Thursday, June 30, 2016

RIFT 3.7 Preview: RIFT Goes 64 Bit!

While RIFT readies for a public Beta Test of 64 Bit gameplay, RIFT’s Lead Engineer, Dan “Snedhepl” Hollinger gave us more in-depth information about this amazing engineering effort, and why it’s important to all players!

Why the heck should you care about 64 bit?
You may have heard with the announce of RIFT 3.7 Summer Solstice that Rift will release a 64-bit client in the near future. What you may not be aware of is the purpose, practical or otherwise, of this evolution. I’m here to cleanse that particular debuff for you.

Let’s talk about what 64-bit means in general.
First up: what is a bit? A bit is either a 0 or 1 and in a computer we use groups of them to represent everything from colors, to your position in space, to what your abilities do. When we’re discussing a 8, 32, or 64 bit system, what we’re talking about is how many bits can the processor operate on at once. Some of the earliest game systems and computers were 8-bit. Eventually they grew to be 16-bit and in the most recent era: 32-bit. These numbers created a number of limits in their systems, most notably memory related but also in terms in the precision and size of processing. For example, in an 8-bit system, it’s only possible to represent 255 different numbers. This means that a character could only exist in one of 255 positions horizontally on the screen and that we’d only be able to access 255 memory locations (assuming no fancy tricks are employed to expand that). Additionally, we’d only be able to access 255 locations in memory (RAM). That is pretty restrictive! Luckily as we increase the number of bits we get a significant amount of additional space. A 16-bit system can represent 65535 numbers! 32-bit? 4,294,267,295!

4,294,267,295 certainly seems like a lot…but is it?
For modern day computers, 4,294,267,295 translates to 4 gigabytes. And while that’s quite a lot of memory for many cases, it’s also not enough for many modern games. There’s a lot more we can do with RIFT, or handle better, with the ability to use more memory. This includes the beautiful textures, models and other art that already exists as well as what we have planned for the future. It includes data we house in RIFT that references things like characters, abilities, friends and the like. While these things individually may not be a big deal, when taken together they very quickly add up. 64-bit would give us access to 16 exabytes (or 16 million gigabytes). Of course there’s no hardware currently that would allow anyone to take full advantage of that much space. But what the conversion to 64 bit does change is that instead of being software limited to 4 gigs, instead we’re only limited by how much RAM is installed into any given machine.

Ok, so this means RIFT-64 will be able to use more memory, and we’ll be able to add more art over time and that’s all great, but what benefits will that get me today?
The answer to that is quite simple and can be summed up in a single word: “stability.” While RIFT typically does not use up all of its 4 gigabytes of memory, it can get to that point over longer play sessions. We’ve waged war on crashes for some time now; out of memory errors are the number one and two sources of crashes – and occasionally number three as well! When 64-bit comes out, the game will suddenly have access to at least 8 gigabytes of RAM in most cases (depending on how much you have installed and whatever else is being run at the time). Because we’ll have more space, we’ll drastically reduce the number of crashes that are experienced by the playerbase as a whole.

I would be remiss however in also ignoring some other very important upgrades that come with the change to 64-bit. Our internal tools are going to reap similar benefits that the client does! This will enable us to work faster and thus produce more content in the same amount of time.

All in all, the 64-bit era of Rift is going to bring more stability and beautiful art to the worlds of Telara… and that’s always a good thing!

-Dan “Snedhepl” Hollinger


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