Heroes & Generals is an online free-to-play video game, specifically an MMOFPS, created by Reto-Moto. It’s set in the Second World War, and features battles between three major factions; the United States, Germany and the Soviet Union.
The majority of players participate via the FPS portion of the game, that’s situated around encounters and battles in a standard 3D first person shooter game. Secondly, they have a more macro perspective where players using the game client or an Android tablet can direct troops, deploy support and more.
Reto-Moto contacted Campground to inquire about the feasibility of an overhaul of their web properties. They had an old setup, with inadequate resources and far too many points of entry.
Their website, located at Heroes & Generals, is their main point of communication with players. News, interviews, updates about the game and live-streaming with the developers all take place on this one site, and it is also their main funnel for new players to create and register accounts.
Their old setup was running on a hacked together WordPress installation that had, in the words of their Community Manager Jesper Donnis, “been worked over with a binary hammer”. It hadn’t been updated in years, and its performance was horrible.
Our solution was to do a complete overhaul of the setup around the website. We decided to keep the WordPress platform, both because we at Campground are very familiar with that platform, but also because it would make it easy to bring the team at Reto-Moto up to speed.
The overhaul rested on three pillars; a redesigned WordPress theme built around modern methods and standards, drastically improving performance and putting in the groundwork so the site can grow and improve in the future, thus making it easy to add new functionality later on.
Before we began work their site loaded slowly (3.5+ seconds), was heavy (8MB+ page size) and not responsive. At the current site, we’re clocking in at ~1s load time and ~940KB page size. Those are significant improvements and we’re very happy with those results.
It’s not all about numbers
While numbers and metrics are fine there’s more to a redesign than simply have it load fast. Part of our timeline was trying to make the release of the new website coincide with a major update to the game.
As a part of that plan, we worked with Reto-Moto’s art department to migrate as much as we could from the games interface overhaul to the website design, with the idea being that the look and feel are as much a part of the branding as a logo.
By using WordPress’ Custom Post Type API we also separated content into appropriate silos and even enabled Reto-Moto to bring their Knowledge Base inside their website, rather than relying on a third party service. At Campground we believe in the value of owning your own content, and relying on third-party services also means relinquishing some of that ownership.
Combine the content silos with a handful of custom made plugins, we were able to achieve just about all of Reto-Moto’s goals with the website overhaul.
Giving players a soapbox
Another critical piece of online infrastructure that Reto-Moto has in place, is their community forums. Before we started work their forums were run on an ageing phpBB setup, that like their WordPress installation hadn’t been updated in ages. Performance and features were lagging severely behind, and so we added an overhaul of the forums to the list of things that were needed to make the project a success.
It was a daunting process, looking into different solutions and trying to find the right one. Sadly we made the wrong choice there.
A learning experience
Hoping to cut down on the number of places players would have to log into, we recommended using bbPress as the forum software for Heroes & Generals. bbPress was a good candidate, we believed, because it integrated well with WordPress and is made by some of the same people who pour their heart and soul into WordPress.
But this proved to be a textbook example of wrong assumptions and miscommunication due to tight deadlines. Both the volume and the features available made it unfeasible to use bbPress.
Once a decision to go in another direction was made we quickly pivoted to Invision Power Suite Community, and with a few quick tweaks to the WordPress setup, we managed to a integrate the two platforms, creating a unified experience.
Servers and all that techno-mumbo-jumbo
Now, you can write as much good code you want, but if the machines executing said code are underpowered it won’t do a lick of difference.
Here at Campground we’re huge fans of Linodes offerings, and as it turned out so are Reto-Moto. That made it delightfully easy to choose a provider for our setup.
From there, we’ve built an infrastructure that from the get go has been designed to not be clever, complicated or over-designed, while still being scalable and easy to work with.
For performance, we’re running with NGINX on our load balancer as well as on our web servers, with the screaming fast PHP7 engine doing the lion’s share of the work. And we’ve got a robust MySQL cluster running our databases.
All of this is with enough headroom so any sudden traffic spikes shouldn’t bring the setup to its knees, but we can still easily and quickly bring more capacity to spare should the need arise.
It’s not for fun’s sake that everything we’ve created for Reto-Moto and Heroes & Generals is based on open standards, open source software and “off the shelf” configurations.
At Campground we like our clients, but we also understand that needs can change, and we don’t want anyone to feel like they’re locked into working with us. So we want it to be easy to get a grasp on what we’ve been building, and to make it easy to switch providers.
We believe that this, among many other things, is why Reto-Moto and other of our clients are happy to work with us.