Here at Microsoft, our mission is simple: we want to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone on the planet. Ultimately, we aspire to empower everyone to play the games they want, with the people they want, anywhere they want. While most people know about our gaming business in Xbox, not everyone knows about our offerings and technologies in the world of game development. In fact, game development is in Microsoft’s DNA, with over 40 years of experience building games for Windows and console, our open ecosystem reaches virtually every endpoint between console, PC, mobile, and the cloud.
As we see it, we must empower developers not just to create great games for our platform but for all platforms. We are committed to helping all developers in an effort to enrich the entire game-development ecosystem. Game development has always been on the cutting edge of technology, whether it’s pushing the boundary of graphics, creating massively multiplayer experiences, or combining the real-world with the digital – gaming is largely seen a vanguard for other industries.
This week, at the annual Game Developers Conference, we shared more of our vision for the future of game development, delivering 27 technical talks addressing topics spanning across Graphics, Performance optimization, Cloud development/production, Accessibility, and more. There’s also a fireside chat between CEO of Xbox Phil Spencer and Sarah Bond, Head of Xbox Creator Experience that is a must-watch for anyone interested in game development. Head over to the new and improved Microsoft game development website to watch it at aka.ms/GDC. Our own Major Nelson rounded out the week by interviewing Sarah Bond for the Official Xbox Podcast (which you can watch above).
Last but certainly not least, we also shared demonstrations of nine different solution areas using Microsoft technologies that support game creators at each stage of their game’s lifecycle – whether that’s building, running, or growing their game. Let’s take a closer look at those demos to see what we can offer game creators.
Forza Horizon 5 (Azure PlayFab Data Platform)
Playground Games and Turn 10 are deeply committed delighting fans of Forza Horizon 5. To best understand player behavior, the teams at Playground Games and Turn 10 leveraged the Azure PlayFab Data Platform to run integrated, self-service custom analytics for optimized performance.
As Satya Bobba, Senior Software Engineer at Turn 10 put it: “We love how PlayFab fully manages our data ingestion into Azure Data Lake so our engineers can focus on making the game better for our players rather than managing the pipeline.”
By using the Azure PlayFab Data Platform, the teams were able to take advantage of real-time actions, optimize performance by controlling which events to analyze, and open new avenues of integration between PlayFab and their pre-existing analytics solutions.
Halo Infinite (Simplygon)
While developing Halo Infinite, the developers at 343i knew that they needed to optimize and render the game’s vast world quickly, smoothly, and efficiently. To do that, 343i utilized Simplygon to optimize the massive environments in Halo Infinite to ensure the game renders the world perfectly, while running smoothly at the target frame rate on any platform.
“It’s hard to imagine how we could have built this game without Simplygon,” said Kurt Diegert, Environment Technical Art Lead at 343i. “Simplygon allowed us to focus our time and energy on building quality assets and gave us the tools we needed to reduce and optimize our content for our target platforms.”
Simplygon allowed the team to ensure more efficient content production by integrating into existing content production pipelines while also working quickly and iteratively, building content in less time and lowering the cost of making content changes. Finally, Simplygon let the developers at 343i scale Halo Infinite’s performance requirements and hit its performance goals on different target systems.
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Azure PlayFab UGC)
By actively incubating its creator community over the years, Microsoft Flight Simulator has made its mark by offering fans one of the world’s most engaged and vibrant marketplaces of user-generated content. With the release of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator last year, the team at Asobo and Xbox Game Studios Publishing helped grow creator revenue by integrating the Azure PlayFab UGC platform and supercharging the volume of assets creators had to work with.
“PlayFab supports our goals of offering a flexible, open and vibrant marketplace for creators that allows them to reach the entire Flight Simulator audience,” said Jorg Neumann, Head of Partner Production at Xbox Game Studios.
Using Azure Playfab UGC offered the teams an off-the-shelf solution to build a best-in-class creator marketplace, ultimately saving time, money, and resources. On the content front, a streamlined content management system allowed them to catalog to store and manage content while an easy-to-use content search let players quickly find interesting content to use in-game.
Psychonauts 2 (Visual Studio 2022)
Double Fine has always been known for its focus on innovation, creativity, and storytelling. The studio’s development team honed that focus more than ever while creating Psychonauts 2, a strategy that paid off with more than 60 industry awards. A big part of their success was the ability to move and iterate quickly using Visual Studio, which helped reduce the time spent on build iteration.
“As Tech Director, I switch between many of our game projects throughout the day to compile and review the latest code,” said Chad Dawson, Technical Director at Double Fine. “The improved project load times and faster link times in Visual Studio 2022 are exciting and will be a welcome improvement to my workflow.”
