• Posts tagged "Multiplayer"
Header

Blog Archives

Resource Allocation

Originally published on www.7outof10.co.uk

Games, if I may take a moment of your time to state the obvious, are complex items. Most modern titles are the result of many multiple of years’, if not decades’, worth of man-hours. Bioshock didn’t happen overnight; Ocarina of Time wasn’t dropped into Miyamoto’s arms by a passing stork; and the original Metal Gear Solid was definitely no happy accident. Each were carefully and lovingly assembled by a dedicated team who in the hope that they all might sit side by side in harmony and produce something magical as a result.

From inception to release the entire process is about resource management. Early on a small team, maybe skeletal in numbers, will work on a concept aiming to produce a prototype that not only gets across their core concepts but also acts as a showcase that can also be used to pitch their vision to a publisher. This could be the ubiquitous “vertical slice” or a more focused experience targeting just a solitary aspect. Either way, the choices of where their effort should be focused can be crucial. Many games never make it beyond this point, and not just because they are poor ideas; the design may be fixated on one aspect that the publishers simply don’t want or staff are spread so thinly across multiple areas that the overall quality suffers.

Should the concept be “green lit”, then the same issue arises again but on a far broader scale. With the team moving into full production the purse strings are loosened and extra staff are brought on board, either from other internal teams that may have recently shipped or with new hires. From having to initially impress the publishers, the target is to now impress the public and it is imperative that the increase in headcount is used effectively.

However, no matter how many producers and schedulers are involved there will be hiccups along the way. Requirements will change with internal/external influences, technical difficulties will crop up at inopportune moments, and the design has a tendency to evolve over time. One way to continue to meet milestones and stay on target is to cut whole sections of a project. If it’s not utterly integral then right up until the gold discs are pressed then features can hit the cutting room floor to save time in both development and testing. Something I can attest to first-hand.

An experienced team will know exactly what to remove. Having lived with the game since its birth then they will have a pretty good idea as to its strength and which areas need to be addressed. It is at this point that they don’t need a remit handed down from on high stating that no matter what feature X must stay. Or worse still, be added.

resourceallocation2

Speaking to Giant Bomb a couple of weeks ago, Ex-Midway producer John Vignocchi spoke of being forced to add multiplayer elements into Stranglehold, the 2007 game from John Woo. Claiming it was the “worst part of the game” he admitted that “no one wanted it” and in doing so he struck a chord with a great many people, both developers and gamers. There are countless games that have had multiplayer forced upon them simply because designers or, even worse, management feel that they need to include it. What then usually follows is a mediocre death match rehash that steals resources from the main game and yet adds nothing of value to the package as a whole.

This pandemic has existed for a long time, occasionally spilling over into a delusion that the multiplayer component is so strong that it can stand on its own (see Turok: Rage Wars). It has, however, been exacerbated by the introduction and standardisation of online platforms such as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. The comparative ease at which an online mode can be created means that developers feel compelled to do so. The likes of Prey, The Darkness, Haze, Stranglehold and Condemned 2 have all sullied the bandwidth of ISPs everywhere (although probably only briefly) and whilst none of their single-player components could be described as dreadful I doubt that the amount of man-hours invested in what – in most cases – felt like a tacked on multiplayer could not have been better spent elsewhere.

To put this into context, imagine if a good proportion of the Fallout 3 development staff had been taken off the main game to create a competitive shooter. Whilst this may make some salivate, think about which portion of the game’s polish you would sacrifice to obtain that. Would it still have received such glowing reviews across the board if it were compromised in such a way?

A growing trend is that whole separate studios are drafted in to develop a game’s multiplayer, which then could be argued that they are no longer dividing a team’s focus. Ultimately, though, there is still a cheque being written for the that work somewhere in the world.

But it is not just a division of resources. Part of what made Bioshock so incredibly special was the complete and immersive nature of Rapture. You were alone in a world of unhinged maniacs with nothing but the trickle of water and series of dubious syringes for company. Had the team not had the strength to resist the urge to put in an online component then I doubt it would have the same rush when I think back to my time spent under the waves. The sense of solitude would be dashed if, in the very same environment you had just lumbered as a Big Daddy, a pop-up exclaimed that you had just unlocked that map in Team Splicematch. The next time through I would not be able to shake the thought of other players having fought each other where I stood, most probably turning the air blue at the same time.

resourceallocation1

Of course, all single-player repercussions aside, when multiplayer works as well as it does in Halo or Call of Duty then many things can be forgiven. Those two brands alone have captured what fans what from an online shooter and over several iterations have managed to improve and refine the experience. Every ounce of effort poured in has paid off and they have made a daunting benchmark for any studio wishing to steal bragging rights from Bungie and Infinity Ward. So it begs the question, why would they try?

