Jump to content
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  
slayemin

Distributing CPU load onto the network?

This topic is 2471 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

Has anybody tried offloading CPU load to a networked computer within a game? Obviously the first step would be to avoid it if possible by writing efficient code or using optimal algorithms. But, assuming everything has been optimized and you've used multithreading to take advantage of all possible CPU cores, would there be an advantage in distributing the load onto a network?

Semi-fictional example: I have a game which uses an entity component model. Objects are composed of components and use a messaging system to communicate with each other. If I have a spare computer on a 1000mbps LAN which isn't doing anything, I could use it to run some of the components (like physics or AI processing). The only concern I can think of is the difference in latency between CPU->Memory and CPU->Network. They'd be orders of magnitude in difference. But, if I'm going for a target framerate of 30-60 fps, and maximizing the local CPU produces 10-15fps, offloading CPU work onto the network would free up some local CPU resources and give +X extra fps, even with the added network latency, possibly achieving the target framerate of 30-60fps. The only other possible issue would be maintaining synchronized game states... But, the pay off would be that you'd be able to add a TON of horsepower to whatever you need to calculate.

Granted, the added complexity this would add to a game would have to require a long hard think on cost vs. benefits before going forward...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Advertisement
i believe the problem with doing this is pretty much network latency, even in a local network setup, your generally talking ~1-2ms worth of lag, for a game waiting for a physic's simulation step, your ganna most likly bottleneck big time waiting for your network to respond. this isn't counting problems of the network going down suddenly, and timing out.

so, if you were to offload real-time work onto another computer, your going to need to employ some major predictive algorithm's to smooth out gameplay while waiting for w/e data the network is sending back, and integrating it seamlessly.

i think the best example of this being possible is the on-live service, although it's only taking input, and doing all the work on a single server, but it is showing that real-time over the network interface's can be done.

so, if we were to look at this realistically, your game loop is running at 60fps, so each frame is being rendered in about ~30ms, this means your network computer needs to finish and send it's data within 30ms to maintain a consistent 60 frames. I think it's possible, but defiantly not easy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The first rule of client-server security is "Never trust the client." -- In any multi-player game, the server has to be responsible for anything that really matters, otherwise you open the door to all kinds of hacks -- big and small. For example, when one client moves, his local instance goes ahead making its best-guess as to what the server will say is the outcome, but the other client's don't see it until the server vets those movements, and if the originating client falsified a movement that the server doesn't agree with, the server will force it back to where the server says he should be.

There's also latency issues of course -- especially in light of most home internet connections being asymetrical (far less upload bandwidth/greater latency, than download). It's just going to be quicker to do the calculation on the server than it'll be to wait for a client to do some chunk of work. you'd be better off to offload to some hardware local to server -- maybe a GPU or other processing card for suitable tasks, or another machine on a fast backplane network, if you really had to distribute the work-load off-CPU. The cheapest and easiest solution, given all the costs involved, is usually to just throw more Mhz, CPU cores, and RAM at the problem, or to optimize/re-architect the code.

Now, you can offload some stuff to *each* client -- if you have a projectile or particle effect, you only need to send its initial state and let the clients calculate it for themselves -- there's no risk here because ultimately the server will still decide who might take damage from it, so no big deal if a client wants to fool themselves. If you can ensure that your game is deterministic (Halo 3 and Reach do this, its also the basis for the in-game recordings) then you can do a lot of this kind of thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was thinking more along the lines of single player games, so network security wouldn't be as big of an issue.

Consider these commerical games and how this could be applied:
Supreme Commander: You could play HUGE maps with up to 8 players. You could set the maximum number of units at something like 1,500 which gets split evenly among the total number of players. Unfortunately, supreme commander starts to choke really bad when you start to get a high number of units on the screen (~1-3 fps). It made long games close to unplayable... and you'd want to use nukes since it clears out a bunch of units all at once, thus increasing the frame rate. If you can offload the CPU processing for the physics and AI to a networked computer sitting next to you, you could share the CPU burden and get a more decent framerate.
Total War Series: This game has an RTS component where you have armies fighting against each other, with thousands of units on each side. The individual AI for fighting units is actually pretty bad (I've seen a single swordsman take on 20+ guys because of choke points and glitching movement). The problem is that the AI has to be simple enough where it can be instanced thousands of times for each unit on the battle field, otherwise it hogs the CPU. The other problem with the total war series is that you have a limit on how large your armies can be (sorry Ghengis Khan, you can only have a couple hundred horse archers because of memory and CPU limits). If you have no memory limits and CPU limits, you could have better AI code and more units on the battlefield at once. You'd then only be limited by how many polygons your GPU could render.

Though, if you start putting a huge amount of units into a game world and you distribute the memory and CPU load across the network, then that's probably going to bog down the network with all the data flowing back and forth, possibly bringing us back to square one... Fiber optics? I suppose I can code up a proof of concept to see how feasible it is.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Multi-computer single-player games? That sounds cool, but probably not very practical :-)

It's hard enough to make a game that scales from an Atom-based netbook that's 5 years old to the latest 20-core dual-Xeon monsters. Trying to also throw networking into the mix sounds like quite a challenge to me, and I'm not sure the return on investment (in terms of game appeal to the market) would be there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It could be done across a local network, sure. If you take competition out of it then fairness is a non-issue.

