The Ironism

The Ironism

The lair of Lars J. Nilsson. Contains random musings on beer, writing and this thing we call life.

March 2010
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Asynchronous Games in Firebase; pt I


Note: this post is cross-posted on

Since the social web started to expand, asynchronous multiplayer games seems to really have taken off. So my immediate question is obviously, can I do that on Firebase? And the short answer is: of course. For the long answer, please read on.Let’s recap first. In a traditional synchronous game you play against other people in real-time, everyone you play against will have to be online at the same time. But given the nature of our everyday Internet use, a different pattern has emerged: in asynchronous games not all players have to be online at the same time. For example, turn-based games can easily be made asynchronous, you play your turn and then sometime in the future you opponents will have been online and performed their moves. As such, a classic game such as chess in play-be-email mode is a prime example of an asynchronous game. But you’re not limited to turn-based games, you can define the order to act on time or any metric you’d like, the only mandatory feature is that all players do not have to be online at the same time.Firebase is fundamentally a synchronous multiplayer server. The technical difficulties Firebase set out to solve are all issues arising from the kind of distributed computing you get when a couple of thousand players have to interact in real-time. So normally you’d build an asynchronous game on a traditional web platform, as the demand on timely updates just got a lot less urgent standard web techniques can be easily applied. But having said that, is there anything you’d gain by using Firebase?I believe there is: A synchronous option. Easy to overlook, this is actually a big one. If you build your asynchronous game on Firebase from the start, you have an immediate option of including synchronous play. Or better yet, the difference between synchronous and asynchronous could be a simple configuration issue. And by the way, who says it’s either or? Why not both?Let me explain the above in an example: At the moment I’m hacking on a Kalaha game for Facebook on my past-time. And obviously it’ll be asynchronous, players will take their turn while logged in, and the game mechanics will inform you of your move via the Facebook streams. But if two players are online at the same time and want to play against each other, why shouldn’t they? And would quick matches be fun, say max 5 seconds per move? And how about tournaments?Here’s some other, perhaps minor, points to consider:

There are other less apparent options as well, but lets be honest, anything but a huge advantage would probably be negated by the additional platform with the integration and administration it’d mean. That is to say, if you can built it using standard web tools only, why add another platform with which to communicate, integrate and administrate?So that’s my declaration: Using Firebase gives you the entire range from highly synchronous to entirely asynchronous on one platform! Next post I’ll sketch a proposal on how to actually do it as well. Stay tuned!

The proprietor of this blog. Lunchtime poet, former opera singer, computer programmer. But not always in that order. Ask me again tomorrow.

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