Thursday, July 21, 2011

Open Beta 2 (version 1.5.2) live now

(plus Nvidia SLI support coming soon)

So - after some initial delays (recall we had targeted June 30), APB Reloaded Open Beta 2 launched this morning.

The initial patch had a few stability issues at full production load, which meant we had to quickly re-patch, and now the team is working round-the-clock on another patch to solve the remaining disconnection issues in the next 24-48 hours.

Open Beta 2 (aka 1.5.2) contains the biggest changes to Missions, Matchmaking, Skill Rating and District Recommendation to date, and it's very difficult to simulate some of the effects of these changes in QA or even in the smaller "Test World" - so for the next week we will be watching all the data coming in from these changes very closely, so everyone should expect there to be rather frequent patches over the next week.

In other words - YES - between now and next Friday I expected daily occurrences of "15 minute warnings" to take districts down for patching. If you see one of those, then please just log in after the patch and continue testing.

NVidia SLI support will be added in next NVidia driver set
We just received formal notification from NVidia that they are finally including a dedicated APB Reloaded profile in the upcoming beta driver-set 280 thus finally enabling NVidia SLI support. The current driver-set (275) was released June 22, so we expect 280 to appear on the NVidia site the next two weeks. Once the 280 beta drivers are live we'd highly recommend every NVidia gamer try them out (and report on them). This driver update should finally resolve the high end SLI related issues for APB Reloaded (!). Next up - getting AMD to do the same for CrossFire, and then finally fixing some lingering sound driver issues.

After these hardware issues are resolved we will take the decision if we are going to create an Open Beta 3 (aka v 1.5.3) version that will incorporate the next major feature update and optimizations, before we go to final Live/Production release (version 1.6.0). More info to come on this after we have patched and updated 1.5.2 and everything is stable, as well as a longer discussion about future optimizations to 32-bit implementations (which still is affecting about 24% of all our players).

Matchmaking and Threat Level Changes
The initial indications from this morning is the people are getting much better matches, but under some circumstances are now seeing a pretty large REDUCTION in threat level compared to what they used to have, even when they are winning.

We will analyze this data today and tomorrow as we get it from the live servers, since it's clearly possible that there could be a bug in the threat system. However (and this is important), the changes we made can also make you arrive at a NEW threat level in the new system even after winning and it may end up being a LOWER threat. So it's entirely possible the system is working as intended and just being re-calibrated, but we will know more once we have analyzed the live datasets.

Also due to the changes, it used to be that everyone basically started out as roughly a Silver 2, and then moved up or down depending on match outcomes. Now instead everyone starts out as a Bronze 1, and from there start moving up (you can technically still move down, but then you just stay as Bronze 1). This change alone essentially could be thought of as 'reducing' all threat levels by about 12 levels (though of course what actually is happening under the surface is much more sophisticated than that).

Basically the threat system is based on two parameters, (1) your expected skill and (2) the uncertainty about your skill. If the system is very uncertain about your skill level, it will use the lowest possible value to signify your new threat. This is all to say that if you were to beat someone of a very different rank than you or who has a very UNCERTAIN rank, even if you WIN it's possible the system will determine that we are now in fact MORE uncertain about your real skill rating even though you won (!). If that happens it will (paradoxically) appear that you are going 'down' in threat level, but in reality your skill level may have stayed static, but the uncertainty about your skill level most likely increased pushing down your threat level. If you continue playing the level will eventually stabilize (though at a new value).

One of the reasons for this current effect might also be because as of 1.5.2 new players have HIGHER uncertainties (by about 25%) than in the original system (which is what makes them start out as Bronze 1 instead of Silver 2), and as those new players play with existing players, their uncertainties are 'spreading out' across all the other players (of course the math behind this is a little more complicated than this). But it also means that over time the system will again stabilize. However - it COULD MEAN that if you used to be a Silver 6, going forward will now be called a Bronze 9 (or other generally lower rating).

