‘Overwatch’ for PC offers high-bandwidth mode for smoother online gameplay

Kevin Parrish
‘Overwatch’ for PC offers high-bandwidth mode for smoother online gameplay
Blizzard's latest "Overwatch" developer update reveals that the game's servers now provide a high-bandwidth mode for tighter online gameplay for the PC. The team has yet to roll it out to all regions and is still researching console support.

In the latest developer update for Overwatch, lead engineer Tim Ford and senior engineer Philip Orwig talk about the game running in “high-bandwidth mode,” a server-side feature that is now provided to most of the Overwatch community on PCs.

“Not everybody has a great network connection,” Orwig said. “Part of the tech on rolling this out was we had to enable a mechanism to adaptively figure out whether or not your connection at home can actually handle the appropriate amount of packets coming in. So, as part of the feature rollout, on the server, we’ll dynamically figure out whether or not you’re syncing the packets appropriately and downgrade you or upgrade you as necessary in order to make sure you still have a quality experience no matter the quality of your connection.”

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Ford explains what the gameplay ramifications are with high-bandwidth mode enabled. The player is considered as a “client” that communicates with a server by sending small packets of data across the internet. The server is “authoritative,” meaning it is in control of the simulated world and processing the player input. The server basically takes multiple “snapshots” of everything and sends that data to connected clients.

With the high-bandwidth mode, the client will send data to the server and receive a response quicker, bringing them closer in time to what the authoritative snapshot is. Remember, all this data is transferred across the internet, so the game environment changes immediately after the server’s data is sent. The quicker the delivery, the quicker the client is updated, bringing the player closer to a smoother gameplay experience.

For clients that are firing their weapons in the game, Ford explains that with the high-bandwidth mode, not only will clients see an increase in the update rate, but the interpolation delay is decreased. That roughly means the client moves an object from one position to the next ideally at the same rate the server’s packets are received. The delay can be noticeable, such as an object suddenly hopping to another position. This new mode means players will be shot around corners with less frequency and will be able to predict escape moves better.

“Remember, all of our stuff is still predictive,” Ford said. “The majority of the abilities you will use are still predictive. So, even though this is bringing you more closely in line with the temporal authority of the server, there will still be cases where we’ll mispredict. If you have a real high latency, for example, or even if you have a low latency and someone actually reacts within a 20-millisecond window, the prediction will fail. It should, in general, feel better.”

Ultimately, if the gamer’s connection can’t keep up with the server, then it will downgrade the player appropriately, but the interpolation delay will increase. While the high-bandwidth mode is available now on PC, Orwig said the team is figuring out how to roll this feature out for consoles. There are also a number of regions that have yet to receive the upgrade.