Multiplayer games now have pretty great online features. What was once considered a luxury of older titles is now a simple and often expected feature for many games of today. Some genres are fundamentally tied to its multiplayer and would be a shell of a game without the convenience of the internet. There is, however, a quandary that often comes with this kind of feature, and that is how you intend to implement it into your game.
The most commonly accepted and convenient form of online gaming is server connection which involves your device connecting to a separate in-house server that acts as a medium for all connections in a game session. The gold standard, the best form of connection for safety and consistency.
Way better than port-forwarding, which requires one person to give up an IP address to play an online game. Port-forwarding is also heavily dependent on the internet connection of everyone in the game and can completely compromise the experience for everyone that is playing with you. Most of the time, this form of connection is saved for games that don’t have the funds to provide a server for people to play on. Kind of like giving someone your house keys and crossing your fingers that they don’t copy it and use the security of the place you sleep for all manner of things.
Both of these connections have positives and negatives attached to them in how they operate with one being incredibly pricey but consistent, with the other being much cheaper but a greater risk to use as a player. There is however another kind of connection; one that has garnered the ire of many. A connection that provides a cost effective solution while making it easier to use.
Peer-to-Peer is a style of connection very similar to port-forwarding but it is much safer. Instead of providing your direct IP to dox yourself by friends you made online, the game itself provides a safe(r) connection directly between you two without requiring giving up what is quite possibly the most important thing you can provide regarding your computer.
There are a couple of popular forms of peer-to-peer connection but the two most popular are delay-based and rollback netcode (netcode is a simpler way of describing the type of connection.)
I am not going to describe the differences between the two forms of netcode because I am not fit to do so. However, many within communities that depend on peer-to-peer connections universally agree that rollback is significantly better than delay-based.
One of the biggest communities that are affected by this is the fighting game community. Often times, fighting games require an insane amount of precision in their inputs as well as their timing. It is no wonder that online connections are of immense importance to this genre of game.
“Smash Brothers Melee,” which never officially had online features but does due to fans creating tools that do, is notorious for requiring insanely difficult button and stick inputs that are sometimes frame perfect— which means you have a single frame to perform the input— to play the game. Other fighting games are similar in that they all require an immense amount of inputs that would be compromised by poor online features.
Which is where the debate comes into play. While other genres like strategy don’t often require demanding inputs to play proficiently, fighting games and others similar to it do. “Smash Brothers: Ultimate,” the most recent game in the series, has built-in internet using delay-based netcode which was notoriously bad.
So bad that Nintendo has made multiple attempts to quash the anger of the more serious players by blocking exposure of the discontent by fans.
Rollback has become a patron saint to many fighting games. New games in the genre often advertise the usage of it due to how popular rollback is. It was due to rollback that an eight year-old title, “Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core Plus R” (yes that is its full title) went from becoming a more or less niche fighting game to briefly transforming into one of the most popular fighting games on Steam.
It was an experimental beta that the company behind the game, Arc System Works, provided to the community for a limited time to gauge whether or not they wanted to use rollback for their newest game, “Guilty Gear Strive.” However, due to how insanely popular the title became due to rollback, they decided to make the beta a permanent fixture of the game. Thus, not only did rollback revive an old title but it improved a newer one.
This occurrence, among many others, sparked intense debate among players about why fighting game developers don’t use rollback more often. Many figureheads in the community point to culture and the relevance of rollback. It is a far newer form of netcode in comparison to delay-based, and many companies don’t seem to see the value in it until rollback all of a sudden turns a completely irrelevant game to a hot topic.
That is it. That’s the reason.
As for other genres, For Honor is a decent example of a company not understanding what kind of online structure they should use, somehow choosing possibly the worst option out of them all for a team-based brawler.
Peer-to-Peer connections function well with as few people as possible involved. The more people that are included in the connection the more troubled the connection becomes. For Honor is a decent example of this in spades. Its connection was so bad that it became the talking point of anyone who wished to criticize it.
Videos of people exploiting the poor framework of the online structure laid bare when people built lag switches and other tools, often used to create a poor connective environment, to exploit lag to their benefit. Eventually leading to For Honor changing the infrastructure of their online servers. For a modern game, doing this is a monumental task due to online features being ingrained within the code of many different parts of the experience.
All these different forms of online experience are important for games to stay both reasonably easy to maintain while keeping people within your game satisfied with the experience. While more games should adopt the rollback model if they are using peer-to-peer, it would take another monumental event to cause bigger companies to use them.