In the end, since you will be put in districts with similar ratings, the change should NOT have a massive impact on your performance.

However, we continue looking in to all the data, and we will determine if in addition to the re-calibration there is another hidden issue we need to fix. If we discover this then we will make an update, and also change the current threat levels. More info to come on this over the next few days.

Cheating Stats
So we were going to post a name-and-shame wall here on the blog (there is the outline of such a list already on the forums), but ran in to technical issues with the sheer volume of accounts (and blogger not having a good method of showing 6000+ entries) so we are still working on a method to link this to the blog. In this and future patches there are also new methods of detecting cheaters, though we will 'crank up the heat' on cheaters slowly (but surely) as we head closer to live production.

Contrary to what people think, the cheating percentage is quite small (in percentage terms) and we are finding, banning or suspecting about 1.3% of the entire userbase (another way to look at this; 98.7% of players do NOT cheat). And yes - Punkbuster might be slow to catch on sometimes, especially right after there have been some significant updates to paid cheats, but it pretty much always gets the cheater in the end. We DO have a group of suspected cheaters that we have NOT YET BANNED on purpose for a variety of technical reasons (those are the 'I'm crashing my system rather than being detected' crew - and you know who you are), but I feel sorry for their asses for having spent that much money to cheat in a free game, especially after we do include them in our future "Name and Shame" campaign.

Of course even though a low percentage of players cheat, they also ironically are also frequent players, which means they show up in matches slightly more often than non-cheaters. The net result is that usually a cheater is able to play a series of matches before we catch him/her (our name-and-shame log has this data as well), and there are large differences in cheating percentages by country. For example, a Russian player is nearly 2X as likely to attempt to cheat as an American player. Also paid players are slightly less likely to attempt to cheat (though some paid players ALSO try it, which does boggle the mind).

Again - just don't do it. If you do - you might get lifetime banned from all of our current and future games, even if your cheating was in the past (and we haven't yet banned you). Probably not worth the trouble, since all it really will do in APB going forward is to match you with much better players, so the result (if you are NOT a good player to being with and you are RELYING on cheating to get by) is that you will need to continue cheating to maintain your higher rating (it's like a crack-cocaine loop). If you stop cheating, then of course your competition will get easier as well, but during your descent you will of course lose (like drug-withdrawal).

Future Servers - Russia, Hong Kong and Australia
None of these future servers are live yet - but this is where we are heading. For Russia, we are in discussions with various Russian publishers to take all Russian players and to have a Russian publisher host and operate the game from Russia. There are a lot of reasons we want to segregate the Russian community, but mostly because we don't have a good payment network for Russia, and also to handle this from Russia would provide some improved performance to that local market. We will share more information about Russian servers as we announce those partnerships in the future.

On a trial basis we are planning something else interesting; we are going to put District Servers in Hong Kong and in Australia. But - because the cost of hosting, power and bandwidth is INSANE in those areas (bandwidth in Australia is 50X - FIFTY TIMES the price in the US) - we are going to make those district servers Premium Only. In other words - just like today, the thousands of players from Asia play on the Los Angeles servers, can STILL play in LA for Free, but if they want to play on a local (Premium) server they will need to have a Premium account.

As we get closer to these new server configurations, we will share more details, but I would expect this to happen sometime before September (and when it does - the world list will simply show new 'Premium' worlds that you can select).

In Summary
The next couple of weeks are going to be incredibly intense for all the teams as we work through Open Beta 2, and prepare for Clanwarfare and other critical updates that are just around the corner. We really appreciate the support from the community as we continue working toward making APB Reloaded the best Free2Play(R) game on the planet :) ! Obviously some critical things still to do (including Optimization for 32-bit and others), but after all the fixes are in we will have a really strong foundation for the next big release of the game. With today's patch we have taken a big step toward that goal, especially once kinks have been worked out in Open Beta 2.