GamingAnywhere: An Open-Source Cloud Gaming Platform

Authors: Chun-Ying HuangCheng-Hsin Hsu, and Kuan-Ta Chen

Affiliation: National Taiwan Ocean University, Taiwan; National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan; Academia Sinica, Taiwan

URL: http://gaminganywhere.org/

Overview

GamingAnywhere is an open-source clouding gaming platform. In addition to its openness, we design GamingAnywhere for high extensibility, portability, and reconfigurability. GamingAnywhere currently supports Windows and Linux, and can be ported to other OS’s including OS X and Android. Our performance study demonstrates that GamingAnywhere achieves high responsiveness and video quality yet imposes low network traffic [1,2]. The value of GamingAnywhere, however, is from its openness: researchers, service providers, and gamers may customize GamingAnywhere to meet their needs. This is not possible in other closed and proprietary cloud gaming platforms.

A demonstration of the GamingAnywhere system. There are four devices in the photo. One game server (left-hand side labtop) and three game clients (an MacBook, an Android phone, and an iPad 2).

Motivation

Computer games have become very popular, e.g., gamers spent 24.75 billion USD on computer games, hardware, and accessories in 2011. Traditionally, computer games are delivered either in boxes or via Internet downloads. Gamers have to install the computer games on physical machines to play them. The installation process becomes extremely tedious because the games are too complicated and the computer hardware and system software are very fragmented. Take Blizzard’s Starcraft II as example, it may take more than an hour to install it on an i5 PC, and another hour to apply the online patches. Furthermore, gamers may find that their computers are not powerful enough to enable all the visual effects yet achieve high frame rates. Hence, gamers have to repeatedly upgrade their computers so as to play the latest computer games.

Cloud gaming is a better way to deliver high-quality gaming experience and opens new business opportunities. In a cloud gaming system, computer games run on powerful cloud servers, while gamers interact with the games via networked thin clients. The thin clients are light-weight and can be ported to resource-constrained platforms, such as mobile devices and TV set-top boxes. With cloud gaming, gamers can play the latest computer gamers anywhere and anytime, while the game developers can optimize their games for a specific PC configuration. The huge potential of cloud gaming has been recognized by the game industry: (i) a market report predicts that cloud gaming market will increase 9 times between 2011 and 2017 and (ii) several cloud gaming startups were recently acquired by leading game developers.

Although cloud gaming is a promising direction for the game industry, achieving good user experience without excessive hardware investment is a tough problem. This is because gamers are hard to please, as they concurrently demand for high responsiveness and high video quality, but do not want to pay too much. Therefore, service providers have to not only design the systems to meet the gamers’ needs but also take error resiliency, scalability, and resource allocation into considerations. This renders the design and implementation of cloud gaming systems extremely challenging. Indeed, while real-time video streaming seems to be a mature technology at first glance, cloud gaming systems have to execute games, handle user inputs, and perform rendering, capturing, encoding, packetizing, transmitting, decoding, and displaying in real-time, and thus are much more difficult to optimize.

We observe that many systems researchers have new ideas to improve cloud gaming experience for gamers and reduce capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX) for service providers. However, all existing cloud gaming platforms are closed and proprietary, which prevent the researchers from testing their ideas on real cloud gaming systems. Therefore, the new ideas were either only tested using simulators/emulators, or, worse, never evaluated and published. Hence, very few new ideas on cloud gaming (in specific) or highly-interactive distributed systems (more general) have been transferred to the industry. To better bridge the multimedia research community and the game/software industry, we present GamingAnywhere, the first open source cloud gaming testbed in April 2013. We hope GamingAnywhere cloud gather enough attentions, and quickly grow into a community with critical mass, just like Openflow, which shares the same motivation with GamingAnywhere in a different research area.

