Friday, April 4, 2014

Player Vs. Player - The Basics

In an earlier article I talked about the value of player vs. player competitions in gaming and how it can be effectively used in the industry to develop more depth in fan bases. This article will be a continuation of that article in some senses as I will break down, in my opinion, what the basics of a player vs. player game is. This concept isn't isolated to just video games as we see other kinds of games implementing the backbone of "it's you against you" and whoever does more of something wins the game. You can talk about board games and card games in this same breath and you would be able to understand the foundation of a multiplayer competition.

Before we can go and touch on the more specific and complex features of a game, we have to know the basics of the medium we are using. We have to know that the kind of game we are making is built for more than one player. We are not talking about Solitaire with cards here. We can be talking about a racing game and we can use Mario Kart as a basic template for inspiration. Player 1 is driving a very fast car with good handling and decent turning. Player 2 is driving a slower car but it has tremendous weight and is a more effective turning car.

Think about one good fable that Aesop told, which is the Tortoise and the Hare. Being fast doesn't automatically mean that you will win, though it will give you an advantage. Slow and steady will win you a race if you know the tendencies of your car. What would you rather have? A blazing fast car that hits the wall very often or a slower car that has better grip on the racetrack? That's kinda the point. There is no wrong answer to this question, but just know what you are going to deal with depending on the car you choose. When gamers play racing games, strategy isn't usually a top priority, but when strategy gets pushed into the limelight, gamers will need to know what to do in the heat of that race.

Here's a general rule of thumb I would use for game design for multiplayer games. All players involved will think differently, so it's best to build around this. Player 1 and Player 2 will not think alike in most cases when they play against each other in a racing game or in a party game or in a fighting game. While we will have a set in stone list of rules that all players will abide by when they play, we cannot restrict them when it comes to options. Our players must be freely analyzing their situations when they play and they should be allowed to diversify in order to set up any attacks that they want to deploy against each other, or they should be given shortcuts to use when they go racing. Also, depending on the characters they play as in a party game for example, we should give players the option to use the abilities of their characters to their fullest extent in the confines of the game.

Here is another rule of thumb I would use for multiplayer gaming. Player 1 Vs. Player 2 should feel like a fun and special event. Make it so. I wouldn't literally go into such extremes as I only speak metaphorically, but there was a reason why people back in the day got up and went to the Roman Colosseum to see the many gladiator battles. Having one gladiator go up against another gladiator or having a group of gladiators take on a force of oppressors served as a form of entertainment for the people who watched. As Maximus Decimus Meridius once said in the movie Gladiator "Are you not entertained?", and that would hold true for gaming competitions. In multiplayer modes you raise the stakes in the metaphoric sense. You are dealt with the task of making more than one player care about this event at the same time. If it appeals to Player 1, it should appeal to Player 2 as well, and if Player 3 and Player 4 are interested, then the more the merrier.

Multiplayer competitions, whether online versions or console versions, are supposed to have some sort of carrot dangled over the playing field that will motivate all players to play. The video game we are making in general has to appeal to all players involved. We have to put a goal in place that any player can reach at any point in time and we have to make this goal fun. The goal we put in place has to be appealing and it has to be worth obtaining. What is the objective? We are asked this question many times in normal single player Story Mode campaigns but it applies to multiplayer modes as well. Do we have to defeat the other players straight up? Do we have to get better times than them? Do we have to score more points than them? Do we have to endure obstacles and outlast other players? Knowing your objective is key to knowing whether or not you will have fun with this event.

Will we have enough to work with in multiplayer modes? What will we put in our multiplayer competitions that will really wow players and will make them want to play? Do we have multiplayer-specific power-ups? Are we being timed in this event? How many advantages can players obtain to move towards their goals? What are the limitations? Will we be penalized if we do something we're not supposed to do? All such questions have to be floating around in our heads when we think of a multiplayer concept.

Tournaments, Battle Royales and Multiplayer Monkey Wrenches

Things really do pick up and the pot sweetens that much more if our multiplayer competitions are provided with these kinds of options in the game. You see it today on YouTube frequently and you used to see it in arcades on the fly. The addition of a tournament makes the general multiplayer experience even more fun and enticing. As a gamer, you get a stronger itch to jump in and participate in the multiplayer tournament because you are provided with another layer of motivation, another incentive to achieve your goal. Pushing bragging rights aside, which will inevitably emerge in some competitions, players naturally get up for multiplayer modes with objectives that have more than one layer to them. You have the basic objective of beating your opponents in the single multiplayer game, but now you have the larger objective of being the last one standing in a tournament, receiving an animated trophy that you can't bring home with you unless you somehow download it.

Battle Royales are pretty much the same in value as tournaments, although eliminations happen more quickly in this variation. In a tournament, you will only have to deal with single eliminations as you beat either 1 opponent or 3 opponents at specific times, but in a battle royale format you get to eliminate as many opponents as you need to win. A battle royale is basically a one round tournament, all or nothing, and if you get eliminated at any point in the battle royale, then you are done and you have watch the rest of the event play out. I will use a classic example of this in gaming. Destruction Derby 64, a game that not many remember, featured as many as 12 cars going at it, destroying each other and letting the nuts and bolts fly in 64-bit carnage.

Imagine if we implemented a multiplayer mode where we had 4 players in the arena and 8 other opponents were put into the fold as computer AI foes? Wouldn't that be something to think about in the planning process? Also, even though I don't really follow pro wrestling anymore, I did (and still do) like the concept of there being a Royal Rumble kind of event. A Royal Rumble in wrestling is a match where as many as 30 wrestlers can be in the ring at the same time and duke it out to see who is the baddest of them all. Of course, due to development limitations, we may not be able to put in 30 characters on the same battlefield at the same time, but putting in somewhere between 10 and 16 could be the sweet spot.

I am an advocate of fun being experienced by more than one player at a single time and I believe that if video games just got a little bit more bold in planning such as what I talked about, then we could be in for more interesting gaming events. We could be in line to experience competitions where the possibilities touch the roof in a reasonable way and we would better off with newly established memories of gaming fun. All too often these days I see a shortage of innovation in games that doesn't need to be stalling in the first place. All because of money considerations do we get rehashed features that gamers have already had and it's pretty pitiful, in all honesty.

Going back to the basics and establishing the feeling of player vs. player in the multiplayer side of the fence would at least keep the gamers coming back. That is only my opinion, of course.

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