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Sponsored: How the cloud changed the way our studio makes games

Throughout the development of Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance and some other currently-unannounced titles, Throwback Entertainment has been leveraging cloud-based technologies to improve productivity and accessibility.

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A paradigm shift

For your average game developer, the story and gameplay are the primary concern. How you bring that to life has not always been explored and as a result, it’s easy to get stuck in established development routines. Throwback Entertainment was no different until we encountered challenges that forced us to think about our business differently. In fact, the entire identity and focus of Throwback Entertainment changed in 2012. Previously, Throwback had been intent on exploring how principles within the animation industry could help reshape productivity. With that focus, we were not aware of the biggest shift that was coming down the pipeline: the cloud.

Just servers elsewhere?

When we started to develop our first title, Deflector, we knew we wanted to have a global leaderboard. That vision was a title that would allow iOS, Android and Windows Phone to compete against each other. We started experimenting with cloud infrastructure and found that at the time, it was more convenient than on-premises servers, but still cost more than we had budgeted. At the time, “cloud” just meant having servers elsewhere. We missed the larger picture.

Making cloud pay its way

Gradually though, we started to see the benefits we could exploit with cloud services and late last year, Throwback switched our cloud infrastructure to Microsoft Azure. It was a decision that saved us time and money and allowed us to tap into some new key technologies. We recently announced that Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance is making its return to Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One this summer. Throughout the development of Gladiator and some other currently-unannounced titles, we’ve been leveraging cloud-based technologies to improve our productivity and accessibility.

Keeping the dev team happy

As technology evolves, developers are becoming more mobile. On-site development has become less important as online collaboration tools grow and change. Many developers within our team value mobility, battery life, and convenience more than high clock, dual-GPU workstations. It gives them the ability to step out, change the workplace and reduce the strain of repetitive days. We have leveraged Visual Studio Online and Azure to give developers the ability to spin up a virtual machine as needed, allowing them to compile and test code quickly and efficiently. As a result, they have longer battery life and reduced heat and compile loads on their local machine--and can even work from Starbucks.

Gameplay in the cloud

As development progressed on Gladiator, the team set off to introduce cloud saving to what was originally envisioned as a single-player console game. It would allow gamers to pick up the title on any device and continue where they left off. After the migration to DirectX 11.2 and Windows Runtime, cloud saving was the biggest technical hurdle. While analyzing the nature of latency and the effect of mid-game save data manipulation within our proprietary engine, we decided to leverage both Linux and Windows. 

A surprising partnership

Linux provides many key features including scalability and reliability that our developers have become accustomed and familiar with. Windows on the other hand, provides authentication and large-scale data management. After initial testing across cloud providers, a typical upload, sort, store and offload cycle would take seconds. When we moved that same solution within the same data center, enabled geo-replication for redundancy, we got that same cycle down to milliseconds. The difference between the two would sometimes result in frame drop, appearing to have a visual effect on the gaming title. Our new solution is completely transparent to the end user and produces exactly the final goal we set out to achieve.

How to get started

Signing up for the free trial through the Azure website was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Something as simple as a weekend kick of the tires has fundamentally changed the way we operate internally. It allowed us to operate without any outside influence. The biggest piece of advice I could offer is to leverage the gallery and Azure Marketplace as much as possible. Let the tools provided deploy a solution as quickly as possible. If you need to change cores, specifications or capacity, you can simply use the slider scale without having to relink between services. We found that allowing programmers to be programmers rather than cloud architects had a large impact. Squeezing every ounce of performance is part of a developer’s DNA.

What’s next

After years of hard work, 2015 is poised to be the most exciting year in the company’s history with multiple titles scheduled for release. Fans can expect to see many of their favorite franchises and characters resurrected on modern consoles, mobile devices and personal computers. We’ve been hard at work on many of these games, and can’t wait to put them back in the hands of the fans that made them what they are.

To start your own journey to the cloud, visit Microsoft Azure for a free trial.

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