Metalhead Software goes all-in on AWS to see Super Mega Baseball 3 hit a home run
Co-founder Christian Zuger shares how Metalhead Software is all-in on AWS to enable its tight-knit team to dedicate more to the critically acclaimed Super Mega Baseball video game series.
As an independent studio based out of Victoria, BC, Metalhead Software prides itself on being a tight-knit team with a huge passion for game development. We focus all our attention on the Super Mega Baseball franchise. However, with a team of less than 20, we’re always evaluating how to dedicate more time and resources to providing the most entertaining gameplay experience for players.
Super Mega Baseball (SMB) is a fun-focused sports game series. There are some successful sports simulators out there. Players enjoy SMB because it doesn’t worry too much about realistically simulating a traditional sports broadcast. Instead, it concentrates on perfecting fast gameplay and providing highly tuned controls, resulting in predictable and learnable outcomes. We launched Super Mega Baseball 3 in May. In just over a month we have seen over 150,000 1 vs 1 competitive matches, and have gratefully received positive ratings from the likes of PC Mag (4.5/5), and Forbes (9.5/10).
With a highly talented, yet small, development team, and only a finite amount of time, as we began to expand the SMB franchise to include online capabilities like cross-platform play and competitive modes, we had to make a choice. Sacrifice large amounts of time, money, and skill to build a suitable solution in-house? Or enlist a cloud provider to overcome the technical challenges so our team could focus on what matters most.
From the outset, we had ambitious goals to achieve. Reliability, scalability, simplicity, and high performance were all non-negotiable requirements. But supporting real-time online play that could deliver split-second reaction times across the globe is a massive task. Add reliably handling all online communications and processes securely behind the scenes, and all this would be no easy feat on our own. We also weren’t willing to sacrifice development time and attention to core game mechanics and rendering. So to reduce deployment complexity and ongoing server management for our team, we went all in on AWS.
The starting lineup, all in on AWS
Today, we use AWS for our entire online backend, from our database and analytics layer, all the way through to our matchmaking and multiplayer systems. AWS provides us with an easy-to-use solution that works well whether 10 or 25,000 users are currently playing. Once a workload is up in our development environment, we can be confident that AWS will handle the load once live. Thanks to AWS managed services, we also have the huge advantage of minimal ongoing infrastructure supervision.
We use Amazon DynamoDB to store game data such as user rankings and game results. To continuously improve game mechanics for players, we use the Game Analytics Pipeline solution created by AWS, modifying it to fit our exact requirements. We can track and analyze vast datasets with ease by ingesting large volumes of data via Amazon Kinesis and AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and then storing that data using Amazon S3 and Amazon Redshift. Each month we generate over 2.5 billion analytics events through this pipeline alone, helping us to closely monitor, react, and improve how players engage with and enjoy SMB features.
We also use Amazon GameLift to power our dedicated global game servers and matchmaking systems for online play. Running fleets of dedicated servers in various data centers around the world would have been far too complicated and time consuming to manage on our own. By using GameLift we are able to cost-effectively provide dedicated game server processes for hard-hitting competitive 1 vs 1 matches. We deliver fun and fair experiences to our users without having to develop and maintain all of that infrastructure from the ground up.
Mitigating the impacts of latency is also extremely important for Super Mega Baseball. Fast reaction speeds and real-time gameplay are integral to making players really feel like they are on the field. If player controls and on-screen gameplay become out of sync, that simulation is broken, and the game becomes unplayable as a result. We employ strategies to make the game feel smooth regardless of actual latency. Using Amazon GameLift we can ensure that latency is always below 120 ms, and players are matched to the closest possible data center to achieve average rates of only 40 ms.
Looking forward, we’re optimizing our technology to become even more lightweight and cost effective. We’re currently integrating Amazon API Gateway WebSockets to establish a two-way communication channel that no longer requires a connection to our game server process. This enables us to perform complex operations and drive in-game features using only serverless technologies, including AWS Lambda and Amazon DynamoDB. Once we have the WebSockets communications channel open, it opens a world of opportunity for new features Super Mega Baseball can start supporting for players.
Super Mega Baseball 3 was released May 13 2020, and is available to on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.