Next time you fire up your favourite video game, locate the multiplayer option. In Diablo 2 it’s a button on your keyboard conveniently labeled ‘P’ (for posse). In most first person shooters there’s an entire section of the game that’s devoted to multiplayer, which you access through a menu option conveniently labeled ‘Multiplayer’ (for multiplayer). In an MMORPG you don’t even have a choice, you’re playing multiplayer by default.
It seems like if you plan to have any kind of computer game success at all today, you need a multiplayer aspect, or you’re simply going to fail in the marketplace. In this column, which will be the last of the concept design installments, I am going to talk about this multiplayer side of computer games.
Let’s start with the obvious group of games: the MMORPGs. In case you don’t know what the acronym stands for, it’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Hopefully you keyed in on the second word in that description: Multiplayer. The entire purpose of the MMORPG is for people from around the globe to interact with each other through the video game.
When the entire point of a game is multiplayer interaction, it’s really easy to decide if you’re going to include it. More specifically, some of the tools you will include in your game are already laid out for you. You must have a chat client, as well as private messaging. Odds are any MMO you play will include some sort of guild system as well.
A far more interesting decision when evaluating the multiplayer aspects of an MMO (or any other game for that matter) is how you want those multiplayer interactions to go. There are basically two sides to a multiplayer environment: PvP and Cooperative. In an MMO, you need to choose which one to focus on.
The first option is PvP, or Player vs Player if you’ve been living under a rock for the last fifteen years. The idea of this game mode is basically survival of the fittest. Everyone for themselves, and may only the strong survive. The game is fuelled by confrontation. Everyone is a warrior whether their weapons be sword and axe, or fire and magic.
In a PvP environment, you want evolution through conflict. Guilds rise and fall like empires, teams assemble and shatter… everything goes well until the unexpected happens. That unexpected is World Peace.
I see you snickering; don’t laugh at this. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again. If your game is based entirely on conflict, then it’s a very bad thing for everyone to stop fighting. Usually it means the server has to be reset and purged to allow the conflict to start all over again. Remember in a previous column how I said players will find new and unusual ways to play your game? This is one of them.
To keep this possibility in check, some semblance of competitive cooperative play must be introduced, and this is the second multiplayer environment for an MMO. Players are meant to work together to achieve common goals, like finding treasure or vanquishing monsters and demons. This is commonly known as Questing.
In a questing environment, you are rewarded for helping your compatriots and yourself at the same time. You might form guilds (again), or just go out with your friends for a relaxing evening of smiting ogres. Sometimes, going out looking for treasure is a welcome respite from a hard day of wizard murdering.
However, in a game based entirely on questing and cooperation, sometimes people get tired of it and start brawling with each other. Again, people will find new and interesting ways to play your game that you didn’t expect.
This is why any MMORPG must include both types of play. A healthy balance of both PvP and cooperative play is what makes an MMORPG worth playing, and it’s up to the game designer to decide where the fulcrum for this balance belongs.
Let’s move on to the other main game market at the moment. First person shooters are usually driven by a strong plot for the single player “campaign mode.” iD Software hired movie screenwriters to help with the plot for Doom 3, because they knew it was important. A lot of effort goes in to making the single player experience enjoyable for these games, and sometimes the multiplayer side seems like it’s just been thrown in at the end out of responsibility.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about a first person shooter having a multiplayer mode. Actually, it’s expected to have multiplayer, which is why everyone goes out of their way to add it, regardless of how good or bad they’ve made it. However, if you’re going to include multiplayer, go out of your way to do it well.
If part of a game is added without thought, the players will know. Players are pretty smart on average, and they always know when something was added at the last minute. Believe me, they don’t appreciate it. If you’re going to include a multiplayer aspect, do it right, and plan for it from the beginning. Like Halo.
That being said, there’s also what I like to call covert multiplayer. This is where many people can create content, and other people can download that content and play it. It’s not true multiplayer because only person is playing the game, but it allows people to feel like they’re contributing to the community, which is just as important.
If you build a level or a map, and you share it with people, the people who download and play your creation will appreciate the work you’ve put in to it. If you did a good job they’ll go out of their way to find more that you’ve done. This isn’t so much multiplayer as it is community building. Again, though, if you’re going to include this aspect in your game you need to plan for it at the beginning.
Many recent games have come with level design tools. You can tell from how the interfaces of these tools are designed whether they were last minute additions. In general, if it’s really difficult to use then it wasn’t thought out well at all, and was a last minute addition just because everyone else is doing it. On the other hand, if it’s nice and sleek like the level builder in Deadly Rooms of Death, you know it’s been well thought out and implemented to the best of its abilities.
And really, that’s the point. It’s okay to include some aspect in your game that allows the players to interact, be it multiplayer or level building, as long as you take the time to do it right.
And so ends the part of this column about designing the concept for your game. Not because that’s all there is; on the contrary, entire books have been written about this subject. I just don’t feel like running this column for seventeen years. There are other parts of game design, like coding and music and expansion packs, that all deserve to be looked at. However, before I get to any of that, look for something special in the next installment.
Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.