Author Archives: Frederic Lardinois

The new Dragon Ball game is powered by Google’s cloud

Bandai Namco Entertainment announced the latest entrant in its series of Dragon Ball games this week. Dragon Ball Legends is a player versus player (PvP) mobile game that has players from all over the world battle with each other in real time by using their move cards. From all I’ve seen, it looks like a pretty fun game, though I know nothing about Dragon Ball and I have an unreasonable disinterest in card-based games. What made me perk up, though, was when I heard that Bandai Namco opted to use Google’s Cloud Network to host all the infrastructure for the game and that one of the main components of this system is Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed database.

To make a real-time game work at all is hard enough, but Bandai Namco wanted players from all over the world to be able to play against each other. There’s a reason most games distribute players into regions based on their geography, though. In a real-time game, latency matters, as every hardened PUBG player will tell you, and the farther you get away from the game server, the higher your latency will likely be.

As Bandai Namco’s Keigo Ikeda and Toshitaka Tachibana told me ahead of the launch, the team opted to divide every game second into 250ms intervals, so while the game looks like it’s real-time to users, it’s actually a really fast turn-based game at its core. “Technically speaking, to the user’s eye, it’s real-time, but on the server, players have their own turn,” said Tachibana. By opting for the Google Cloud Platform and Cloud Spanner as the database to keep track of all moves, the average latency the team has seen during its tests is 138ms, which allows for plenty of wiggle room.

To make all of this work, the team spent almost two and a half years building out the necessary infrastructure, and Tachibana admitted that the team learned quite a bit more than it expected about network latency. During early tests, the team wanted to create a peer-to-peer connection to have players battle each other, for example, but depending on the carriers, the difference in user experience varied too much. The team also had to learn how to best route traffic between players, something that most gaming developers don’t really have to think about most days. “We were pretty frustrated with everyone who wasn’t Google,” said Tachibana.

Indeed, Cloud Spanner is the core service here, and the team says it opted for it because it gives it a globally distributed strongly consistent database to work with. Because any change propagates across the global network within milliseconds, Cloud Spanner is actually a really interesting option for game developers who need low latencies and a ground truth that can be distributed between a global player base. Cloud Spanner is not a cheap service, and the team acknowledged as much, though, as Google Cloud Director of Solutions Miles Ward noted, providing the service isn’t cheap either. “Spanner does things from a consistency standpoint that you can’t get from anybody else, so it’s a place where we have to spend more, too,” he said (and before my friends at Microsoft email me: yes, Cosmos DB also offers features that are comparable to Cloud Spanner, as well as a wider range of consistency options).

The Bandai Namco team also noted that Google’s vast private network was another major factor behind its decision. Because Google owns its own network, the data can jump between fewer networks to reach both the central database and the opposing player.

To make Dragon Ball Legends run smoothly, the team is also using BigQuery to manage and analyze its data, as well as some of the company’s Firebase services.

Tachibana noted that Bandai Namco is placing a big bet on this new game, but that the team also wanted to create a benchmark for what a globally distributed PvP game can look like. “We hope that when other developers look to a similar gameplay, they’ll say that it’s hard to top,” he said. “And also, from a technical side, we know that the people who are part of the industry will understand how amazing it is to realize this entire process.”

If you are not a developer and just want to play a new PvP Dragon Ball game, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little bit longer, though. The game will arrive in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store later this year.

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Google Play Instant lets you try games without having to install them

Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything. Users would simply click on a link on the search results page and the instant app would load. Today, the company is extending this program to games. Thanks to this, you can now see what playing a level or two of Clash Royale, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire or Panda Pop is like without having to go through the usual install procedure. Instead, you simply head for the Google Play store, find a game that supports this feature, and hit the “Try now” button.

Google Play product managers Jonathan Karmel and Benjamin Frenkel told me that the team learned a lot from the experience with building Instant Apps. For games, though, the team decided to increase the maximum file size from 2 MB to 10 MB, which isn’t really a surprise, given that a game needs a few more graphical assets than your regular to-do list app. In my experience testing this feature, this still allows the games to load quickly enough, though it doesn’t feel quite as instant as most of the regular instant apps do.

The main idea behind this project, Karmel and Frenkel said, is to drive discovery. To do this, the team is adding a new ‘arcade’ tab in the newly redesigned Google Play Games app to highlight the current crop of Instant games and launching an Instant Gameplay collection in the Google Play Store. The main advantage of these Instant games, though, is that users can try the game without having to install anything. As the team noted, every extra step in the install process offers potential players yet another chance to drop off and move on. Indeed, many users actually install a game and then never open it.

Some casual games already take up less than 10 MB and those developers will be able to opt to make their complete game available as a Play Instant app, too.

For now, this project is still a closed beta, though Google plans to open it up to more developers later this year. Some games that currently support Play Instant include Clash Royale, Words with Friends 2, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Panda Pop, as well as a few other titles from Playtika, Jam City, MZ, and Hothead.

As Karmel and Frenkel told me, their teams are still working on providing developers with better tooling for building these apps and Google is also working with the likes of Unity and the Cocos2D-x teams to make building instant apps easier. For the most part, though, building an Instant Play game means bringing the file size to under 10 MB and adding a few lines to the app’s manifest. That’s probably easier said than done, though, given that you still want players to have an interesting experience.

Unsurprisingly, some developers currently make better use of that limited file size than others. When you try Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, all you can do is regularly tap on some kind of blue monster and get some gold until the game informs you how much gold you received. That’s it. Over time, though, I’m sure developers will figure out how to best use this feature.

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