Combining team play and voice together. Fireteam’s design
focus was on team play. Just as we’ve seen in team-oriented sports,
the cooperative nature of playing as a member of a team has proven to
be a very addicting and powerful gaming design. Fireteam’s cooperative
nature was a symbiosis of our voice technology and team play design.
We needed to give people a reason to talk to strangers on the Internet.
Team play was that reason; it gives people the ability to say "Watch
out behind you!" or "Good job!" Teammates can share the
joys of victory or the agonies of defeat. Because there is no button
to push to transmit your voice (it transmits automatically when you
talk), players can hear the spontaneity of teammates yelling and laughing.
Emotion comes across very clearly with voice and is definitely preferable
to typing in ALL CAPS or emoticons. The ease of vocal interaction brings
the team together.
In a fast-paced
tactical game such as Fireteam, players don’t have time to coordinate
movements with the keyboard. Without voice, you limit team communication
to select macro keys (or players who can type very fast). In Fireteam’s
Basetag scenario, for example, teammates protecting the base can give
instant information on where the enemy is making its attack. Over the
course of their lives, people have already learned how to talk; it’s
an interface they understand. Vocal communication doesn’t require a
key card list for communication hotkeys, just a microphone to talk into.
of Fireteam's successes was its integration of voice communication
Designing the project around constraints. Multitude was founded
to do a game for the Internet. The Internet offers many problems that
we had to solve in order to make a fun game. The biggest technical problem
was Internet latency. Fundamentally, latency causes each player to have
something different on his or her screen, so there is always a delay
between a player performing an action and the other players seeing that
action carried out.
we decided early on that we wanted the game to respond as quickly as
possible. When you shoot at something during a Fireteam game,
you’ll see instantly whether or not you hit your target. The actual
damage will take a small amount of time to be applied to the target.
So it’s possible that you’ll see someone get shot, walk a bit, and then
die. The game cannot provide a perfect view of the world to each player;
that’s not possible given the limitations of the Internet. So we decided
not to show players their opponents’ health. If you can see that your
opponent has only a sliver of health and that one shot could kill him
or her, then you would expect that player to die instantly with the
next shot you made. By hiding opponents health from our players, we
hide the perception of lag.
constraints can also be exploited to the project’s benefits. Because
the constraint was that we needed to be on the Internet, we created
the community web pages to give players the ability to look at their
statistics and create Fireteam Companies. We wanted a strong
community for Fireteam, and the community web pages were an easy
way for people to have an identity in this community and to join a group
of other players.
Spending sufficient time to develop tools. We used several proprietary
tools to create Fireteam’s game environments. Early on, we spent
a lot of time building easy-to-use tools that allowed us to create content
rapidly. Our internal testers used these tools to create new arenas
for Fireteam. And because Fireteam is an online game,
we were able to test new maps very quickly with our beta testers.
is Tile Edit, our basic world builder. We quickly prototype the
physical layout of the
maps with this tool. It’s very easy to move walls around to achieve
the right game balance.
online game, game balance is crucial. Players will find any competitive
edge and map imbalance they can and exploit it. Especially in an online
game with a lobby, word of cheats or advantages spreads very fast. Your
tools must allow you to tweak your maps, so you can quickly fix any
small problems. Many of our maps changed during the course of testing
as our testers would point out weaknesses that they found.
recall a particular controversy over whether Gunball (a Fireteam
scenario similar to combat football) was balanced enough. Many of the
advanced players were complaining that Gunball’s offense was too hard.
Using our Tile Edit tool, we quickly created a few maps with two endzones
for each team (Gunball maps normally only have one endzone). Through
testing the new maps, we discovered some of the problems with Gunball
were unrelated to the maps themselves, but that the offense simply had
a disadvantage when trying to score. So instead of redoing all of our
map designs, we tuned the Gunball game by giving the Gunball carrier
a protective drone.
take the output from 3D Studio Max
(with our plug-ins) and, with our proprietary ZHMPView tool, convert
the files to a format
that Fireteam can read.
bonus of easy-to-use tools is that you can make them available to the
public and let your players customize the game and create their own
content. We haven’t yet taken that last step, because we’re not sure
how we want to store the maps on our servers and present them to the
risk: voice technology. The biggest risk in developing Fireteam
has been the voice technology. Many smart people initially said it was
impossible, but we knew that the game’s design objective was a cooperative
team game, and voice was very important to accomplishing the goal. So
Fireteam’s first technical project was to determine whether or
not voice on the Internet was even possible. Once we had the technology
running over the Internet, we still faced the possibility that it wouldn’t
work with the wide spectrum of sound cards in the market.
to minimize the problems that voice would cause by providing users with
a tool that would configure the sound card and microphone during installation.
Multitude was very aware (almost scared) of the fact that Fireteam
would represent most users’ first use of voice technology on their computers.
So we had to make sure that it worked on as many sound cards as possible
and that it was very easy to use. We eventually released Fireteam
as two executables — one for systems with DirectSound and one for systems
that we explicitly did not put into the game was the ability for players
to talk to their opponents. We wanted players’ first experience with
voice to be a positive one. We didn’t think a 12-year old telling you
where to put your gun in his shrieking voice would convince people that
voice is a wonderful addition to gaming. Similarly, people asked for
the ability to eavesdrop or steal another team’s radio and listen to
the other team. This feature would impel team members not to talk if
they believed they were being monitored. These types of behavior would
weaken the voice feature.
Promoting community. If you’re going to design an online game, you
cannot ignore the community. Any online game, from Fireteam to
Poker on AOL to Ultima Online, will have a community because
the players will be able to communicate with each other. Online game
developers should take advantage the fact that their product inherently
has a community. Most online games go through alpha and beta online
tests mostly to test the software, but few deliberately create or test
the community aspects of a product. Players are not only a source of
revenue for a project, but they are a feature of your game. In an online
environment, the players’ game experiences are dictated by their teammates
and the opponents against whom they play. You want the players to follow
guidelines and really care about the game and the community. If your
population is full of a bunch of player killers, then that’s the experience
that the players will get.
succeeded in developing community-enabling tools. We spent significant
time and discussion on our lobby and community web pages. Given Fireteam’s
team nature, we wanted players to feel a sense of belonging so that
they would want to save each other’s lives. The Fireteam product
is not just the game itself. The game is an important piece of the Fireteam
experience, but it’s only a piece. The community plays a large part
of the whole experience.