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Monday, October 3, 2011

TiDi - I do not think it means what you think it means.

I have a concern about what I saw in the Time Dilation video here. You've probably seen it but follow the link if you haven't and watch it. That will make my concern a bit more understandable.

As background, let me state that I spend a lot of time using remote control software to access remote computers and do work on them. By "a lot of time" I mean hours and hours. It's my job. Remote control software has revolutionized the IT world (goodbye windshield time!) but it is not without its drawbacks.

For instance, when a connection is slow, it can take a long time (relatively speaking) to do anything. The entire session can devolve into click, wait, wait, wait - wait some more. OMG, is it doing anything? At times it is hard to know if your click ran the desired application and your screen just hasn't refreshed or if the application hung. Or perhaps, you think, you missed the icon or the menu slid away at the last moment and you didn't see the miss. You wonder if the double-click was only a single click and the system timed out waiting for the second click.

Screen refresh is critical. It is the only way our brain gets feedback. The human mind is an interesting place as, no doubt, all of you can attest. One thing it does not like to do is wait for feedback. It wants feedback straight away. Without feedback, doubt sets in.  Doubt leads to worry. Worry leads to frustration. Frustration leads to another click. We've all done it. I've done it. That second click can have disastrous effects causing even more frustration. Who's sat in front of a remote screen and watched twenty thousand messages pop-up stating that the application is already running? Or worse yet, the very act of re-clicking does cause the system to hang and now you're totally screwed.

So how does this relate to TiDi you ask? The problem is that TiDi resolves the server overload issue but it doesn't address the biggest user issue. That is lack of feedback. As I understand it, performance in large fleet fights gets so flaky that users can't activate and deactivate modules or get anything to happen. Well, how would they know something happened? They click and then they wait to see if the module flashes and the white circle starts to move. On the client side, the situation looks little different than before. You'll have to wait for the server to confirm the click and for the client to flash the icon and start the little white circle. If the server is running slower than your doubt, you'll click again. I'd wager ISK on it. If you think it'll be okay because logically you know the server will eventually get to your click, I think you are fooling yourself. It'll still go like this:

Click. Wait. Click. Wait. Click. Wait. WTF, my shields are half gone! CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. Boom.

I seriously doubt it will please the player base beyond the fact that at least CCP is trying to resolve the problem. YMMV; I certainly hope it does. I doubt it though. In the video there is no user waiting for feedback. It's all done by bots. They couldn't possibly have thought about the feedback issue - or could they? Perhaps somewhat. We do have the feedback icon that TiDi is active. However, what about the rest of the UI?

Fly careful.

1 comment:

  1. That function is currently provided in the network status window, which shows outstanding calls to the server which the client is waiting to complete. People who have spent much time in lag fights have learned how to manage their outstanding calls to keep things relatively responsive.

    Also, I'm pretty sure that fast server feedback is exactly what time dilation gives us, slowing down everything that happens inside the game as a tradeoff for increased responsiveness to user input. In particular they were talking about it lengthening the server tick so that the physics engine, which is a higher priority than user input, doesn't eat all the per-tick CPU time during a big fight and cause user input to fall over to the next tick repeatedly.

    We'll see how it works in practice, of course.

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