servers is very “bursty”, meaning that sometimes (nights and weekends) usage will be very high while other times it will be much lower. Additionally, Titanfall is not going to be the cool game forever. If EA and Respawn were to build their own servers for this application it would require a huge investment. Azure is designed to solve all these problems.
All-in-all I think Titanfall is a great win for Xbox, Respawn, EA, and Azure. It’s a fun new game, with an interesting application of new technology.