The benefits of embracing Visual Studio were clear to the team at Double Fine, including faster build iteration, stable and efficient debugging to elimination frequent debugger crashes and have a streamlined experience, and a much faster and smoother editing experience that reduced inefficiencies.
NBA Clash (Azure PlayFab Live Ops Services)
Launching a new game is tough, especially when you need to use data to make confident decisions about how to grow your game. When NBA Clash launched on mobile platforms, the developers at Nifty Games knew they needed to successfully release a new Starter Pack. To make that happen, they turned to Azure PlayFab Live Ops Services to help them easily configure and manage experiments to test the content against targeted player segments.
“PlayFab has made a big difference for us – it has driven measurable efficiencies around our experiment management and analysis,” said Jonathan Bach, Head of Central Product at Nifty Games. “PlayFab continues to improve, and we look forward to continued collaboration.”
Using Azure PlayFab Live Ops Services allowed Nifty Games to make confident, data-driven decisions based on insights into player behavior, run A/B tests and experiment with variable gameplay experiences, and deploy player-targeted experiments concurrently to optimize the rollout of new game flows.
No Man’s Sky (Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Services)
From the beginning of the game’s development, Hello Games set out to create an epic adventure in No Man’s Sky. They also strongly believed that the experience would be enriched by having all players – regardless of platform – enjoy the game together. Using Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Services allowed the team to have gamers on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC playing together. What’s more, the team’s insights into creating cross-platform games were highly valuable in shaping Azure PlayFab Matchmaking to include real-time notifications and a Lobby feature to group players across their user base.
Iain Brown, Server/Multiplayer Lead at Hello Games, summed it up best: “PlayFab allowed us to realise our vision of a single shared universe for all our players to explore together.”
Unify players across platforms with matchmaking allows developers to connect their communities, while allowing them to create, find, and join searchable lobbies offers the type of custom multiplayer experiences gamers have come to expect. All of this and more is available through the use of Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Services.
DOOM Eternal (Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Servers)
During the game’s development, id Software was laser-focused on making DOOM Eternal a unique experience for gamers all over the world. By taking advantage of Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Server features to save time and money, the team could reduce overhead and focus on what they do best: making a best-in-class shooter.
“The way Azure PlayFab delivers online features and functionality aligned with our ideas for next-generation game technology,” said Travis Bradshaw, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft and the former Lead Services Programmer at id Software. “That synergy gave us confidence.”
To ensure players get matched to the best, lowest latency servers around the world, id Software used Azure PlayFab Multiplayer Servers automated latency and QoS monitoring features. And because Azure has a multitude of regions for hosting servers, players are matched to their first-pick server regions quickly and frequently.
Rogue Company (Game Production in the Cloud with Azure)
The last few years have changed everything in the world of game development. While game production had always been a highly centralized activity, hybrid work models forced development teams like Hi-Rez Studios to pivot. The developers at Hi-Rez moved quickly to shift development of Rogue Company’s post-launch updates to the cloud. By using Perforce and Incredibuild in the cloud, the team was able to enact cloud-powered game production workflows, successfully operating remotely while keeping a tight, fast iteration loop.
“The speed and efficiency we gain by having the ability to spin up hardware through automation is a game-changer,” said Matt Smith, Lead Tools Engineer at Hi-Rez Studios.
Best of all, Azure offers more flexibility than ever before. Teams can control when and which pieces of the production pipeline migrate to the cloud, all based on a studio’s individual needs. A development team can move a single process, incrementally retool a pipeline, or fully migrate to the cloud. Low latency VMs on Azure’s global network allow teams to work anywhere, with the same build speed they would get in the office.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Touch Controls for Xbox Cloud Gaming)
In an effort to maximize the reach of their hit game Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio embraced Xbox Cloud Gaming to bring the experience to more players in more parts of the world. The Xbox Cloud Gaming APIs and the Touch Adaptation Kit allowed them to bring the full HD version of the game to smartphones and tablets, implementing scenario-based touch control layouts that dynamically changed on-screen based on what the player is doing in-game. The results were groundbreaking, with all new audiences now able to enjoy the award-winning title.
“We used the Xbox Cloud Gaming Touch Adaptation Kit to easily place buttons and icons proactively in a way that was intuitive, making actions in each scenario easy to understand,” said a representative of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio.
The Xbox Cloud Gaming APIs and the Touch Adaptation Kit ensures that players get the best experience in every part of a game with context sensitive touch layouts that feel mobile-native. Most importantly, they also allow developers to create an immersive experience with custom controls that match the game’s art style.