League of Legends developer Riot Games has successfully translated its prowess with online multiplayer into the FPS genre in 2020, revealing a taste for Counter-Strike’s harsh angles in the process. To this day, Valorant remains a popular shooter – albeit a highly technical one.
Creating Valorant feels like a long technical nightmare, however, with Riot prioritizing polish and coding intelligence to create a shooter that rewards precision while remaining scalable across a wide range of drastically different machines.
I spoke to Riot’s senior principal engineer for the game, Marcus Reid, for more information on the technology under the hood that allowed the free-to-play FPS to maintain its success two years later.
very good hertz
A game that requires so much skill and precision wouldn’t work without high tick rate servers. “We did a lot of experimentation with really high-skilled players to find out how the game works best,” says Reid.
“We found that we really needed 128 tick rate servers to achieve our goals. We also want the vast majority of our players to have less than 35 milliseconds of ping. Those are the kind of ideal conditions.”
A lower tick rate or higher ping introduces lag, which worsens issues like the lurker advantage – an “artifact of networked gameplay”, in Riot’s words, that leads to a crucial split-second advantage for a player. peeking in a corner over the opponent you’re facing. . The subject is frequently discussed among competitive teams and has led to high level 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 settings. Plus, it doesn’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 low-end machines,” says Reid, “and we want those machines to run really well and be able to play the game competitively. I think Reflex has supported GPUs since the 900 series that launched in 2014. This hardware is widely affordable and improves the experience for many gamers that we feel are worth supporting. But we also want to make sure we have the best experience possible on this high-end hardware.”
Players lucky enough to own high-end PCs are not given 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 letterboxing 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 space between a player opening fire and their target falling – every shot matters. Which means that the hit record should be as accurate as possible.
“In terms of how we make this happen, the real answers are a lot of data and pretty intense scrutiny whenever an issue is reported,” says Reid.
Valorant developers aren’t afraid to look at bugs or “something that looks weird” under a microscope, then. It is a process about which the team is dealing with the public. For example, Riot published a tech blog on Valorant network code (opens in new tab)and keeps players informed of your responses and updates based on your feedback.
Realistically, though, there’s a lot Riot can do to ensure a seamless online experience. Reid admits that mitigations like the prediction buffer, which tries to smooth out shaky connections, can only paint the cracks to a certain extent.
“If network conditions are really degraded, if the game client and game server cannot communicate the information they need in a timely manner, then the player experience will degrade,” he says.
Riot seems to have Valorant’s scalability, connection quality, and overall responsiveness in a science. But what about performance?
“So before launch, we were really talking about three categories of issues,” explains Reid. “What are the goals we need to achieve for our server performance? And this is the one that offers the 128 tick rate experience.
“The second category is GPU-bound scenarios,” he continues. “This tends to be on low-end hardware, like a CPU that has integrated graphics rather than a dedicated GPU. And then there are CPU-bound scenarios, which tend to be more for midrange client PCs and high-end machines. This also has some level of overlap with server performance considerations.”
Riot rarely cuts a feature for performance reasons. But these concerns affect 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 takes some things off the table,” says Reid. “We will not use real-time ray tracing if we are running on a laptop from 2012 onwards.
“As we develop new things for players now, we do rigorous performance testing,” he continues. “If we add a fundamentally new feature that makes the game do more work, it could affect performance. So we try to keep the new features as lean and efficient as possible, and we also continually invest a lot of engineering effort into overall performance optimization.”
cloud and beyond
Leaning into the topic of performance, you might wonder if Valorant could one day grace a cloud gaming service like Nvidia GeForce Now, allowing gamers to completely bypass hardware limitations. But Reid was quick to express that such an eventuality is simply not on the cards at the moment.
“With a cloud gaming service specifically, 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 very difficult to provide the kind of response you need in a game like Valorant on a cloud gaming service. I don’t mean never; technology will continue to improve. But that’s not something we’re looking at right now.”
More promising, Reid confirmed that Valorant console ports on PS5 and Xbox Series X | S are “something we are definitely exploring”. However, he wasn’t able to give us more information than that.
While we’d love for Valorant to come to more platforms, we understand that it was designed for PC first, in large part due to its demanding focus on accuracy. Analog sticks on controllers cannot match the accuracy of a mouse, but we hope Riot can find a solution to this and successfully bring Valorant to a wider audience. After all: everyone deserves to play an FPS designed for precision.