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the game synchronization, sending messages back to each of the players, as presented in Figure 5-2.
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Figure 5-2. Client/server connection
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Client/server games consume a lot less bandwidth per player, which allows you to send more data (and maybe create a more complex game). However, on the other hand, the player depends on having a host to connect to (so it usually can t be played on a home LAN). When coding client/server games, you must decide which actions will take place on the host, and which actions will take place on the client machines. Is it better to put all the game physics and intelligence on the players machines, using a host just as a forwarder of messages, or is it better to include all the game code on the host, leaving just the input gathering and rendering code on the players machines There is no right answer for this question, because it depends largely on the game constraints and goals. When making your decision, you ll have to take into account how many players will be connected to the server, and how much it will cost the server processor to perform each activity (for all players). You also might need to verify the cost for each player s machine to do its own calculations against the bandwidth impact for doing all calculations on the server and passing the results to the players. Even when the server could do a specific operation better, you might decide to run it on the client if passing the results of the operation will use a large amount of the available bandwidth. Besides these two types of topology, there are other types of network organization. Some are useful in game development, others are not. For example, in a ring topology each player sends messages to one specific player, creating a ring that will eventually return to the first player in the sequence, as shown in Figure 5-3.
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Figure 5-3. Ring network topology
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This network organization is usually not practical for games, because the first player in the sequence would have to wait for the message to go around to every other player before it got back to him or her, which can easily lead to unacceptable waiting times. Another example of a different approach is using network groups: each player exchanges messages only with the other players in his or her group, and the host (which could be a dedicated server or a player) exchanges information with other groups, when needed. The group organization is designed for the number of messages passed between the groups to be as small as possible. Figure 5-4 illustrates a game network topology based on groups.
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Figure 5-4. A group-based network topology
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This approach is also used in network games, being a mix of the client/server and peer-to-peer topologies that tries to gather the benefits of each one.
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In the next section we ll discuss some choices you must make when producing your network game project.
Turn-Based vs. Real-Time Games
This is probably one of the first decisions when thinking about multiplayer games, and probably the one that will have the greatest impact on your game project. In turn-based games, each player will think about his or her move, do the proper action, and then pass the control to the next player. Although the first type of game that comes to mind is board games, such as chess or Monopoly, there are sophisticated action games based on turns, such as the old X-COM series, where you move each of your soldiers (using his energy to walk or fire), and then the enemies move, using the same rules. Choosing this approach will save you a lot of headaches when trying to deal with the latency between your game messages, especially when running through the Internet, but might lead to a less than optimal game play because this type of game is unusual. Never choose this approach if you have many players (say, more than three or four, depending on the game pace), because if each player needs to wait more than a couple minutes to play again, the game will rapidly become uninteresting except, of course, if the players actually expect a delay, like in a chess match. A practical idea is letting the players communicate with one another (by voice or by typing a message) even when it is not their turn, so you can improve the interaction between players and make the waiting less boring. Creating continuous action multiplayer games that support remote players, like Halo, is challenging. That s mainly because you must transfer a certain amount of data within tight time frames, which unfortunately depends on the response time of something beyond your control the network. At the same time, you need to make sure that all players have synchronized information, especially in fast-paced action games where players are fighting against one another. One possible approach is to send all the data updates to each of the players, so that you can ensure that everyone has the most recent events on their machines. However, this approach consumes the entire bandwidth available even for few players. In the other extreme, you can carefully calculate exactly which information should be sent to each player, and then send the minimum data needed. For instance, if another player is behind you or in another part of the game level, you can t see him or her, so you don t need to receive information from that player. Although it saves bandwidth, this approach consumes CPUs cycles on the players machines by calculating the data to send, leaving fewer cycles to calculate the game physics and draw the graphics. Then again, the best approach is to find a balance according to your game requirements. There is no right answer; just minimize the data while trying not to expend too much processing time on this minimization, and always keep in mind that your game will run on slower machines and might face unpredictably bad network response times.
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