Not every game requires split-second, frame-perfect response time. The games that do, however, make a good case against cloud-based gaming. Google wants to change all that with Google Stadia and something it’s calling “negative latency.”
Talking to Edge, Stadia’s VP of Engineering Madj Bakar said that Stadia will be more responsive than in-home gaming solutions.
“Ultimately, we think in a year or two, we’ll have games that are running faster and feel more responsive in the cloud than they do locally, regardless of how powerful the local machine is,” Bakar said.
Bakar explained negative latency (which sounds like fuzzy math or any of those other shady terms) as being a buffer of predicted latency between the server and the player. The server can then do things like run the game at a super-fast framerate or predict a player’s button presses.
According to Edge, Bakar said that with these techniques, a game could feel more responsive in the cloud than a console game running locally at 30fps with a wireless controller.
Let’s pick through that.
Negative latency is a silly term
But this isn’t as ridiculous as the “negative latency” term makes it sound. A game running at 30fps using a wireless controller inherently has a lot more latency than even a 60fps game or something running at 120fps. A game running at 30fps updates 30 times per second instead of 120; there’s much less input for Google to account for and more space in which to do it. And while the latency a wireless controller introduces is generally imperceptible, it stacks up with all that other latency.
Just putting those qualifiers on this idea makes the stars Google is reaching for much closer; matching the experience of a StarCraft II or Street Fighter V pro player on a 144hz display with a wired controller is a different thing altogether. Those players have taken measures to minimize latency in play. An average gamer, on the other hand, might be playing on a game console or an older computer with more limited hardware.
The idea of Google predicting my button presses makes me uncomfortable, but I believe it’s possible; Google has the vast experience with machine learning and artificial intelligence necessary to do exactly that. It already knows that when I search for “sink grind-y thing” because I can’t remember the right word that I mean “garbage disposal.” Single-player games are much more predictable than multiplayer, too.
How this works in practice remains to be seen, and it’s possible it might even stink at first. But if Google sticks with the technology, it’ll likely get better and better. Google Stadia is launching in November, so we’ll be able to see how well it works soon.