Returning to the list above, did Prey honestly believe itself better than Halo? Were those at Free Radical really thinking that Haze would actually dethrone Call of Duty? Deep down developers know where their game stands long before Metacritic begins its aggregation and I’m sure if they were being honest they would say “no”. Just because a game features guns it does not mean that is also has to feature multiplayer and it’s a shame that more developers aren’t brave enough to admit this.

The most interesting online modes that have emerged in recent times are those that try a different tact or where serious thought has been put into the strengths of a game: the one-up-manship in Red Faction’s destruction frenzies; the MMO stylings of Borderlands; and the care and attention lavished on Uncharted 2. There are enough shooters in the world that a mediocre and unloved multiplayer bolt-on should no longer be tolerated; and if we never see a co-op as lacklustre as Fable II’s again, we’ll be making progress.

Do you “FIFA”?

So what did you take away from TGS? Anything monster?

Back home I’m still without a Xbox hard drive and I’m twiddling my thumbs, relying on a storage device that is only just large enough to hold my profile and a Halo save game. It’s a good job my copy of FIFA 09 appears to be lost in the post as I don’t think I’d have room to save out a season’s campaign even if I wanted to.

Why are they using

This year the classic choice of FIFA or Pro Evo has swung in EA’s favour, for once. It’s been a good few years since I’ve bought into their highly polished version of the beautiful game but with all their leaps and bounds forward, compared with Pro Evo’s continuing insistence to neglect to fix up niggles that have plagued the series for years, I’m happy to invest. Play seems smooth and natural, and for as much as I have the greatest respect for Konami’s efforts they just haven’t evolved enough, in my opinion.

Continuing on from my enjoyment of UEFA 2008’s multiplayer, FIFA brings with it what can really only be described as a clan system. A whole squad of you and your friends can get together, form a “club” and then up to ten of you can play online at the same time in the same team. Obviously this could be disastrous and I initially had visions of a school playground where players would flock after the ball like birds in migration, but when executed well with a group of competent team mates it does have tremendous potential.

The sticking point may be which team we adopt as I’ve seen one friend obsess over Cheltenham town, we have a Cardiff support in our ranks and Spurs aren’t exactly setting Europe alight this season. We may have to go for some neutral ground… Spain or Brazil, maybe, as a compromise.

Online annoyance

Over the last few days, a reasonable chunk of my spare time has been spent tearing around Liberty City generally causing what’s known as a disturbance. Things are going well, I’m still enjoying the experience, but one thing has started to grate and that’s the online mode.

Put simply, where is the private match option? There is no way, so it seems, that you can create a closed party where just you and your friends can chill and try out the game modes on your own.

Prime example of this was where we decided to enter free-play mode and were causing an impressive amount of havoc, when a stranger popped into our game, walked up to us, blew us all up and then left, undoing all our efforts of the previous half-hour.

It’s a minor annoyance, I know, but when the game is so good you’d expect all the simple bases to be covered; I don’t want randoms I don’t know ruining our six star spree.

That aside the online modes seem really good, with the free roaming city a great achievement. Highlight of this mode was where four of us all stole attack helicopters and roamed the skies above Liberty City… until it ended in a bloody fireball as three of us met in a midair collision.

Goooooooooooooooooool!

Here’s just a quick example of what I mentioned yesterday. It’s a goal we scored as Spain in EA’s Euro 2008 converted and uploaded into a nifty little Flash file.


Pretty sweet finish, eh?

Many thanks for Manny who not only supplied me the gubbins to get that working but also the through ball that was so clincially tucked away.

Credit to Jeroen Wijering for the Flash Player. Information on installation can be found here.

UEFA 2008

For most of my life I’ve been a Pro Evo man. Compared to the FIFA series, it offered a greater level of realism and really made you work for everything that you did, which I found very rewarding. The gap over recent years, however, has been narrowing, with the recent outings for the behemoth EA steadily improving, leaving the more arcadey feel of previous titles behind.

The latest release, UEFA 2008, adds another string to its bow with the Captain Your Country mode, where you take choose a single player and then take control of him throughout the entire qualification campaign. Starting in the B-Internationals, you must work your way up through the ranks to first earn a squad place and then the captain’s armband.

Playing as a single position for the entire season may not sound inspiring but it brings a refreshing new dimension to the game as it allows you to think about how the game is played in a completely different fashion.

Man on!

Taking the role of a striker, you’ll no long have to rely on the computer starting to make runs for you, taking control only when you’ve slipped yourself a through ball from the midfielder you just sent on a scything run. Instead, you’ll be constantly watching the line, calling for the ball and doing your best to make space whilst the AI does the mundane defensive duties.

The added feature is that you are actually rated for everything you do and poor play will see your Man of the Match score slowly tick down. It definitely encourages you to keep your passes true and your shots on target as you can risk the loss of the captaincy if you put in a shocker.

As always in these situations, multiplayer takes a good idea and makes it even better. With four of you playing in this mode you get a sense of team play as never before as it is infinitely easier to keep tabs on what is going on without the flicking of cursors between different men.

