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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.