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Ask GR Anything: Double Bonus Edition!


Ask GR Anything is a weekly Q&A column that answers questions submitted by readers (as well as questions we're particularly curious about ourselves). Got a burning question about games or the industry? Ask us in the comments below and you may just get it answered!

Question 1: What goes on at an MMO developer when the game comes down for weekly maintenance?

This week’s first question comes from GR reader LongNuts (classy as usual, guys), who asked what Blizzard is actually doing every week when they take World of Warcraft down for several hours for “maintenance.” 

 Above: Not World of Warcraft

Well, unfortunately, Blizzard stood us up on a response to this. However, the very fine folks at Trion, who work on my personal favorite MMO, Rift: Planes of Telara (not just my favorite because they took the time to help with the article, though it certainly doesn’t hurt), helped us out with some insight on this issue. This answer was kindly supplied to us by Adam Gershowitz, a producer at Trion who works on Rift:

“Bringing servers down for scheduled maintenance is actually a very un-exciting thing, primarily because all of the exciting things happen in the weeks before as you stabilize for the patch. When the servers come down on patch day, it really is as simple as:

1. Bring the servers down
2. Update the servers with the new patch
3. Bring the servers back up for QA access only
4. Check the patch
5. Fix Issues
6. Unlock the servers
7. VICTORY

Many of you may wonder why it takes hours to do this if it’s “so simple.” All of that time goes into quality control. [We] spend a lot of time double- and triple-checking things before we open those servers back up, and sometimes that very simple step of “fix issues” can turn into a four-alarm fire for the whole team. That’s why we spend so much time testing things on our [Public Test] servers before the patch goes live.”

It may be a fairly ho-hum, boring process, as Gershowitz says, but clearly it can turn bad quickly if they’re not careful. So next time your MMO of choice is taking a while to come back up from patch maintenance, have a bit of patience. There’s a small chance the developers on the other side of the internet are frantically trying to re-stabilize their multi-million dollar product.

Question 2: How many “bits” are current-generation consoles?

Our bonus question this week comes from GamesRadar’s own Editor in Chief Gary Steinman. For being our bonus question winner, he will receive a complementary GamesRadar T-shirt. It should arrive in about 28 weeks in one-size-fits-all XXXL. Congratulations, Gary!

If you want the simple answer, modern-day consoles are 128-bit, same as most consoles of the last 10 years (even the Dreamcast was 128-bit). If that’s all you want to know, then thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you next week. But you should probably know a little about what that actually means. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it does not mean that a 128-bit PS3 is only 16 times more powerful than an 8-bit NES. First of all, bits aren’t a measurement of raw computing power. They’re a measure of the complexity of the binary code that the system can process.

A “bit” is a short name for Binary Digit. The number of bits a computer system can process refers to the size of code (in binary digits) it can handle. Each space of a binary code is very simple and consists of either a 1 or a 0. But it can grow in complexity as you add more digits to the code. If it’s two digits, the complexity doubles to four possible outcomes (01, 10, 11, or 00). Every digit added to the code grows its complexity exponentially. 8-bit systems like the NES have 256 possible binary values.

So at this point, it should go without saying that a 128-bit system is staggering in its complexity. The total number of potential binary combinations in a 128-bit code is 2^128, or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456, or about 340 undecillion. Or in layman’s terms: a practically useless amount of data. In 2007, Sony engineers were quoted as saying that most operations work fine in 32- or 64-bit.

In the past, console manufacturers would trumpet the number of bits their consoles could handle because it was an easy way to claim superiority over a competitor. It was one number, pure and simple. These days, the number of bits is so large as to be almost completely meaningless, especially since all the consoles are on the same level. So instead, the number of CPU cores in the console tends to be the most talked-about tech-spec.

Submit your own questions in the comments (or Tweet them to @sciencegroen) and we may tackle them for a future Ask GR Anything.

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24 comments

  • Primed - December 9, 2011 12:32 p.m.

    This being the greatest website on the internet, therefore making us readers the greatest fans on the interweb, I pose the question: Who are the greatest of the greatest fans on the entire online web exchange? most comments or good ideas on the whole thing. db1331, Gaymer people like that.
  • Primed - December 9, 2011 12:33 p.m.

    or maybe a Top7 gamesradar fans?
  • NightCrawler_358 - December 8, 2011 3:42 p.m.

    I have a question! What is the annual salary for some of Gaming's head honchos like Miyamoto, or the presidents of Sony?
  • NanoElite666 - December 7, 2011 10:08 p.m.