In the couple of hours we put in post-palooza, some wonderful goals were carved out with defenses being pulled out of position and inch-perfect crosses. Furthermore, these Goal of the Month contenders can even be saved to Flash files on the game’s website so you can relieve that clinical finish over and over again.

If you like your football games and you can stomach the third high-profile release in the genre in the last six months, then UEFA 2008 is definitely worth your time.

Bricking it

Throughout Microsoft there are a lot of what I term “guff email rings.” Groups of people all subscribe to an email alias with the sole aim of talking crap on a variety of topics whilst inserting as many lolcats as possible into a single, off-topic thread.

Mostly they contain nothing but whittering noise but occasionally, just occasionally, an utter gem appears.

Ladies and gentlemen, in honour of this weekend’s Halopalooza, may I present to you the LH3FFK: The Lego Halo 3 Foundry Forge Kit.

Hats off to this man who has spent over $300 creating this fine piece of geekery where he is able to mock up his Forge creations on his dining room table before jumping into the map maker itself.

Legendary

“W00t!!!!!!!!!1!!!eleven!” and other such internet exclamations of joy. The Legendary Map Pack for Halo has landed, and just in time for this weekends Halopalooza.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of Dodgeball, Grifball, Ram Raid, Avalanche, Blackout and Ghost Town. Good times ahead.

Grifball

I discovered a new love over the weekend: Grifball. An oh-so simple custom game from within Halo 3′s bowels that could be considered a cross between rugby and whack-a-mole.

There is a ball in the middle of the pitch and the aim of the game is to get it into the opposition’s goal. Simple.

Now replace “ball” with “bomb”, “goal” with “enemy spawn zone” and arm everyone with gravity hammers and you can see how Grifball starts to mix things up a little.

It is ridiculously simple but played with a group of friends and over a period of time and it becomes quite tactical as you must first wrestle the ball from the opposition and then shield your carrier from their retribution. Going in and hitting wildly isn’t neccessarily going to work and a good sense of timing and team play is helpful.

After the stress (and, yes, it is stressful) of the ranked hoppers, such a relaxingly manic game type is welcome. They are short and snappy matches, and anywhere you can earn a Killimanjaro award is welcome.

Instant death

Despite coming out last November, it has taken me this long to plug Call of Duty 4 in and get online to experience the game that is keeping Halo 3 off of the top spot of Xbox Live’s Most Played chart.

I was too engrossed in being a Spartan to switch to this more grounded combat but having seen my office-mate Errrm constantly play CoD at lunchtime, I thought now was the time.

And not a giant alien in sight.

At first I hated it. As is always the way when you switch from nice comfortable surroundings to somewhere a bit foreign, everything is out of place and just wrong: sound effects seemed as though they had no origin; you died every twenty seconds; maps were disorientating; and all the weapons seemed unresponsive.

The problem was obviously that I was bringing my adventurous Halo style of play into a game that required a bit more thinking before throwing yourself into harm’s way. Two bullets could easily send you to the respawn screen and once I had accepted that, things started to get better.

A good marksman will be able to pick you off very quickly in the open so camouflage and cover are key. You’ll never find a fire fight out in the open (or at least, one that lasts very long) and so it hearkens back to my Rainbow Six days of caution and constantly edging around looking down your sights.

Behind the main game you’ll also find and RPG. Not Rocket Propelled Grenade, as it could easily have been, but a Role Playing Game, because for every good thing you do, i.e. assists, kills, recon activation, you gain XP which will allow you to gain promotion through the ranks, unlocking guns and abilities as you go.

It feels slightly cheap that the better players will have the better guns when you first begin but, as with all XP games, even those less-than-average players will be able to grind their way to the top to gain some loot.

Some of the abilities just feel cheesy, like the ability to drop a live grenade just before you step into the light, but most allow you to balance of your stopping power with your own sturdiness.

Unfortunately, there are a couple too many “cheesy” ways to get kills; given a good enough kill streak players can actually call in attack helicopters and air strikes. It is certainly something to reward players but I can’t decide whether this is madness or genius on behalf of the designers. Sure it mixes a standard shooter up but the majority of the time it just feels cheap as you die at the hands of an unseen enemy.

Having said that, CoD does a lot more right than it does wrong. Whilst I didn’t think its more considered pace would be my cup of tea, the added extras of unlockables and the sheer challenge of adapting to the environement have won me over.

This may not replace my Halo, but it sure is a good compliment to it.

Battle Report

A day late, but still here none the less, I present to you the battle log of the Humpday (also linked to in Articles on the side bar); a round up of all the slaying that occurred in the internet pipes linking Twycross to Redmond that is so big and juicy it deserved its own page.

Brace yourself.

 Edit: Bungie have also posted their own write up. Whilst they may have shown little enthusiasm for our final game, I do quite like the second paragraph in Game 2.