Thunderdome / Matched Play Q&A
What is it and How does it work?
Thunderdome has been the fun codename for this project that is now being officially labeled as Matched Play in the main menu. We plan on releasing the Beta phase of this feature in the next few weeks.
To put it simply it is a matchmaking system. It matches players together in a lobby of 12. When it performs a search it sorts by the smallest number of available player slots in order to fill up existing lobbies, and then that is sorted by a median skill level that is closest to the searching player, and then it finally refines that based on geodesic distance. Or said another way: The system attempts to find you a match quickly that is as fair as possible both through skill levels and latency.
The system always tries to find both the closest skill value to you personally, as well as the nearest lobby to you. Failing this it gradually searches farther in both distance and skill range until it either finds something or you create your own lobby.
Server selection is based on a computed average position of all the members in the lobby. This means no singular person dictates the latency for everyone, but rather the lowest latency possible is achieved for the whole group of players by creating a singular point. It uses longitude and latitude to find the nearest server location from that chosen point.
You will play two rounds, one on each team. If you leave at any point before both rounds are complete, you will be penalized. The lobby system works in stages; first it waits for the lobby to fill with exactly 12 players, it will not proceed without this number being reached. Then it waits for at least two Commander volunteers, but you can volunteer at any time before this! If at least two Commanders have not volunteered, the system will not proceed. If more than two have volunteered the system will choose the two highest ranked Commanders.
With 12 players and at least two Commander volunteers, all players can now participate in a Map vote where each person can choose up to 3 different maps in order of their preference. After a map is chosen everyone is shuffled to their respective teams in the most balanced configuration, each with their own Commander. At this moment a dedicated server that is not community hosted will be spun up for the games. During this time players have entered the Planning Phase while they wait for the server, where they can strategize in text while using an image of the map on screen.
After you play the first round a brief intermission of 90 seconds takes place. After this completes the map will not change but the system will automatically swap you to the other team with the same players and the same Commander. Once both rounds are completed the server will automatically shut down and you will return to the main menu.
Here is a list of server hosting regions that are covered:
- East Coast US
- West Coast US
- Southern UK
- Central Europe
- Eastern Norway
- Southern Brazil
- Hong Kong
- Eastern Australia
The purpose and scope of the initial Beta phase of Matched Play/TD is to ensure the core functionality of the system works as expected and to allow us to make adjustments on the fly in the background to certain values. It also serves as an observation period for us on how balance, wait times, or social aspects may be impacted. As such many features we have completed or planned for the system are being held back during this specific phase. Once we exit this phase and release “Version 1” of the system these features will be added back in. We tentatively plan on this phase being just over 6 weeks long. That all being said, try it out and provide feedback and or suggestions to us in our discord!
Time for the Frequently Asked Questions!
How many friends can you queue into matched play with?
- For the initial Beta test, zero. But after it is fully released we tentatively plan on allowing users to invite friends. Obviously this is a highly requested feature and we very much have it as a top priority beyond testing the initial core functionality of the system during the Beta period. But we must also consider the implications of allowing an entire team comprised of friends against 6 other random individuals when it comes to matchmaking times. Because of this we also have the functionality for “Private” lobbies already hooked up but not enabled and once we exit the Beta period we will be testing its viability for scenarios where you want to play 6v6 or 2v2 etc exclusively with friends.
Will public servers still be ranked after the introduction of TD?
- Yes! However there will be two different ranking systems in place. The existing one will continue to apply to public servers only and exist as it does now, while TD will use that value as a starting place to begin recording your “Matched Play Skill” level. We fully recognize that our community run servers are the only reason this game has existed for this long. We appreciate them and do not wish to destroy their communities by preventing balanced matches or removing any incentive to play in the environments they have fostered for so many years.
How does the penalty system work?
- Part of the Beta phase is to determine the efficacy and fairness of the starting values and behaviors we have in place. What we have is essentially a Work In Progress when it comes to this experimental system. As such we are not prepared to share the details of this just yet. However we can say that penalties will constitute temporary banning from Matched Play. We can also say that we do not intend for you to be punished if you are able to return to the match. We’ll have more on this at a later date and will publish it very clearly and publicly.
Will I be allowed to play on NA servers even though I’m in the EU?
- Yes. The current value in place (that can be changed by us on the fly if needed) is a 9500 km maximum range. This is enough for most West Coast US individuals to play with individuals from Berlin, Germany.
Will there be region/ping locks?
- Somewhat, yes. As mentioned previously the maximum range allowed is 9500 km, if you fail to find anything closer. Although this might seem like a lot, the servers being utilized to run Matched Play provide better latencies compared to typical community servers. For an anecdotal example: as a West Coast US player I experience on average 150 ms of latency to the East Coast US in community owned servers. For comparison: Our servers are allowing me to connect to the East Coast with 70-90 ms. And I can connect to EU within 130-150 ms – which is pretty much the maximum range allowed and therefore hopefully the most amount of latency one should expect.
What about stats? Will they be available to see?
- At the end of each round played, yes. The post game stat screen will come up as normal. Outside of that, we have no plans to officially display the data publicly elsewhere. Any websites containing such detailed stats would have to come from 3rd party developers if desired.
Will we be notified if the NS2 window is minimized once the queue completes?
