Twitch Plays Pokemon Breaking Twitch Chat

Twitch Plays Pokemon Breaking Twitch Chat

The ongoing social gaming experiment is testing Twitch's chat infrastructure.

Perhaps you've heard of Twitch Plays Pokemon? One random Twitch-using programmer set up a stream of Nintendo's Pokemon Red for Game Boy with a twist: the game is controlled via commands in the stream's chat channel. Confused?

"It is an IRC bot that listens for buttons being said in chat and then simulates the press of a keyboard key in the OS which in turn presses the corresponding button in the emulator," the stream's creator told Joystiq. "It's code I wrote myself that utilizes a few libraries for functions like connecting to IRC and simulating key presses."

Someone types "A" in the chat and the game attempts to simulate an A button press if it's not already executing a command. The stream has been running for nearly 8 days straight at this point, with over 75,000 concurrent spectators at one point. Surprisingly, although the player character is being controlled by over 75,000 spectators at the same time, they've achieved a great deal. They've collected four badges, grabbed the lift key and Silph Scope, and they've defeated Blue. You can track their entire progress in this Google Doc, on Twitter, or on Reddit.

The stream's creator recently added the Anarchy/Democracy system to the stream. Players can push the meter towards anarchy, which mirrors the previous free-for-all system, or they can choose democracy, which tallies up all the commands within a certain time frame and goes with the most popular option. According to the creator, the system was added to make the game more "beatable".

"It's to make the game beatable without modifications," the stream creator told Polygon. "I didn't want to babysit the stream and nerf the game. I'd rather the game be beaten on its own terms (even if it is a romhack). I wish I came up with it a little earlier. It has worked surprisingly well but I'm thinking of making it a little harder to change modes. I find both the modes interesting to watch in their own way and I think the divisiveness of the community is exciting."

It's all very interesting to watch, but there is one problem. Twitch was never meant to have that many people talking that much in its chat channels. Its chat system is based on IRC, and the insane traffic is beating down Twitch's servers.

"The unique nature and huge chat participation in the TwitchPlaysPokemon experiment has put enormous (and unforeseen) stress on our chat system. We're always working on improving the QoS of our chat system, and this has been a wonderful learning experience for us," wrote Twitch director of customer experience Jason Maestas in a blog post.

"Our first adjustment on Sunday was to move the channel off of our general chat servers onto a dedicated event chat server, which we typically use for large events like The International and League Championship Series (LCS). This helped, but there were some fundamental issues with our chat infrastructure that required a review."

Despite the server stress, Twitch stands firmly behind Twitch Plays Pokemon and its various offshoots, like Twitch Plays Pokemon Plays Tetris.

"This is one more example of how video games have become a platform for entertainment and creativity that extends way beyond the original intent of the game creator. By merging a video game, live video and a participatory experience, the broadcaster has created an entertainment hybrid custom made for the Twitch community. This is a wonderful proof on concept that we hope to see more of in the future," said Twitch VP of marketing Matthew DiPietro.

[Cover Image Via Reddit]

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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