QXR Studios accelerates game testing and development with Amazon GameLift Anywhere
A mage, a hacker, and a barbarian walk into a bar… What sounds like the start of a joke is the ultimate vision for cyberpunk, blockchain collectible card game “Metropolis Origins”, created by game industry veterans at QXR Studios. Players build decks with cards from Government, Corporate, or Underground factions, and go up against other players or artificial intelligence (AI) to advance through the game in a cross-over digital world that supports cards from outside intellectual properties (IP). The game is free to play, though players can purchase faction-specific card packs on the WAX Blockchain. Every aspect of the game’s development has been thoughtfully considered, from ensuring each card has a rich backstory to using a low carbon footprint blockchain and efficient cloud-based technologies like Amazon GameLift on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Thoughtful consideration of the game design is unsurprising considering the comprehensive development expertise behind it. Six highly accomplished veteran developers launched QXR Studios in 2020, simply because they enjoyed working together. Having collaborated on previous projects across a wide range of industries – from comics, AAA games, television, music videos, visual effects, literature, theater, virtual and augmented reality, hardware, software, and R&D – the group contemplated how to create a meaningful, community-driven game on their own terms. The result, “Metropolis Origins,” reimagines cyberpunk in an atypical way compared to dark and dystopian approaches.
During early development in 2021, the QXR Studios team discovered Amazon GameLift when looking at Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for cloud storage and Amazon DynamoDB for database management. They were experimenting with pixel streaming in Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and using AWS for Games services to support that pipeline.
“GameLift quickly became our server of choice and how we launched the game. It’s easy to deploy and scale, and connects well with Unreal. We could go in at any time and look at logs. It’s solid tech, so we didn’t worry about the infrastructure breaking,” noted QXR Studios co-founder Graeme Devine, whose development career began when computers were programmed with punch cards. “It doesn’t make sense to spend time connecting to clients and setting up player sessions when a service like GameLift can cover it for you.”
In building the game, developers switch between Unreal Engine’s Blueprint visual scripting language and C++, and leverage the AWS SDK to call REST APIs from AWS Lambda. Devine said, “Unreal is built around RESTful API so we can easily plug into the AWS API and make Lambda calls. AWS makes those calls completely secure; the whole environment feels stable and scales well.”
“Metropolis Origins” launched in limited beta in November 2021, and the QXR Studios team anticipates a wider commercial release at the end of 2023. They’ve been mindful to grow slowly, allowing for appropriate time to refine and update the game based on user feedback. Devine, in particular, understands the pitfalls of going big with an internet game on day one, having worked on massive gaming industry releases such as id Software’s “Quake III Arena.”
“Our biggest challenges to date have been unrelated to infrastructure, as we’ve easily scaled our servers. However, balancing a three-faction card game is quite difficult,” Devine shared.
Allowing QXR Studios to leverage its own machines alongside AWS-based resources, Amazon GameLift Anywhere has helped the team accelerate development. Devine employs the solution to monitor gameplay traffic on a local workstation for debugging. He’s able to see real-time activity and, when a problem arises, he can investigate where the communication breakdown is so he can correct the issue. As a recent example, when players joined, their client information was reflected back to them instead of connecting them to another player. By viewing the logs on the local workstation in real-time, Devine was able to easily identify the problem and fix it.
“Getting up to speed on Amazon GameLift Anywhere was straightforward, and the documentation is great. It was easy for me to set up a Windows environment. I could start on a server with a token that would bridge to Anywhere and make that fleet available via the AWS Console in the AWS cloud. Then I could use the AWS command line interface on my local machine,” Devine noted.
In addition to Amazon GameLift Anywhere, Devine and the QXR Studios team make use of many other aspects of Amazon GameLift, including fleet deployment and player matchmaking. They also use Amazon DynamoDB for storing players’ cards and as a presence server via a WebSocket API. Amazon CloudFront is used for content delivery, and Amazon CloudTrail tracks user activity and API use. To simplify API creation, the team uses AWS Lambda; they also tap Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for storage, Amazon EC2 for compute, AWS Elastic Beanstalk for web application deployment, and AWS Cost Explorer to visualize and manage costs and usage. With AWS for Games services, the QXR Studios team doesn’t have to worry about spending time and money on failover mistakes or losing players because of server non-availability.
“We’re a team of six and what we’ve accomplished in only two years using only a fraction of the services available on AWS is impressive,” Devine concluded. “It used to take 100+ person teams five years and $25M to deliver at this level. As an industry, tools like AWS and Unreal let us access artists and modelers around the world, in addition to the technology’s underlying services. This allows smaller game companies to produce AAA game content, and that’s exciting. I’m at the point in my development career where I can choose where I work, what I want to work on and who work with; I choose my coworkers and I choose AWS.”
To learn more about Amazon GameLift Anywhere, check out: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/introducing-amazon-gamelift-anywhere-run-your-game-servers-on-your-own-infrastructure/
For information on the full slate of AWS for Games services, visit: https://aws.amazon.com/gametech/