But then, thinking along a different line, all of the sudden your system requirements are not one dual-core CPU 3.0 Ghz, but 2 dual-core CPU 2.6 Ghz or whatever -- We're in an age where a lot of people have a home network, true -- but how many have computers sitting on all the time, or how many will be willing to fire up another machine just to play a game? Of those, how many people have "secondary" machines that have sufficient CPU and RAM resources to be helpful, and how many of those *won't* be occupied by some other user or task?

It's not a technical hurdle to do it, per se, but there are huge accessibility hurdles. Most users have one primary machine that falls somewhere along the line of bleeding-edge to border-line ancient, and maybe a laptop kicking around. If you're lucky, both will be relatively modern, but not infrequently one of those is outdated or under-powered enough to be relatively useless.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
:) I have 5+ computers and I always feel it's such a shame to have 4 computers idling while the the main computer is under heavy load (I usually turn them off). If a game was designed to distribute some of its CPU load to unused computers, it would boost performance and the game play experience.

*chuckle* and of course, the hardest of the hardcore gamers would probably go out and buy a second powerhouse computer for these bonus benefits. The algorithm for deciding how to split the resources would certainly have to take into account the computing power of the connected clients and adjust resource allocation as necessary to maximize performance. (or alternatively, leave it up to the user to decide)

I think the entity-component model would probably synergize the best with this kind of setup. I think I may have to think about this some more and give this a try to see how it works.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Touche.

I'm finding that I'm more interested in tackling the hard problems that few people have been able to solve or just haven't thought of. This would be one of them, hence the interest :) Maybe if I figure this out, I'll write an article on it so other people can replicate it or know that it's not worth pursuing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anybody tried offloading CPU load to a networked computer within a game? Obviously the first step would be to avoid it if possible by writing efficient code or using optimal algorithms. But, assuming everything has been optimized and you've used multithreading to take advantage of all possible CPU cores, would there be an advantage in distributing the load onto a network?

Semi-fictional example: I have a game which uses an entity component model. Objects are composed of components and use a messaging system to communicate with each other. If I have a spare computer on a 1000mbps LAN which isn't doing anything, I could use it to run some of the components (like physics or AI processing). The only concern I can think of is the difference in latency between CPU->Memory and CPU->Network. They'd be orders of magnitude in difference. But, if I'm going for a target framerate of 30-60 fps, and maximizing the local CPU produces 10-15fps, offloading CPU work onto the network would free up some local CPU resources and give +X extra fps, even with the added network latency, possibly achieving the target framerate of 30-60fps. The only other possible issue would be maintaining synchronized game states... But, the pay off would be that you'd be able to add a TON of horsepower to whatever you need to calculate.

Granted, the added complexity this would add to a game would have to require a long hard think on cost vs. benefits before going forward...



Some AI tasks that might work -- pathfinding or terrain projectile collision plotting which use static map data to work off of (no state changes) and just position points/vectors as inputs and paths sent back or collision results data (all pretty low thruput but with alot of data crunching).

An issue might be : How much gameworld state data needs to be replicated (and kept up to date) for the second computer to be able to make use of, without having to do lots of slow network fetches of data (or cause alot of network overhead).

AI for additional numerous opponents (as an optional feature thing for a Solo game - using the players machine as a 'master').... More powerful AI in a more complex game can eat alot of that extra CPU (again the 2nd box needs sufficient game state replicated via network).

For a client-server game where a client gets replicated data fed from server, you would have an AI NPC node (machine) use the same client type feed and have it play additional opponents/allies (feeds subset of game state for each NPCs particular location).


I was actually looking at a design sorta reverse - using the Client machine in an MMORPG game to run AI for a team of NPCs that stay with your Avatar (so they make use of the world state ALREADY being sent for the avatars area.) They would send commands for the team NPCs to the (server subject to the same cheat-proofing validation).

A seperate feature (for an AI heavy game) was to have AI nodes on players machine left running (psuedo-cloud) to handle alot of extra NPCs in a cityscape. The problem with that is you cannot count of those machines always being available and you have to deal with dropouts. The 'cheat' security aspect probably wouldnt matter as the data being processed wouldnt be tied to any known player (no benefit to cheat) and tasks get shuffled quite frequently. (like the others, Server validation.... it would discover improper 'griefing' commands and can the user or better the NPCs are nerfed and cant do much harmful anyway - mostly there for background effect for user's game experience).

Its possible that most clients being GPU bound mostly to run the players 3D rendering would have several free cores and MOST clients would help run part of the world simulation in the immediate area of the player to reuse the game state feed (but only if the machine had sufficient extra CPU capacity)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Advertisement
×

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

GameDev.net is your game development community. Create an account for your GameDev Portfolio and participate in the largest developer community in the games industry.

Sign me up!