When it comes to networking middleware, there’s a reasonable choice for certain tools; think pure networking code, console-friendly lobby and match-making, and even complete MMO development environments. Despite various attempts over the years, though, no one’s managed to pin down the messy and expensive gap that yawns in between running a test case scenario with a dozen in-house players and opening up your not-quite-finished baby to the flickering bandwidth and bad manners of thousands of players/testers.
Until now: at least, that’s what Neil Goodall, CEO of UK quality assurance outfit Testronic Labs reckons. But he perhaps would think that, having (almost) Victor Kiam-style liked it so much he went out and bought the other company.
“VENUS Blue has real benefits for our customers. It not only offers the most intensive and thorough testing service available for online games, but also provides major cost savings as very little human participation is required,” Goodall reckons of the technology developed by the Korean non-profit government-funded research organisation, ETRI, for which Testronic has the exclusive rights in North America, Europe and Japan.
Of course, part of the reason few Western companies have attacked the market includes the barriers to entry for a technology that sits somewhere between client and server code, while also having to emulate network and player behaviour. Frankly, it’s always been a bit of a no-man’s land. Also, until recently, there’s been the lack of a market, with the relatively few Western-developed MMOs being treated as expensive special cases.
In Korea, however, the sheer volume of MMOGs meant that VENUS Blue, which took four years to develop and is actually an acronym for Virtual Environment Network User Simulation, has been used to test over 20 games including HanbitSoft’s Tantra Online and JC Entertainment’s FreeStyle Street Basketball.
VENUS Blue is perhaps best described as an umbrella technology that consists of various modules: VENUS Studio, VENUS Agent, VENUS Client SDK, VENUS Monitor, and VENUS Analysis. What it basically boils down to is providing you with the ability to generate virtual connections which you can use to test your online game – whether client-server or peer-to-peer – plus various analysis tools.
- VENUS Studio is the main application, which manages the entire testing simulation. It controls a number of agents by sending actions for virtual clients. It also has a real-time monitor program to watch the server systems’ performance in terms of metrics such as CPU, memory, network usage and response time.
- VENUS Agent is a middleware program to be installed in PC or server systems to generate virtual players. It communicates with VENUS Studio and lets testers easily create large number of VENUS Client applications. It also contains a network emulator to simulate a variety of network environments such as packet loss, packet delay and duplication.
- VENUS Client SDK is a set of C++ APIs which are integrated into your game code and creates the loads. The integration process is reckoned to take anywhere between a couple of days to a week, depending on the depth of integration required.
- VENUS Monitor collects real-time data from the servers and sends it back to VENUS Studio. All the data received from VENUS Monitor is stored in the database.
- VENUS Analysis is an application to analyse the simulation results in the database. It graphically displays the data using graphs and charts, and hence summarises the overall test results.
“It’s very scalable because of its hierarchical architecture, while the core engine can generate a large quantity of network connections to manage the huge scale of virtual players,” explains Peter Schouwenaars, Testronic’s account manager for VENUS Blue.
“The more time developers spend working with the tool, the more things they can tweak. VENUS Blue doesn’t just emulate active connections. You can have virtual players fighting the monsters, organising themselves as guilds and communicating between themselves. You can even get virtual players to play with real players.”
More prosaically, another key feature of the system is it can benchmark the infrastructure you’re running your online game on: indeed, ETRI and Intel have an agreement to further research this aspect of the technology.
“It will spot the bottlenecks and analyse the overall performance of your game servers,” Schouwenaars says.
“You’ll still need to do things like beta test with real players of course, but using VENUS Blue enables you to easily emulate a variety of testing scenarios within a much shorter period of time and with far less strain on human resources, saving time and money.”
And those are factors than even those dealing with the requisite deep pockets and long lead times of MMO production will be happy to get some help with.