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Multiplayer Level Design In-Depth, Part 1: The Specific Constraints of Multiplayer Level Design
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Multiplayer Level Design In-Depth, Part 1: The Specific Constraints of Multiplayer Level Design


October 26, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Special effects in a game are not only used for cosmetic purposes. They may be used to disturb vision, darken or light up the environment, leave footprints etc. Their use in terms of gameplay is obvious.

The same is true for map events. We have widely used such events in the multiplayer maps of Splinter Cell – Chaos Theory. For example, in the Aquarius map, the level designer positioned a destructible ventilation grille near a locked entry, with one of the map’s mission objectives behind (see the illustration below). If a defender uses a grenade close to this grille to kill an opponent, he destroys the grille and thus provides the latter with a quick route to his objective.

In this way, the constructive use of map events helps bring a new dimension to the gameplay of the map by changing both its layout and the defenders’ tactics. The maps of Splinter Cell – Chaos Theory and certain maps of Splinter Cell – Pandora Tomorrow are full of such interactions and use of special effects for gameplay purposes.

The amount of information exchanged among machines during a game session is proportional to the number of players. One of the direct consequences of the bandwidth bottleneck is the decision that has to be made regarding the number of players and the richness of the game (animations, special effects, map events etc.).


A destructible ventilation grille in Aquarius, one of the multiplayer maps in
Splinter Cell – Chaos Theory

The second technical constraint is the need to synchronize the events of the game. In the case of action games, the synchronization of the key events, such as shooting, is essential for the quality of the game. Synchronization problems account for the main cause of dissatisfaction among gamers. When a good player places the cursor on a moving target and pulls the trigger, he expects the bullet to reach the target immediately and exactly where he aimed at. A half-second delay is unacceptable. Good players are very precise in their game and feel “cheated” if the game does not react as quickly as they do. Some games, such as Soldier of Fortune on Xbox, handle this problem very efficiently

The third technical constraint is the lack of control on what the players will do. If too many players are found in the same place on the map and start generating explosions and causing many map events, all concentrated in the same area the amount of information exchanged between machines becomes too large and the refresh rate of the images plummets.

This problem does not occur in single player games, because the level designer would have made sure that the events which are likely to slow down the machine are evenly distributed. But in the multiplayer level, everything is possible. It is difficult to prevent the players from willingly “stuttering” their game session by overloading the CPU and the bandwidth, but good level design should minimize the risk of overload by encouraging players to spread out in the map.


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