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Harada: 'Good netcode? There's no such code that automatically makes the latency issues go away' - Tekken 7's low-lag techniques explained

Posted by Cheng Kai 'KarbyP' Sim • April 6, 2015 at 8 p.m. PDT • Comments: 69

Bandai Namco Entertainment's Tekken series has routinely featured some of the best online play experiences in fighting games ever. In terms of latency management, the implementation in Tekken titles is quite possibly the best-in-class.

But what's the secret to that buttery-smooth, online play experience in the latest Tekken titles? What kind of ancient ritual did the Tekken Project development team have to perform in order to achieve that level of low-lag performance? And how many cute little kittens were sacrificed in the process?

The answer to that last question? None. (Tekken Project lead Katsuhiro Harada is an animal lover, and owns a pet dog which he calls Heihachi-kun; he'd jump in to save the kittens before anything untimely could happen to them).

Latency management in fighting games is a science, Harada tells Famitsu in an interview the Japanese games publication recently conducted.

It's not something that developers can bring about through ancient sorcery or by writing "really good netcode" -- something Harada akin to voodoo magic.

Read on to find out why.
Famitsu: With regards to the online play in Tekken 7, we're wondering if you could tell us more about the techniques or methods the development team utilized in order to keep latency low.

It's often said that lag is often the result of badly-written netcode (the part of the game program that deals with Internet communications), or so we hear...

Katsuhiro Harada: Nope, nope, latency issues aren't something you can resolve simply by changing the way the netcode is written.

Tekken titles contain some of the highest amounts of key input data, when you compare it to other fighting games, sure. But with that said there's still no such code that automatically makes latency issues go away, like magic.

On a very superficial level it's easy to attribute all of the latency issues to "netcode" because it's a buzzword that's easy to understand. But really the term is just something that people like to use because they don't know understand the latency issues very well.

Rather than "write a better netcode", what's truly important here is that the developer has to design the entire fighting game with the notion that it will eventually be played online.

For instance, imagine if the developer were to implement some moves in the fighting game that have a start-up animation of 1F (1/60th of a second in the case of recent Tekken games) after the player hits a button.

If a developer were to do that, then when the game is played online, you'd definitely run into latency issues where these moves would lag behind by numerous frames.

Famitsu: Well, yes, that's true. It takes time for the data to travel through the Internet pipes over a long distance.

Harada: And that's why 1-frame start-up moves would definitely be heavily affected by lag in online matches. This is a bit of an extreme example, but basically when a fighting game supports online play, what it means is that the game has to be designed with that premise in mind.

This is a topic that other fighting game developers have been discussing quite a lot about recently too. Like I thought, everyone's facing pretty much the same kind of problems and challenges when making their games playable online.

Famitsu: So how does Tekken 7 solve these problems?

Harada: For instance when the player hits the punch button or perform other actions, we put in a brief buffer period between the button press and when the punch move or action actually starts happening on-screen, as a measure to reduce the perception of lag.

Subsequently, if there is lag online, what the game can do in theory is to skip over certain frames or parts of the move's animation. In other words, in order to keep the amount of time elapsed -- between when the player hits a button and when the move actually hits -- consistent, the game makes adjustments to the move animations accordingly.

But that's not all. That's just one example. There's a bunch of other game system measures like this we've put in place.

By the way, for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Tekken 7 we've actually put in place pretty much the exact same system measures to reduce the perception of lag. So in terms of response times [between when a player hits a button and the move taking place on-screen], nothing has been changed from TTT2 to Tekken 7.

And yet every time we release a new title, there are always people complaining that the new game "has gotten sluggish" compared to the previous release. Unfortunately, they're mistaken. We can even show you the data. If anything, we've actually made improvements in many areas.
Shorten move animations to account for the lag? The manner in which Tekken games tackle latency issues is certainly quite fascinating.

I wonder if similar methods are implemented for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/Nintendo 3DS, which was developed with Bandai Namco Entertainment's aid.

Source: Famitsu
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