Since Stadia’s public unveiling, one of Google’s main selling points for the platform is that the power of its cloud infrastructure can provide high-definition, high-frame-rate visuals even on low-end client hardware (though Internet latency is still a worry, of course). Now, the makers of at least one Stadia launch game are claiming that the Stadia version will actually play better than versions running on local hardware as well.
That developer is Sports Interactive, and the game is Football Manager 2020. While Football Manager is something of a niche franchise in the US, it’s consistently a best-seller across Europe, where millions use it to simulate how their favorite teams might do under all sorts of counterfactual conditions, from team makeup to training regimens.
These simulations have only gotten more complex as the series has evolved over the years, to the point where even running a single team through an entire simulated season can take hours or days (depending on your level of micromanaging). It’s not hard to find complaints about that simulation speed online, often alongside configuration tips for speeding things up even on a low-end laptop (“Go on holiday” seems like a favorite piece of not-that-helpful advice for enduring the wait).
Enter Stadia, which a press release from publisher Sega says “will be the fastest way to experience Football Manager.” Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson goes on in that release to say, “Football Manager on Stadia includes technology that is only available on that platform, utilizing the power of the cloud and Google’s data centres to ensure that more matches can be processed in parallel utilizing spare bandwidth across the whole system. This means you can have more leagues loaded into your save, or just go for a faster experience by keeping the amount of leagues the same, but having the matches process quicker than you can on any other platform.”
Going for speed
Google has tried to stress this kind of Stadia advantage a bit in the past. Back in April, Google’s Phil Harrison told a GamesBeat audience that the company’s cloud data centers could enable things like “distributed physics” and “complex multiplayer going from hundreds to tens of thousands in a very sophisticated world… With cloud gaming, particularly the idea of compute being sharable across multiple CPUs in a data center, now this transition to gaming being data-centric is going to be a really fundamental shift.”
Football Manager is one of the first concrete examples of a developer claiming that kind of cloud-distributed multi-CPU system offers a better gameplay experience than locally run versions of the same game, though. It also might be something of a unique case, since Football Manager‘s behind-the-scenes simulations are already designed to run as fast as the underlying hardware will let them. Since those simulations are largely independent from the need to render characters or visuals at a set frame rate, Football Manager is well positioned to take advantage of Stadia’s massively parallel computing resources.
For other multi-platform games, though, the underlying game physics logic often has to be designed to run well even on a lowest-common-denominator console or PC spec, and quick enough not to slow the game down. Coding game logic to take advantage of massively parallel computing power on a cloud scale also isn’t as simple as just turning up the texture detail or graphical effects on an in-game model.
If Stadia succeeds, maybe developers will start tuning the Stadia versions of their games to take advantage of that kind of cloud data center power boost for purposes other than graphics. Or maybe some of those upcoming Stadia exclusives will show the inherent advantages of designing a game with all this built-in cloud power in mind from the start.
Orcs Must Die 3 Design Director Jerome Jones has already said that the 500-monster hordes in that Stadia exclusive are not “subject to the power of [the player’s] machine… everyone gets that same massive power.” Easy access to that kind of processing power could be just as important to Google’s Stadia sales pitch as the current “play on any device” focus of most Stadia marketing.
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