League of Legends developer Riot Games successfully translated its online multiplayer prowess to the FPS genre in 2020, revealing a penchant for harsh Counter-Strike angles in the process. To this day, Valorant remains a popular, albeit highly technical, shooter.
Making Valorant sounds like a long technical nightmare, though, as Riot prioritizes polish and clever coding to create a shooter that rewards pinpoint accuracy while remaining scalable across a wide range of drastically different machines.
I spoke with Riot’s Senior Lead Game Engineer Marcus Reid to learn more about the underlying technology that has allowed the free-to-play FPS to remain successful two years later.
so good that hertz
A game that demands so much skill and precision wouldn’t work without high tick rate servers. “We did a lot of experimenting with very skilled players to figure out how the game works best,” says Reid.
“We found that we really needed 128 tick rate servers to reach our goals. We also want the vast majority of our players to have less than 35 milliseconds of ping. Those are the optimal conditions.”
A lower tick rate or higher ping introduces lag, which exacerbates problems like observer advantage: a “network artifact,” in Riot’s words, leading to a crucial split-second advantage for a player who peeks around a corner on the opponent in front of him. . The topic is often discussed among competitive teams and has led to high profile disputes about the player’s ping.
That said, making Valorant a highly scalable game was still a priority. Riot continues to make the game accessible to players using a wide variety of builds. Also, don’t shy away from display solutions like Nvidia Reflex, which bypasses the render queue to improve communication between your machine’s CPU and GPU.
“We support some pretty low-end machines,” says Reid, “and we want those machines to play really well and be able to play the game competitively. I think Reflex supports GPUs since the 900 series, which came out in 2014. That hardware is widely accessible and enhances the experience for a lot of our gamers that we think are worth supporting. But we also want to make sure we have the best possible experience on that high-end hardware.”
Gamers lucky enough to have high-end PCs don’t get an unfair advantage. Valorant has a fixed field of view, only supporting 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios, and even those using ultrawide monitors are forced to use the widescreen format so they can’t benefit from the extra peripheral vision. .
Valorant’s high difficulty can come as a shock to more casual gamers, as it often punishes suboptimal gameplay. With a low time to kill, the gap between a player opening fire and their target falling, every shot matters. Which means that the hit log needs to be as accurate as possible.
“In terms of how we make that happen, the real answers are a lot of data and pretty intense scrutiny every time an issue is reported,” says Reid.
So Valorant developers aren’t afraid to look at bugs or “something that looks wrong” under a microscope. It is a process about which the team confronts the public. For example, Riot has published a substantial tech blog about Valorant’s netcode. (opens in a new tab)and keeps players in the loop with their answers and updates based on their feedback.
Realistically, though, there’s only so much Riot can do on their end to ensure a seamless online experience. Reid admits that mitigations like prediction buffering, which attempts to smooth out unstable connections, can only plug the cracks so far.
“If network conditions really degrade, if the game client and game server can’t communicate the information they need in a timely manner, the player experience degrades,” he says.
Riot seems to have Valorant’s scalability, connection quality, and overall responsiveness down to a science. But how about performance?
“So before launch, we were really talking about three categories of problems,” Reid explains. “What are the goals we need to achieve for our server performance? And that is the one that offers the 128 tick rate experience.
“The second category is GPU-bound scenarios,” he continues. “That tends to be on lower-end hardware, like a CPU that has integrated graphics instead of a dedicated GPU. And then there are the CPU-bound scenarios, which tend to be more for mid-range client PCs and higher performance machines. That also has some level of overlap with server performance considerations.”
Riot rarely cuts a feature for performance issues. But those concerns impact the development process. Valorant’s art style, for example, was designed from the ground up to look good on a wide range of hardware. “That’s not the only consideration, obviously, but it does take some things off the table,” says Reid. “We are not going to use real-time ray tracing if we use a laptop from 2012 onwards.
“As we develop new things for gamers, we conduct rigorous performance testing,” he continues. “If we add a fundamentally new capability that causes the game to do more work, that can affect performance. Therefore, we try to keep the new capabilities as efficient and simple as possible, and we also continually invest a lot of engineering effort in general performance optimization.”
cloud and beyond
Leaning towards the performance issue, you might be wondering if Valorant could one day grace a cloud gaming service like Nvidia GeForce Now, allowing gamers to bypass hardware limitations altogether. But Reid was quick to express that such an eventuality is simply not in the cards for the game right now.
“Specifically with a cloud gaming service, the challenge would be the increased latency of going through a cloud gaming server and then talking to that server,” he says. “I think it would be quite difficult to provide the kind of responsiveness you need in a game like Valorant on a cloud gaming service. I don’t want to say never; the technology will continue to improve. But that’s not something we’re looking at right now.”
More promisingly, Reid confirmed that Valorant console ports on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S are “something we’re definitely exploring.” However, he couldn’t give us any more information than that.
While we’d love to see Valorant come to more platforms, we understand that it’s designed for PC first, largely due to its demanding focus on accuracy. Analog sticks on controllers can’t match the precision of a mouse, but we hope that Riot can find a solution for this and successfully bring Valorant to a wider audience. After all: everyone deserves to play an FPS designed for precision.