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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2
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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2

November 5, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

3. Improving multiplayer modes. Multiplayer game modes pose a tougher problem, and definite answers have yet to be discovered. I look to four different types of solution:

  • Simplification of the game concept. The more features there are to master, the harder it will be for the player to be on equal footing with his opponents. It was this method that was chosen by Ubisoft for the development of the multiplayer mode in Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

    As a reminder, the multiplayer mode in the Splinter Cell series was introduced in its second release, Pandora Tomorrow, and was improved in the third title, Chaos Theory.

    This multiplayer mode, developed by the talented Ubisoft studio in Annecy, Southern France, was hailed by the industry as particularly innovative and compelling. Tellingly, Chaos Theory's multiplayer mode is still played on Xbox Live (the game is Xbox 360 compatible) to this day.

    This extraordinarily rich mode nonetheless has a cost: its complexity. Having worked as lead level designer and play testing coordinator on the multiplayer modes of these two games, I am well-positioned to testify on the problem.

    While hardcore gamers appreciated the diversity and the sophistication of the tactics that they could develop, beginners struggled to simply understand where to go, and why. The problem was partially solved in Chaos Theory, but the game remained difficult to master. For Double Agent, Ubisoft gambled on simplifying the controls, the game objectives and the features. The game's spirit remains intact but it is easier to grasp.
  • The progressive introduction of game features and complexity. Gamers discovering a multiplayer mode could unveil new features, increasingly complex maps and more aggressive game modes as they pass thresholds (such as the number of enemies killed).

    This mechanism guarantees that a player will not be overwhelmed by a game's complexity, while retaining its richness. It also helps to get the player to play with gamers of an equal level. If implementing this solution, just make sure that that it can be easily overridden as a seasoned player might want to invite a friend to his session, no matter what his level is.
  • A ranking system grouping players of similar levels. This mechanism could allow gamers to play in a context better adapted to their level of skill.

    All multiplayer games feature ranking systems, but their effectiveness is often questionable when it comes to matching players of similar strength. The Microsoft TrueSkill ranking system could bring a valuable solution to this issue.
  • Game concepts focusing on cooperative action. Playing alongside highly skilled players is easier and certainly less intimidating than playing against them. Even if the players are grouped in several teams pitted against each other, cooperative gameplay within his team will help the player discover the game progressively.

    He could be helped by his more seasoned team mates, he could simply follow them or he could follow less exposed tactics like manning a fixed gun, driving a vehicle or simply defending a position.

3. Games to be played "where I want, how I want". Two aspects of design are involved in this concept: learning curve and density.

  • Learning curve. A common solution is to add a tutorial separate from the game itself, but as this has the effect of pushing back the moment the player reaches the heart of the game, games increasingly avoid this method.

    There are other solutions, however. In the Warcraft series, the numerous facets of the game are progressively introduced through the duration of the campaigns. A similar mechanism is used in episodes 2 and 3 of Metal Gear Solid, where radio messages conveniently explain new aspects of the interface.
  • Game density and separation. Demand for products that are playable in short bursts necessitates the building of shorter, denser levels. It also requires features such as auto-saving or resuming.

    Today, this system is increasingly prevalent in console productions. For instance, the positioning of automatic save points in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Naughty Dog's excellent action-shooter, is particularly well done.

    Save points placed too close to one another remove challenge for the player, since he no longer fears failure, knowing he can restart not very far behind his previous position.

    On the other hand, spacing them too far apart will frustrate the player who, in the event of game over, will have to consecutively start over and repeat a long section of the game.

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