Thin-client Cloud Gaming: Makes Crysis on iPhone possible

Cloud computing is encouraging thin-clients. No longer you will need high processing power, storage on you local machines — If Cloud computing prevails.

At this year’s CES, AMD demoed something new that shows how their platform technology can enable fully interactive cloud gaming. Sounds cool but what exactly is that? Cloud computing allows fully interactive game play from virtually any type of client over the Internet because the heavy lifting is being done “server side” in the cloud.

The user logs on, clicks open a browser and then starts blasting away. No hours of game installation, no exotic authorization dances, just instant gratification That is the main story of cloud computing. Enough preaching but I had to let that fly because it’s a powerful look at a better future for gaming.
The CES demo consisted of an AMD Fusion Render Nod that hosted an off-the-shelf version of EA’s amazing “Mercenaries II” served up via the Internet. The laptop powered  by AMD technology was given a URL to click and Mercenararies-II fired up.  Playback was full screen at 60 frames/sec.

Is it a Video trick?

Jules Urbach, the CEO of OTOY, is the Guru of GPGPU. The software that made this work is from his company.  He is to the GPU what Robert Rodriguez (another artist who employs AMD technology) is to digital moviemaking.

Jules is a true innovator and someone who chose AMD because we have all the pieces to make this work. We are the only one-stop-shopping platform solution for cloud computing hardware. The OTOY software harnesses the full power of the AMD platform including CPU, GPU and our Direct Connect high bandwidth interconnect.
In short, the game source code unaltered is hosted on the AMD Fusion Render Cloud hardware and served up on the web via breathtaking OTOY compression technology made possible by the AMD combined platform power. The OTOY software allows multiple instances of a game to be hosted on the AMD Fusion Render node so the solution scales for all the right economic reasons such as energy efficiency, space,  quiet operation, etc.

In a nutshell, OTOY claims to be able to deliver 3D games in real-time over the Internet, so that you can play, say, Crysis by using a remote render farm as a kind of terminal server that pushes out frames to a thin client that just does display and user input.

How is this accomplished?

It’s pretty interesting. First, the Game is rendered like normal on the server machine, where frames from it are grabbed by the OTOY server-side software. Next, these frames are compressed and sent out over the network to the client, which decompresses them using a very small chunk of code.

In fact, it can be surprisingly small. e.g.  780KB on the iPhone. It then displays them in a window. User input is sent back to the server over UDP because it’s tolerant of packet loss, so you don’t add to latency by resending dropped packets.

The demos of Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto, and World of Warcraft were surprisingly responsive, despite the fact that the games were being served up by machines in a different state.

As expected, there was some discernible lag, but not much worse than what it was in Quake deathmatch days. The main problem with these demos was that one can easily see a ton of compression artifacts on the large monitors that AMD used.

Smaller monitors and fewer demo stations (for more bandwidth per station) would’ve put OTOY in a better light, but unless the visual experience was very significantly improved One couldn’t see immediately see many PC or console gamers settling for this in its present state.

But for casual/handheld gaming, this tech has immediate potential, as Crysis running the iPhone demonstrated. The iPhone’s screen was small enough and the gameplay was smooth and responsive.

As for OTOY’s prospects for eventually reaching the hardcore, my chat with their engineer proved instructive.

Will this Cloud Gaming Prevail ?

There’s a network bandwidth threshold beyond which OTOY’s technology is “good enough” to compete with a locally run game, and that this threshold is at the 20Mbit mark, which is the point that OTOY can push 1080p frames across the network. As long as latency is under control, if you’re playing at full 1080p then you’ll be just as happy gaming remotely via, say, a set-top box, as you are playing locally on very expensive hardware.

If you can game on way more parallel computing power at 1080p over the network than you could ever afford to buy locally, then even a hardcore gamer may be willing to tolerate a little latency and loss of sharpness, at least for certain types of games.

I can see where game developers love this idea, because it solves their piracy problem in one shot, eliminates support costs, and gives them a recurring revenue stream via subscriptions. I’m still having a bit of trouble getting my head around why AMD/ATI thinks this is a good long-term idea, though, because it seems like it could sell a lot more silicon to gamers than it could to render farms. It’s probably the case that AMD is happy to sell GPUs to both clients and servers for a while, especially if it opens up a new market like iPhone gaming to high-end GPUs.

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  • Anonymous

    Great idea utilizing a great technology. This is definitely next step in gaming.

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