Iron Skies Devblog – Thoughts on Networking

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted, my excuse being no better than the usual guff about being busy and overworked and maybe a little hungry. Progress has so far been great, but the amount there is to do to meet my original aims is vast.

Today I decided that a working single player game was better than an unworkable mess of a multiplayer one, and for this reason I’m going to postpone the network feature of Iron Skies for the time being. I’ve done some trials with Unity’s networking and come to the conclusion network code is a bit hard.

Unless you’re a programmer or a particularly savvy designer, network games don’t work how you think they do. I liken a multiplayer game to a play on a theatre. In split screen, all the audience sit in the same theatre watching the same actors portray the same play. But in a network game, each member of the audience are in completely different theatres, with different actors, who are attempting to stand in the same place on the stage as all the other versions, and who’s only means of doing so is phoning up all the other theatres every couple of seconds to ask who’s moved and where they are now. Oh, but to keep it looking convincing, the actors ought to guess where they’re going to be and just adjust if they’re wrong about it.

A balmy-sounding analogy, but one that begins to capture the apparent inanity of networking. When coders say that adding multiplayer is a lot of work, they don’t just mean “oh I have to write a big file on the end here and some of the words in it are long and difficult to spell”. It is something that will totally change the core workings of your game code. The way everything talks to each other: picking up items, throwing objects, even movement; it all needs to be not just re-written, but often re-thought out.

I suppose this doesn’t sound like the ideal thing to leave out for later. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I don’t think the nightmare pandora’s box of online play is something I want to unleash before I even have a demonstration of gameplay. I will certainly want networking at some point, but it is easy to forget just how much work it requires.

So yes… Iron Skies 2.0 maybe?

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