    Well, now I know what comes after decillion.
  • taokaka - December 7, 2011 9:26 p.m.

    I've always wondered how hd remakes are made, do they remake the textures or upscale them or whatever fancy technical term you want to call it? I know they add anti aliasing and that is the extent of my knowledge on HD-ifying games.
  • Ocelot3997 - December 8, 2011 9:51 a.m.

    I kinda like this question. I'm curious too. I may look into this and see if I can get an answer. Thanks for your comment!
  • - December 8, 2011 9:52 a.m.

    Whoops, sorry, accidentally logged into an old account ^^^. But yeah, I like the question and may look into that. Thanks again for your Q!
  • - December 8, 2011 9:54 a.m.

    Whoops, sorry, accidentally logged into an old account (I was Ocelot3997.) But yeah, I like the question and may look into that. Thanks again for your Q!
  • Longnuts - December 7, 2011 9:19 p.m.

    Boo on blizzard. I bet they just sit there drinking coffee and lighting cigars on 100 dollar bills instead of actually updating.
  • - December 8, 2011 3:01 p.m.

    If you already knew the answer then why did you ask the question!? :-P)
  • Net_Bastard - December 7, 2011 7:44 p.m.

    I thought that the 360 and PS3 had 32-bit CPU's.
  • jmcgrotty - December 8, 2011 1:43 a.m.

    As the article basically alluded to, it's hard to actually judge them anymore. There are just too many other more important variables. The Playstation 3 (Cell) is made up of multiple cores: 1 PPE with a 64-bit general purpose section, 64-bit Floating Point and another 128-bit set. 6 SPE's, all parts of which are up to 128-bit. 2 more unused. The memory addresses are basically 64-bit. Then there is the GPU, which is most likely 64-bit, but as with the CPU, there are multiple parts of it that make it difficult to categorize. The Xbox360 will be in the same general area, since humorously, the chip used in the 360 is just a modified Cell chip used in PS3.
  • FoxdenRacing - December 8, 2011 10:03 a.m.

    IIRC, only in that they're both multi-core derivatives of the Power architecture...that be like saying the Phenom II is a slightly-modified i7 [both derivatives of the x86]. The layouts are vastly different...as you said, one is a 3-core 3.1 in parallel, while the other is a 7-core master/slave configuration, one general-purpose processor farming out work to 6 highly specialized ones.
  • imadbro - December 8, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    The Cell does not contain a 128-bit processor, but it does have 128-bit wide registers. These are vector registers. They store several smaller values (4 32-bit values, 8 16-bit values, etc). Each of these get values get operated on at once (SIMD = same instruction, multiple data). These are exactly like the 128-bit SSE registers on Intel/AMD CPUs. However, nothing in the chip operates on 128-bit numbers, so it's a bit disingenuous to call it a 128-bit processor (although Sony's PR guys do exactly that, which I presume is the source of this confusion). There are no 128-bit memory addresses, no 128-bit arithmetic, etc. The Cell, like the PowerPC and Intel/AMD x64 architectures, is a 64-bit CPU with 128-bit SIMD registers.
  • otharu - December 7, 2011 6:31 p.m.

    I have a quick Q for u guys, how much people is needed to make a game and how long does it take? But I mean why they need that time and people. Btw nice article :)
  • - December 8, 2011 9:57 a.m.

    It depends on a ton of different variables. It's all dependent on the goals of the game, how well the team works together, how big the budget is, how long they have to make the game. Teams can be huge, over a hundred people, if the game requires a lot of work in a short time frame. Like Modern Warfare 3. On the other hand, if you have a lot of time, the team can stay small. I think Team Ico's team is fairly small given the scale of the games they make. However, they've been working on The Last Guardian for like, 7 years, so they don't need a big team.
  • GAYMER - December 7, 2011 6:28 p.m.

    What did Sony do to beef up their security after they got hacked? And did Microsoft and Nintendo do make any changes to their online security?
  • - December 8, 2011 3:03 p.m.

    That's a good question. I'll try to look into that. Though I'm really not sure any of them will want to divulge *any* details about their security, let alone enough detail to warrant writing a column about it. I'll check it out though. Thanks for the Q!
  • SonicX_89 - December 7, 2011 6:10 p.m.

    I've always wondered about that whole "bit" thing myself.
  • Overlord153 - December 7, 2011 5:46 p.m.

    I got a question. Can you ask some game developers what were some of the games they saw get shot down that they really wanted to work on?

Showing 1-20 of 24 comments

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