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We present City of Titans, a spiritual successor for the superhero MMORPG City of Heroes, being developed by Missing Worlds Media.
5,003 backers pledged $678,189 to help bring this project to life.

Serving Up Servers

Posted by Missing Worlds Media (Creator)

One of the challenges of developing a massively multiplayer online game is infrastructure, something that lets us even have all you wonderful people super-ing it up in the digital world we're creating for you. We want to have as many of you over as we can, and it seems an awful lot of you are interested in joining in, so we have to make sure we've got enough room at the table. So to speak.

The solution we've come up with is more tables. Or, to break free of the tortured metaphor, more servers. Our idea is to have a separate server play host for each for each major area (usually a district of the city, instance or base map, etc), and another to handle each major task, including one to act as a coordinator of all the others (sort of like a butler). These will each run in their own virtual machine, allowing us to add instances as needed, or to reduce them when no longer needed.

The result of this is that these various servers share the load of hosting you guys in your virtual, superpowered romps, but without splitting you, the players, apart from each other. When you transition from one area to another, you switch which server instance you are connected to. This will prompt a loading screen on initial launch, but the goal is to allow for a streaming transition later on.

Most MMOs just have different servers, sometimes called shards, that each handle a parallel version of the same exact world. While this manages to share the work of hosting the players, it does in such a way that people can't really interact with the people on other servers. With most games, you have to find out which server they are on in advance, or else you'll probably end up on the wrong one and you won't be able to play with each other.

We look to avoid that. We are all in this together, and we want to keep it that way.

One option this approach enabled was the ability to create instanced maps for specific purposes. A common example we use in conceptualizing this is PvP vs PvE play. Rather than needing dedicated zones or arenas for PvP play, or having PvP players interacting with PvE players in the same zone, we can spin up an instance of any map which would be dedicated to PvP play, putting them into their own sandbox where they can PvP to their hearts content without PvE being any wiser. Switching on ones PvP mode would switch them from the PvE instance to the PvP map. This approach is not limited to just PvP either, it would allow for specialized zones for events, role-playing opportunities, even special missions. It opens up a lot of options for us, which in turn means we can offer more for you. We'll be talking about PvP some more in a later update, but for now let's stick with the servers.

While the maps may be individual, everyone in the game will be able to interact with everyone else in the game – with a dedicated chat server making this possible in combination with mission servers, a server for the auction house, etc. While we will have measures in place to make sure things don't get too crowded, we still plan to evoke a sense of everyone being in the game together.

It is not an unheard of model, several European and Asian MMO’s use a similar solution, and in testing it gives us the needed scalability without heavy development or operating costs. By splitting up these tasks, it also enables the utilization of as many off-the-shelf solutions as we can get for the persistent world database, chat server, login manager, etc. Even the instance servers are based directly on the existing Unreal Engine multiplayer server.

The goal is ultimately to give a large, and scalable MMO solution. By the use of specialized servers for the tasks needed, we know we have one which will allow us to grow over the years.

Eric Nelson, Thor, and 100 more people like this update.


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    1. Izzy on

      @John Barefield,
      Easy... you dont REALLY know if the person next to you is Good or Evil! ;)

    2. pud on

      Sounds great - b^.^d

      @John Barefield - like the DA and mob boss standing next to each other in a public place?

    3. John Barefield on

      One thing I don't understand is that all the heroes and villains will apparently occupy the same zones. So in the non-PVP zones, heroes and villains will rub elbows 24/7? Shop side by side in the consignment house? This will be strange and for me inhibit roleplay. I fight evil to my dying breath, but if the most wanted man on earth is right next to me, we chat about the weather? This might be OK for "factions" in a fantasy world, but not for superheroes and villains. I just can't see dozens of bad guys just hanging out in your main square, the equivalent of Atlas Park. Can someone clarify this?

    4. Al Lucard on

      One thing I would like to request... if at all possible...

