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What We Can Glean From Lost Planet's Chaotic Multiplayer

by Nick Halme on 05/18/10 01:39:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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When Capcom's Lost Planet came around it filled a void.  There were very few shooters with communities on the 360 then, and like any early title I grappled with it.  I did the same with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.  But Lost Planet kept me interested.

It kept me playing because, in that distinctly Japanese way, it insulted me.  What was there was a grievously unbalanced experienced -- but that's not doing it justice.  Unbalanced supposes there was the intent of balance, but that's wrong.  What I saw as an end user was a sandbox with tools thrown in, and the kids who learned to use the tools, won.  No matter that some tools were better than others, or that the tactics were drawn up around exploits in the animation system -- the tools were there, and the impression was: learn to use them, or go find another sandbox to play in.

Being set on never letting computer code deride me, I stuck with it.  While I don't think I wasted that time, it was a very strenuous, stressful experience.  I forget what the maximum level was, but I believe I got to the top or very close.  I racked up a lot of hours.

Now that Lost Planet 2 has arrived more toys have been thrown into the sandbox, but it's the same old game.  That's led me to some introspection: to Capcom, nothing there is broken.  It's for Lost Planet fans, and that's it.  Broken system or not, it's the Lost Planet system.

But why is it broken exactly, and what did I learn?

No Second Chances Are Not Fun 

This is apparent in Halo: Reach as well, with current grenade balance being what it is: a grenade is thrown across the map, and you die.

In Lost Planet there is a dance of death that occurs around their strict animation system and is supported by their weak conventional weapons.

For those who haven't played, Lost Planet is notable in that animations wrest a lot of control away from the player.  A nearby explosion will send you into a stumble, some guns will freeze you in place every split second you're hit, etc.  You play around the animations.

So saddlepoint strategies have emerged:

1) Throw grenades.  Grenades are one hit kills.  Granted, throwing a grenade leaves you vulnerable in a long throw animation, but thrown from a safe distance or while evading, and they end a fight very quickly.  Too quickly.

2) Evade. While bunny hopping is still quite prevalent and effective, the roll evade is also spammed.  Depressing L3 and pressing A in a direction will cause a roll animation with some invincibility frames.  Done wrong this can allow an enemy to predict your path, but done right (and most users do it right) it leads to the invoking of invulnerable harassment ending in an instant kill-shot.

Both these strategies play off of a large weakness: the default rifle is very, very weak.  While it can be used skillfully to stun an opponent, the bullets from one magazine alone may not be enough to kill.  This leaves the shooter open to attack, especially if his opponent breaks the stun and starts rolling -- shooting with the default rifle, you're opening yourself to outside attack or direct attack from your target.

So, the thing to do is constantly evade your enemy while throwing grenades.

And the problem with grenades is that they allow no learning curve to exist.  It becomes binary.  Execute the strategy and compete, or you die.  There are no alternate paths to improve upon, rather the player is forced to understand and then copy what his attacker is doing to him.

Instant death does not lead to fights, it leads to one-sided victories.  That produces the urge to continue out of spite for some, but it also causes, I suspect, more players to just leave.

Starting Out Weak Is Not Fun

The aforementioned default rifle is not a new idea, but it does stick out.  In Unreal Tournament and Halo players start out with a weak weapon, but it's still effective enough to allow for players to ignore picking up bigger, better weapons.  It gives players the satisfaction of knowing they used the simplest tool to dispatch a foe -- which implies they have skill to flaunt.

Lost Planet does not exactly allow this.  It is a weapon rush game, more like Quake.  While running around with Enforcer pistols in UT is viable, running around with a machinegun in Quake and fighting enemies with rocket launchers does not work.

More powerful weapons and mech suits that require massive firepower to bring down compound this problem mercilessly.  Players need to get rid of their starting weapon quickly, or barring that -- evade and throw grenades.

Do Not Compartmentalize And Segregate Your Own Game

While Lost Planet 1 had the more acceptable Ranked and Player matches, Lost Planet 2 has Ranked, Player and Faction matches.  The latter being supported by a metagame: choose a team associated with a player skin and fight in Faction matches for long-term reward points.

The problem is that, like Lost Planet 1, players do not play anything but Ranked.  Lost Planet is all about rank, not just for new skins and items but for bragging rights.  In Lost Planet 1 it was even more so, with skins being tied to rank -- you knew you were fighting a pro if he was playing with a Nevec skin.

This results in one of two scenarios: players are split between these match options and wait times for matchmaking are increased, or: players almost entirely disregard all but one accepted match type.  The former being bad because of end-user experience, the latter being bad because it means wasted money and manpower developing something nobody uses.

Do Not Take Playlist Control Away From Users

Ranked matches are a gamble.  You don't know what you're going to be spending your next twenty minutes in, because you could be playing any game mode from deathmatch to post grab (think territory grab).  Add a voting tab that's hidden and unmarked, and you have players entering a match they don't want to be in.  And you know what happens every time a free for all deathmatch game starts?  Half the players quit.

What's most ironic about this?  I'll keep playing Lost Planet 2.  Despite all its flaws...well, despite all its flaws I'm an idiot who will continue to torture himself.  Stay tuned, maybe one day I'll figure out why I do it. 



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