- Yes! This was considered and designed from the start. We realize queues can often be a bit boring and therefore you may want to alt-tab to open your aim trainer or listen to music and read your 9,000 unread emails in the interim. As such, there are 3 distinct phases where your minimized window will flash yellow on the windows taskbar: Waiting for commanders to volunteer (once you have 12 players), the Map vote, and joining the server successfully.
Will 6v6 have balance changes or will it have the same balance changes as 10v10 ?
- Yes there will be balance changes to accommodate the different type of experience, but it will not be done until after it has gone through its Beta stage. This is for two reasons : the Beta period is primarily for testing the core functionality of the system and to ensure it operates as expected, and during that time any balance issues we might not have predicted will show themselves in order for us to remedy. So while we have a long list of balance changes that have been in the pipe for months, we need to wait and observe to be sure. Additionally, this does not however imply that we will be maintaining two different games, our goal is to have the same experience. However if need be, we may make selective subtle adjustments and will clearly announce when this occurs. (There may be exceptions made to any of the above)
How will you manage disruptive and/or toxic players? There are a lot of players that are banned by all community servers but there’s no centralized UWE ban list?
- Great question! This is something that even the largest gaming studios struggle with when they do not have community run servers exclusively. We plan on leaning on a decaying player reporting system that automatically triggers temporary Matched Play bans that can add up to longer ones if they occur within certain timeframes. For an example only (these are not the actual values!) : if 8 unique players – more than just your own teammates to prevent griefing – report you for toxic behavior in a 24 hour period, the system can temporarily ban you from using Matched Play for 24 hours. If you are reported to the same degree again in the next 7 days, perhaps the system bans you for a week this time. After that time passes and you are playing again, if X amount of days pass with no incident, your status is reset. Essentially a built in decay time to your karma. If we see in our system a particularly bad actor who clearly has no intention of changing, we reserve the right to permanently ban them from the feature manually. We’ll have more info on this as we exit the Beta period.
How will you find matches for high leveled sanjis?
- This is a very delicate matter for us. Due to the small number of players who obtain such a skill level, we realize that it can be difficult to pair up with others of similar skill. As explained already, the system tries its best to find the closest skill level and closest distance, but barring this we have ensured that there is a value we are testing (meaning it can be changed!) of a maximum 2,000 hive skill difference allowed. This means that a 5k skill player can match with a 3k skill player. And then due to how the lobby systems work by averaging out skill values based on the players who have joined, the lobby average changes to 4k, and now a 2k player can join. Rinse and repeat. This means that while the system will find you the best match in both ping and fairness, it will still allow a wider degree of skill ranges to play together if there is no other option available at the time. Expect the possibility of these values being changed as needed during the Beta period, as it’s one of the major purposes behind this period.
Is Competitive mod enabled or is it standard vanilla? Configurable lobby options?
- The servers will be running vanilla NS2 only during the Beta phase, and will not contain any configurable options. After this phase we may consider certain configurations to be voted on while players sit in a lobby. This was a large reason for us fully integrating NS2+ into the vanilla experience of the game. Additionally, the same default server consistency configuration will be in place, so if you wish to run your own crosshair or alien vision mods, you still can.
How are you planning to promote the gamemode for the current or returning playerbase? Rewards etc.?
- We have lots of exciting plans for this that are being held back for after the Beta phase… we really want to encourage people to not just try the system but also be rewarded for putting in serious time and or effort with it. We’re looking primarily at cosmetic and vanity routes for rewards, but we’ll announce and show off more about this once we get closer to exiting the Beta phase.
Will you be able to reconnect after you have lost internet or crashed?
- Yes, absolutely. It would be pretty hard to justify having “leaver penalties” if we prevented you from rejoining the match.
Will I be able to select lifeforms when queuing?
- You will be able to select lifeforms once you have entered the “Planning Phase” in the lobby! Keep in mind this is only to communicate your intentions to your teammates and will not automatically save a lifeform for you or perform any other function. Your commander will have already been selected and displayed, but everyone else will be able to plan out what lifeforms they will play – even if the first round played will be Marines. This should help prevent those “Why do we have 5 Gorges?” scenarios.
What are the expected wait times to get into a match?
- This is a really tough thing to predict, as it changes throughout the seasons of the year, sales, and patch updates etc. It is highly variable and ambiguous, largely depending on how many users are actively online and searching at that exact time. So we cannot give you a concrete number as a result. Our hope is that this feature might be preferred over waiting 45 minutes as a spectator in a server just to play – a regular occurrence right now. The primary goal of this system was to reduce the time between starting the game and actually getting in and playing.
What about streaming and spectating? Will they be available?
- No, we have no plans for either of these things being available. That can still occur in community ran servers that will continue to have spectator slots. Matched Play is more about those who just want to get in and play.
Can you kick people from the lobby?
- No, but you can mute their text or leave the lobby if you find them bothersome. Additionally you can initiate a server wide vote to kick a player once in the server,
How can I ensure if I play two or three games in a row they won’t be full of the same exact crew?
- One long term planned feature (that will not be in the Beta Phase) is to recall a lobby preference of yours. So if you exit a lobby that is not yet full because you don’t want to play with those same players, there will be a pop up prompt and on it there will be a checkbox for you to click on to prevent rejoining that lobby. Then the system will ignore that lobby on your next search. Keep in mind however that if this feature makes it in, that those players are free to move around to other lobbies just like you. In short, there is no foolproof method here, even if the player base was 20 times its current size.