In a surprise move today, Blizzard Entertainment announced that their hotly anticipated forthcoming game Diablo 4 will feature a new technology they’re calling LocalServer™. Blizzard claims that the innovative feature will allow players to run the single-player game entirely on their own computer. LocalServer™ promises to all but eliminate contact with the battle.net servers for standalone campaigns. Critics say that this level of cloud-independence is technically impossible, but representatives at Blizzard seem confident that this daring innovation will work.
Incredible as the advance may sound, Blizzard claims that after years of intensive research they are close to perfecting the feature. “Back in 2012, when we originally released Diablo 3,” recalls Lead Programmer Baken Sizzlen, “it was assumed that any game must necessarily involve both a local client and a remote server. It simply seemed infeasible to provide game server software that would run on client computers. Handling complex computing tasks like processing mouse clicks, moving objects along straight lines, and allocating memory to store newly-spawned zombies are just too expensive for a client PC. Battle.net simply had to lend a hand.”
According to Sizzlen, Blizzard calculated at the time that the advantages of purchasing and maintaining the enormous server farm that was required to host millions of simultaneous standalone Diablo 3 sessions vastly outweighed the meager benefits in security, speed, reliability, vastly lower costs, and vastly higher customer satisfaction that would have come from letting users host games locally.
“No one yet realized that it could be done,” Sizzlen continues. “Apart from some minor Nintendo games, some first person shooters, a few single-player fighting games, all games made before 2010, virtually all Xbox and Playstation games, most mobile games, and a few others, no one had ever tried making a standalone game that actually ran entirely on the end user’s system. Could you really just get rid of the server? We just weren’t sure it was feasible.”
Although of course they aren’t revealing the technical details—as of this writing the technology is patent pending—the key insight that Sizzlen and his team discovered was to avoid contacting the server at all. “Once we realized that the player’s computer didn’t actually need to contact battle.net, the pieces began coming together. We experimented with some approaches to having the user’s computer run a few of the server calculations on its own—without network traffic, you understand—and after a few months we were able to get a ball bouncing around the screen with only 3 megabits per second of outbound traffic.” He smiles broadly, blinking up into the fluorescent lights above his desk. “That’s when we knew it could be done.”
In the intervening years they have steadily improved the LocalServer™ software. “We can now run a game with up to 12 simulated objects and generate only 17 kilobits of traffic per second, on average.” Sizzlen’s baby face beams. “We think we’re on the cusp of reducing server traffic to nearly zero. And when that happens, you can kiss battle.net goodbye—well, for single-player campaigns, anyway.”
What this will mean for players is difficult to imagine. For the first time in known video gaming history, players may be able to enjoy single-player games without being stalled by clogged login servers, booted from overworked backend servers, or being blocked from playing due to account hijacking and server outages.
“Just think,” says noted industry expert Virgule Humperipe. “You’ll be able to run Diablo 4 and immediately be in the game. No logins. No error messages. No lag. No lost server data. No dropped games. You could rip your network cable straight out of the wall and still enjoy the game. It’s an incredible technology!”
Skeptics have dismissed LocalServer™ as the latest in a long line of fancy-talking vaporware. “Rubbish,” responds Sizzlen. “It’s coming. It’s not easy—this is high-tech stuff. But soon you’ll be playing single-player games on your very own computer. You’ll see.”
Humperipe is equally optimistic. “LocalServer™ is the future, and we’re not going back.”