Design Philosophy

GamingAnywhere aims to provide an open platform for researchers to develop and study real-time multimedia streaming applications in the cloud. The design objectives of GamingAnywhere include:

  1. Extensibility: GamingAnywhere adopts a modularized design. Both platform-dependent components such as audio and video capturing and platform-independent components such as codecs and network protocols can be easily modified or replaced. Developers should be able to follow the programming interfaces of modules in GamingAnywhere to extend the capabilities of the system. It is not limited only to games, and any real-time multimedia streaming application such as live casting can be done using the same system architecture.
  2. Portability: In addition to desktops, mobile devices are now becoming one of the most potential clients of cloud services as wireless networks are getting increasingly more popular. For this reason, we maintain the principle of portability when designing and implementing GamingAnywhere. Currently the server supports Windows and Linux, while the client supports Windows, Linux, and OS X. New platforms can be easily included by replacing platform-dependent components in GamingAnywhere. Besides the easily replaceable modules, the external components leveraged by GamingAnywhere are highly portable as well. This also makes GamingAnywhere easier to be ported to mobile devices.
  3. Configurability: A system researcher may conduct experiments for real-time multimedia streaming applications with diverse system parameters. A large number of built-in audio and video codecs are supported by GamingAnywhere. In addition, GamingAnywhere exports all available configurations to users so that it is possible to try out the best combinations of parameters by simply editing a text-based configuration file and fitting the system into a customized usage scenario.
  4. Openness: GamingAnywhere is publicly available at http://gaminganywhere.org/. Use of GamingAnywhere in academic research is free of charge but researchers and developers should follow the license terms claimed in the binary and source packages.
 

Figure 2: A demonstration of GamingAnywhere running on a Android phone for playing Mario run in an N64 emulator on PC.

How to Start

We offer GamingAnywhere in two types of software packs: all-in-one and binary. The all-in-one pack allows the gamers to recompile GamingAnywhere from scratch, while the binary packs are for the gamers who just want to tryout GamingAnywhere. There are binary packs for Windows and Linux. All the packs are downloadable as zipped archives, and can be installed by simply uncompressing them. GamingAnywhere consists of three binaries: (i) ga-client, which is the thin client, (ii) ga-server-periodic, a server which periodically captures game screens and audio, and (iii) ga-server-event-driven, another server which utilizes code injection techniques to capture game screens and audio on-demand (i.e., whenever an updated game screen is available).

 

The readers are welcome to visit the website of GamingAnywhere at http://gaminganywhere.org/. Table 1 gives the latest supported OS’s and versions and all the source codes and pre-compiled binary packages can be downloaded from this page. The website provides a variety of document to help users to quickly setup GamingAnywhere server and client on their own computers, including the Quick Start Guide, the Configuration File Guide, and a FAQ document. If you got some questions that are not explained in the documents, we also provide an interactive forum for online discussion.

Windows Linux MacOSX Android
Server Windows 7+ Supported Supported
Client Windows XP+ Supported Supported 4.1+

 

Future Perspectives

Cloud gaming is getting increasingly popular, but to turn cloud gaming into an even bigger success, there are still many challenges ahead of us. In [3], we share our views on the most promising research opportunities for providing high-quality and commercially-viable cloud gaming services. These opportunities span over fairly diverse research directions: from very system-oriented game integration to quite human-centric QoE modeling; from cloud related GPU virtualization to content-dependent video codecs. We believe these research opportunities are of great interests to both the research community and the industry for future, better cloud gaming platforms.

GamingAnywhere enables several future research directions on cloud gaming and beyond. For example, techniques for cloud management, such as resource allocation and Virtual Machine (VM) migration, are critical to the success of commercial deployments. These cloud management techniques need to be optimized for cloud games, e.g., the VM placement decisions need to be aware of gaming experience [4]. Beyond cloud gaming, as dynamic and adaptive binding between computing devices and displays is increasingly more popular, screencast technologies which enable such binding over wireless networks, also employs real-time video streaming as the core technology. The ACM MMSys’15 paper [5] demonstrates that, GamingAnywhere, though designed for cloud gaming, also serve a good reference implementation and testbed for experimenting different innovations and alternatives for screencast performance improvements. Furthermore, we expect to see future applications, such as mobile smart lens and even telepresence, can make good use of GamingAnywhere as part of core technologies. We are happy to offer GamingAnywhere to the community and more than happy to welcome the community members to join us in the hacking of future, better, real-time streaming systems for the good of the humans.

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