One of Microsoft’s most ambiguous selling points for the Xbox One is its ever-present cloud. We haven’t seen many examples of its use outside of Forza Motorsport 5’s Driveatar, but Microsoft frequently assures us in press conferences and development videos that it will be awesome. In an interview with Killer Instinct’s producer Torin Rettig, he shared how the cloud is being used to help keep the game consistently balanced.
In short, the cloud allows developer Double Helix to immediately and easily implement changes in Killer Instinct’s code to make sure fights stay fair. “All of our variables that go into how a character behaves are going to exist basically in the cloud,” Rettig said. “Without having to content update or patch the game at all, we can just go in on the cloud and tweak these variables without the player having to know.” Rettig went into further detail on how it will work saying, "Our vision is for it all to be behind the scenes, so it won’t require any official title update download. Basically the game checks for the latest version of the gameplay’s parameters and automatically updates if it’s a new version. No download or confirmation dialogue necessary and the files themselves are so small you’d never notice the difference."
Making minor balance changes without going through Xbox Live’s servers is not an entirely new practice. Many of Electronic Arts’ sports titles like Madden and NHL have been using a method to make small tweaks without requiring large patch downloads for a few years. These Tuner Updates make minor balance changes to the game using small downloads, without the need for extensive patch downloading through Microsoft’s Xbox Live servers.
Large patches will still be necessary from time to time for Killer Instinct, as Double Helix plans to continually update the game and add new content. When adding or changing content or assets, you can expect the traditional downloadable update. Simple balancing, however, comes very fast and without the need to download. “Any of the normal fighting game balancing activities that we would need to do, we can basically figure out what we need to do, implement the change, and just release a change in the same day. It can be very, very fast,” Rettig said.
With great power comes great responsibility, and Rettig is quick to add that they won’t be making frequent changes just because they can. The game can be tweaked without player knowledge, but that doesn’t mean it will be. Rettig says developer notes will always post alongside changes.
When fighting game communities discover a tactic, or a move that is overpowered or difficult to combat, oftentimes the community can figure out how to react over time, and that is part of the fun of the game. This is one of the reasons Rettig and the Killer Instinct team want to be careful about implementing balance changes. The other problem that could arise, is that the game could change too much too quickly, and that could turn fans off who aren’t playing as often as others. “We need to be very careful about doing knee-jerk kind of tweaks to the game,” Rettig said.
Killer Instinct will be available as downloadable launch title for the Xbox One on November 22.