      I haven't read through all the comments but I read one that referred to Champions Online, and their shard setup.. something that *never* made sense to me as they seemed to push players into the shard with more people... while leaving 10 or so with numbers between 5-10. It seemed to me that they should "code" it to put players in the least populated shards, that way teams when changing instances would more likely stay together...

      I don't know how similar your planned set up will be to the way it is enacted in CO... but, *please* if at all possible, don't do it the way CO does... lol

    5. Missing avatar

      David on

      This seems to be pretty well thought out, and if it will keep costs down as you've claimed that puts paid to by far my biggest concern - the ability to maintain servers on a severely limited budget (at least at first). Seems like it'll be conducive to all kinds of content, too, which is a plus. Consider me optimistic!

    6. DeathSentry on

      For the coordination server, you could look into a clustered solution with automatic failover with the two partner virtual machines on separate physical machines for redundancy (this is sort of my day job..eek..don't want to think about it but.. lol).. Am looking forward to not having the server by server separation. And I think this also allows an RP instance similar to what Virtue was in CoH so you get the best of all worlds.

    7. John Mackay on

      99,999 characters, I'm really going to have to exercise my imagination.

    8. Missing avatar

      John on

      I hope this doesn't end up too much like the CO approach. It felt divided for me in the end, especially in Club Caprice while RP'ing. Here's hoping :x

    9. Missing Worlds Media Creator on

      @John - Not yet set. Theoretically in the 5-figure range. Realistically, need to test.

    10. John Mackay on

      How many characters will we be able to have? In CoH we could have 12+ characters on each server (and I did), do we have any projections for CoT? The single server concept got me worried.

    11. Beet on

      Glad to hear you have such a community driven server plan and with your mentioning of roleplayers, can I get my hopes up that you've a focus in your team on also catering or helping roleplayers, as well as the power gamers, casual gamers, PvPers etc.?

    12. Missing Worlds Media Creator on

      @Izzy - We never said we were using Windows Server OS, did we?

    13. Izzy on

      The reason i was asking about the VPN option was because of the recent decision by Microsoft to drop support for Games For Windows Live.. some games will die when online support hits them. If only those games didnt rely just on the Games For Windows Live server, maybe they would be around for allot longer. I see now, thats not the case for CoT, but just a concern. :/

    14. Izzy on

      Hmmm... If i'm not mistaken, i think a Windows Service has the option to Restart itself if it stops working of whatever reason.

      Wait a sec... Is there an additional cost for using a Windows Server OS?
      Was there any discussion on possibly using a Linux Server? or others?

    15. Izzy on

      I read up on Virtual Machines, and I was surprised to see VirtualBox as the most liked:

    16. Missing Worlds Media Creator on

      @Tarek - If the watchdog does down, the existing servers would still be running, so the players would still be enjoying the game. The plan however is to have a failover daemon running in the background in case the primary fails.

    17. Tarek Okail on

      Can you say "Single point of failure?" I knew you could.

      What plans do you have for failover when the 'coordination' server goes down?

    18. Jabsloth on

      The one thing I loved about the CoH set-up was the Virtue server being the unofficial home of RP. I have found that games that do not have a server designated as the RP server, very little RP goes on. Or, the Role-players end up hiding in some secluded spot to RP because otherwise they get trolled. It is next to impossible to find role-playing on DCO or Champions online, and it is totally impossible to put together a RP team to do missions.

      I think one of the advantages of CoH was that there were servers for for you, no matter what your goal was for the game. Power gamers and role-players, on the whole, do not understand each other, and often don't respect each other. They see the others as either those that want to do nothing but grind and button mash, and those who want to just stand around talking and being pompous for hours at a time.

    19. Missing Worlds Media Creator on

      @Catherine - We were planning on that anyways, hence why the Character Creation app.

