How an indie developer realized an out-of-this-world vision for multiplayer video game “Crossfar” using Amazon GameLift
Like space age gladiators, “Crossfar” players battle head-to-head in a zero-gravity sphere arena set amongst the stars. Piloting drones, gamers must defend their gate, destroy enemy defenses, and rely on sharp tactical decision-making to come out on top. Imagined as a sci-fi take on esports, the game was developed in only two years by a single developer, Kavosh Omidi, using Amazon GameLift dedicated server management on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The independently published title launched on Steam in July 2022, and has since attracted more than 50,000 players. The game’s following continues to grow alongside the addition of new features.
“Once I had a playable build of ‘Crossfar,’ I started researching a good place to host the game and a platform that would support growth. I decided to go with AWS and I’m really glad that I did; it’s not just for big studios,” noted Omidi. “The number of services available on AWS and the quality of those services are key to the success of solo game development businesses like mine. Using AWS also helped lower development costs and accelerate iterations.”
Omidi independently developed games for more than a decade as a passion project outside of his full-time job; he most recently worked in real-time architectural visualization. Taking a leap of faith, he left that role to focus solely on developing his own games. After briefly pursuing a different concept, he began developing what would become “Crossfar.” Omidi hosted the first playable build locally for initial testing; after enthusiastic feedback from the player community, he opted to go all-in on AWS and move his pipeline to the cloud for greater flexibility and scalability. Building on a centralized cloud-based development backend also allowed Omidi to continue working on the game remotely, as he traveled between different areas including Canada and Iran.
“I have a background in computer science, but I had zero prior AWS experience. Fortunately, I was quick to catch up, in part, due to extensive documentation and a vast number of tutorials that AWS provides,” Omidi shared. “The documents are comprehensive, and the GameLift SDK code is clean and well-commented; going through it all was like reading a love letter from one developer to another.”
At first, he leveraged Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to host APIs and game servers. He initially built his own APIs for hosting, with some freelance help. Omidi explained, “My setup was sufficient, but then, I discovered Amazon GameLift and all the amazing features it provides out of box. I decided to delve in, loaded the game on GameLift, and that’s when the pieces really started to come together. Development was cleaner and neater.”
Omidi deployed “Crossfar” on Amazon GameLift in a few hours, then had the build ready for testing within a week. In less than a month, he had the game fully launched on AWS with paid players, and further streamlined development by incorporating AWS Lambda serverless event-driven compute at the recommendation of the AWS support team. “I spent a lot of time building the API for hosting. Lambda is a fantastic service that saves you from the hassle of slogging through API. When a game is growing, you need to host multiple EC2 instances and have different APIs, which can get messy. Since AWS Lambda is serverless and scalable, I can be agile in terms of adding new features, and I’m having a great experience with it,” said Omidi.
In building “Crossfar” on AWS in Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, Omidi used both Blueprint visual scripting and custom C++ scripting. The seamless integration between the Amazon GameLift SDK and Unreal Engine enabled Omidi to replicate the development environment he was accustomed to working in locally, with added flexibility.
Recognizing the importance of fostering community around the game, Omidi actively enlisted players in different geographical areas. With limited marketing resources, he engaged with relevant Discord communities across time zones, with the goal of achieving activity on a 24-hour basis.
“A lot of multiplayer games fail due to a lack of players, so I got creative and worked to get Steam keys into the right hands,” Omidi explained. “Amazon GameLift has support all over the world so it’s easy for me to activate servers in Europe, Australia, the United States, or wherever, so that players have low latency and a great experience, then spread the word and encourage more players to join. The availability of AWS compute is amazing and what AWS services do for the game development processes is groundbreaking to be honest. If it wasn’t for Amazon GameLift, we wouldn’t have had any success at our July launch.”
As “Crossfar” approaches its one-year anniversary, Omidi has started scaling his team, and establishing US-based development studio Crossfar League to support the game. He’s working towards an ambitious road map of new features, including a persistent battle mode.
“Creating a game at this level is the fantasy of every game developer and I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to achieve thus far,” noted Omidi. “Having this level of success, with help from tools like GameLift, enhances your confidence and motivates you to keep working towards a job well done.”
Throughout this ongoing development, the capabilities of Amazon GameLift will be key, as will further AWS optimizations, such as a database migration from Amazon EC2 to the managed Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). Additionally, developing a “Crossfar” sequel is under consideration.
Reflecting on how he’s been able to create a AAA-caliber title on his own in only a few years, Omidi mused, “Development is not always sunny days, and as a sole developer, you must have the self-discipline to persevere. Confidence and a cool head are essential, and so are the right tools. I recommend Amazon GameLift to anyone who wants to make games. It’s much more than a hosting service and it’s great for all sizes of teams.”
For fellow developers considering AWS, he offered, “Start by reaching out to the AWS support team and ask questions. AWS provides a ton of services so it’s hard to research them all on your own. Their support team is amazing; they really care and listen about what you’re trying to achieve and come up with the best solutions to guide you forward.”
To learn more about AWS for Games services and Amazon GameLift: https://aws.amazon.com/gamelift/