Popular sci-fi construction sandbox Space Engineers has always been fun to play solo, but multiplayer with more than a handful of players was a frequently miserable, laggy experience until today. Developers Keen Software reckon that with today's patch - update 1.187 - they've finally cracked it. They've even snuck in a few new features, such as multiplayer safe-zones (where you can't wantonly break stuff or shoot each other), plus a new female model for your virtual space-person.
Detailed in a lengthy dev-blog post, the multiplayer overhaul apparently took six months of work. Assuming a decently powerful server, Keen Software's target was for 16 players to be able to play at full speed in a shared world with a reasonable limit on the number of active blocks and machines. I've yet to try a heavily packed server, but they claim multiplayer is now running smoothly with up to 32 people, going as far as 64 if you focus on shooting instead of engineering.
Rather than limit the number of blocks, every piece of machinery in the game now has a Performance Cost Unit value attached. An average server may have a PCU cap of 100,000, and a large spacecraft may take up 14,000 of that, whereas a single-seater space fighter will only use 3000 or so, according to their figures in the patch notes. If you've got a set number of teams playing competitively, the PCU limit will be divided between them, so as to keep things fair.
In order to get people trying out the improved multiplayer side of the game, Keen Software have set up some official dedicated servers. While these will be free for everyone for now, the patch-notes mention that they'll have to start thinking about how they're going to fund maintenance for these official boxes after a month. Nothing's set in stone right now, but it's a nice gesture and a good way to get people trying the game out online.
Space Engineers is available on Steam and Humble for £15/€23/25.