    20. Carlo Juanola on

      I really like this approach. Champions online has a similar structure regarding multiple instances of zones yet one server, and I liked it a lot. Everything you posted re: benefits of this approach I agree with and appreciate very much. Thank you! I played Rift, and it was very difficult and annoying that I couldn't team up with my brother who was on a different server. I was on a pvp server, and he was on an RP server. They made some changes where people on different servers can team together with others on the same "instance" of a map.

    21. WesFoxx on

      Love it. <3 A beautiful and somewhat hilarious method for separating PvP :D *Permanently disables PVP flag and never looks back*

    22. Catherine America on

      Izzy's question jogged loose a related question of my own...during times of outages/maintenance is there any chance that we will be able to use the character creator offline and save those toons as well?

    23. Missing avatar

      TBK50 on

      @Michael - Yeah you wouldn't need war walls with this setup

      @Robin - There won't be individual names for the servers because it's all in essence 1 server. All the servers he's talking about are just the ones in the background hosting all the zones and instances, they won't be named or anything because they'll be brought up and taken down on the fly depending on how many people there are.

    24. Missing avatar

      Mariner on

      This is an amazing idea.

    25. Robin Harvey on

      Have you already thought of names for the servers? You know how CoH had Liberty, Virtue, Justice, etc. If not, maybe it could be a community contest? Another fun activity for the community to sink their teeth into :). Although, you guys and gals are so good at thinking up fun things to share/show/give us. xo

    26. Bruce T - Yorian of Phoenix Rising on

      I think this is a huge improvement over the CoH approach. Glad to see you guys are really thinking this out! I'm not a PvP player. I tried it once. Would it be possible to have a toggle for every player that would turn PvP on/off? They could then be in the same zones. If you are a hero that doesn't want attacked by a villain you just keep the toggle off. Might be more inclusive but not sure of the complexity.

    27. Charles Braden on

      Me like! You can start out with enough servers to launch and add more as need increases. Best part: This may decrease downtime. Wait until usage is low, shut down unneeded servers for maintenance, switch everyone over when the servers come back up. Plus PvP and PvE can share the same map without conflicting...same goes for RPers.

    28. Ross

      Sounds like a great idea and a really good compromise for both PvP and PvE players. One of the frustrating elements for me in CoX was the need to participate in PvP in order to badge hunt, defeat certain enemies or to collect PvP IO's. Therefore the only thing I would request is that any rewards, events, items and collectibles from PvP content are made available in PvE.

    29. Michael Davenport on

      So will this eliminate the need for things lime War Walls?

    30. Zoser - Phoenix Rising Cookie Guardian on

      Sounds like a very workable and sensible solution, me likes! :)

    31. Izzy on

      I know this is Low priority, i hope it is, but I hate server maintenance downtime. Would a VPN solution work if a few teamates decided they want to stick around longer? Use a secure Web Service to read/write the players data?!?

    32. Missing Worlds Media Creator on

      @Quinch - to be determined. We know what we *think* will work, but it will need actual gameplay testing to verify which assumptions work.

    33. Quinch on

      Hmmm. Sounds like a viable way of keeping heroes and villains in the same location while keeping them out of each other's way as well. Question, though - how would these various instances be called? Numerically, or...?

    34. Grey Bradbury on

      That is an AWESOME way of handling PVP.

    35. Tzu on

      Excellent, I was hoping for a solution like this. It reinforces community and is scalable. One of the problem with CoX before the availability of server transfers was that a new player who would have preferred playing with lots of other players around might end up on a low population server. They'd have a, lets call it 'less than optimal' experience and might never know it, or not find out for quite some time (unless they were dedicated to forums as well).

      So thumbs up, this seems like another area where the lessons of the past have been well learned.

    36. Brian Jarman on

      Interesting. Sounds good to me.

    37. Stephen Heltsley on

      Neverwinter just merged all 3 servers into one and it runs the same as you described.

    38. Missing avatar

      ScRyiER - PhOeNiX RiSiNG on

      Sounds great!! Keep em comin!