Chris Roberts’ original Star Citizen pitch blew the collective socks off space fans. Unverified reports state that the cleaners of NASA’s facilities were retrieving threaded footwear for more than a week following what has now become known as the ‘Roberts event’. But as the initial excitement wore off, and socks were returned to their owners, questions were raised: how can thousands of players, in one of the best looking and technically complex games ever proposed, play together. If the comparatively simple World of Warcraft can only cope with its huge playerbase by splitting them into different realms, how does Roberts propose to manage his flock.
With a two-server system, one a mega data server called the Galaxy Server and a myriad of mini-instances. Let me explain:
Roberts details the barebones of the system in a lengthy blog post on his site. He details a system which has a single overarching server, a”persistent universe server, which we’re calling the Galaxy Server, keeps track of all players’ assets, group relationships and locations inside the Star Citizen universe. As the Galaxy server isn’t handling any realtime action it can handle our complete player base, which right now would be about 45,000 players, but is designed to be able to scale to millions if need be.”
Think of it as an inventory log. It’s very simple data that doesn’t require calculation and so can quickly handle many inputs and changes without becoming overburdened. The calculation it does do is to “dynamically place players based on their location, skill level, alignment and player versus player (PvP) preference into battle instances. Think of a “battle” instance like a Battlefield 3 multiplayer session or a World of Tanks Battle”.
Roberts then goes through a long run-through of how a player would seamlessly swap many timesbetween instances in a short play session and how those populating the instance are determined. It’s worth a read as it really nails how the system would work in reality.
The two server system will also appear in a simpler manner in the proto-Star Citizen game, Squadron 42: “The same instance system underpins the single player Squadron 42. If you’re playing off-line, your computer will be acting as the server and client, there will be no opportunities for friends to join and everyone will be an NPC. But if you play Squadron 42 through the Galaxy Server, even though your missions and space areas are pre-determined (you don’t get to pick where in the galaxy you are flying if you’re in the military) we will allow your friends to drop in / drop out to take over NPC wingmen and if you want extra skill ranking you can allow other players to drop in and take over enemy ace characters. This system is pretty similar to the Demon’s Souls setup where people could drop in as a Blue Phantom to help you kill a boss monster or fight off another invading player, or you could drop in as a Black Phantom to someone else’s world and try and kill them for XP and other gamerewards.”
Star Citizen and Squadron 42 remain extremely exciting prospects. Though to get a better idea of what the game entails you should read Paul’s preview as he’s seen the game in action.