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On the Subject of Dedicated PC Servers

By William Murphy on May 26, 2017 | Columns | Comments

On the Subject of Dedicated PC Servers

This week’s update from Bungie, following the flurry of information on Destiny 2 we received last week, focuses not only on the gameplay reveal but perhaps more importantly on the idea of dedicated servers. As a matter of utmost import to prospective PC Destiny players, Bungie set out to assuage worries that the Peer to Peer networking used by Destiny 2 will somehow invite hacking and an inferior gameplay experience.

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To make things as clear as possible, I want to just copy/paste some of the blog written by Bungie’s Matt Segue, Engineering Lead on Destiny 2. It really should help clarify how D2 isn’t using “dedicated servers”, but it’s also not using “Peer 2 Peer”. In short, Bungie’s building their own networking solution for Destiny 2 across all platforms which improves upon the one used with Destiny 1. From the blog:

So why no dedicated servers?

Matt: Every activity in Destiny 2 is hosted by one of our servers. That means you will never again suffer a host migration during your Raid attempt or Trials match. This differs from Destiny 1, where these hosting duties were performed by player consoles and only script and mission logic ran in the data center. To understand the foundation on which we’re building, check out this Destiny 1 presentation from GDC. Using the terms from this talk, in Destiny 2, both the Mission Host and Physics Host will run in our data centers.

Wait, so we do have dedicated servers?

Matt: We don't use that term, because in the gaming community, “dedicated servers” refers to pure client-server networking models. Destiny 2 uses a hybrid of client-server and peer-to-peer technology, just like Destiny 1. The server is authoritative over how the game progresses, and each player is authoritative over their own movement and abilities. This allows us to give players the feeling of immediacy in all their moving and shooting – no matter where they live and no matter whom they choose to play with.

Why peer-to-peer? Are we trying to save money?

Matt: Nope! We've invested heavily in new server infrastructure for Destiny 2, including using cloud servers for gameplay for the first time. We really believe this is the best model for all of Destiny 2's varied cooperative and competitive experiences. Engineering will always involve tradeoffs and cost-benefit analysis, but as a team we’ve got no regrets about the unique technology we’ve built for Destiny 2.

With Destiny 2 coming out on PC, does peer-to-peer networking put players at risk of being cheated?

Matt: The PC platform poses unique security challenges for Destiny 2, but our security Ninjas have spent several years building a plan for how to engage with this new and vibrant community. We have a variety of top-secret strategies to ensure that the life of a cheater in Destiny 2 PC will be nasty, brutish, and short. And, regardless of what platform you play on, all changes to your persistent character are communicated directly to our secure data center with no peer-to-peer interference.

Does this mean I’ll never see a player warp around the map or shoot me through a wall again?

Matt: We think those controller-throwing lag-induced moments will be reduced for Destiny 2, but we can't promise they’ll be eliminated. Fundamentally, we are trying to strike a balance between three hard problems: (1) make the game feel responsive, (2) make the game accessible to players all over the world, and (3) make the game fair for all. We’ll continue to refine that balance as players engage with the Crucible in Destiny 2.

Back to Bill’s mind here – though really, Matt covered it all. Hot take? I think we need to trust Bungie and Activision-Blizzard here. They’re not doubt the experts in what it takes to make this work. The best player-side comparison I can think of for Destiny 2 is that it’s going to use sort of a mega-server technology much in the same way Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls, and others do.  I also suspect they’re going to leverage not only the Blizzard launcher, but Blizzard’s expertise in providing a safe and reliable network experience on PC.

In short, I don’t think there’s reason to worry yet. If and when we see the PC beta, we’ll get a good idea of what works, and if it’s good at preventing or catching hackers.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.
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