Niantic’s platform overview: what technology to expect in Wizards United?

Harry Potter Wizards Unite
Harry Potter Wizards Unite

After more than a year of data mining Pokemon GO, we feel we have a fairly solid understanding of how Niantic’s tech platform works and in what way they build their Augmented Reality layer.

In this article we will explore and dissect various technological aspects of a modern Niantic game (Pokemon GO) and help you understand what to expect from the technology in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.


An honest disclaimer

Most of the features we’re covering have nothing to do with the game client but are inherently tied to Niantic’s server infrastructure. In addition, almost everything we’re listing here is hidden from the player and was discovered by data mining and reverse engineering.

Wizards Unite Hub does not promote cheating, game client modification or any other form of ToS breaking activity.

Protocol buffers as the network protocol of choice

Netcode is a general term that refers to the entire code base that a game uses for networking purposes. At the heart of every netcode is a data transmission protocol that the company specializes in.

Niantic specializes in protocol buffers, or as they’re more often called, protobuf. Protobuf is a mechanism built by Google that saves network bandwidth and allows for faster transfer rates when compared to other networking protocols like XML and JSON.

The protobuf website says the following:

Protocol buffers are Google’s language-neutral, platform-neutral, extensible mechanism for serializing structured data – think XML, but smaller, faster, and simpler.

We also know that Ingress is also transitioning to protobuf in 2018, with Ingress Prime using the protobuf networking protocol to full advantage (source Fevgames).

Possible GAME_MASTER file as the main game configuration file

The Game Master file is a special configuration file spotted first in Pokemon GO. In a nutshell, the GM file enables the game client to read important encounter / spell / stat information without making multiple calls to the server. Essentially, the Game Master file is a static configuration file pretending to be a local cache service.

Given the recent revamp of how the Game Master file is downloaded in Pokemon GO, we expect a similar file will exist for Wizards United.

OpenStreetMap as the Wizards Unite map provider

OpenStreetMap has played an influential role in Pokemon GO over the past 12 months, starting off as a secondary data provider for the in-game spawn mechanism and ending up as the only data provider for several facets of the game: mapping, spawns and POI descriptors.

OpenStreetMap is basically the stepping stone of Pokemon GO in today’s day and age, and given how Google Maps is banned in China, we expect OSM to be the only underlying data provider in HP Wizards United.

P.S. Google restricts access to some of its business services (like YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, Maps) in certain countries or regions, such as Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and almost all Arab countries.

Ingress data will be the core of the POI system

Similar to Pokemon GO, Wizards Unite will also utilize the same good old data set collected by Ingress players over the past few years. This data set has been significantly expanded and curated in 2017 via Operation Portal Recon, however, there is no running away from it: Points of Interest that are currently available in Pokemon GO will also be something of significance in Wizards Unite.

Niantic doesn’t have another gigantic data set covering cultural and historical POIs around the globe, do they?

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Patrick Terry Jr.
Patrick Terry Jr.
3 years ago

Isn’t Niantic only providing the map data, not anything else

GO Hub
3 years ago

That’s what we initially thought, but after reading a number of interviews with Niantic and WB representatives, it seems their role has changed!