Multiplayer Level Design Constraints

Pascal Luban wrote an article: Multiplayer Level Design In-Depth, Part 1: The Specific Constraints of Multiplayer Level Design. Luban covers issues that should be taken care when designing multiplayer game levels. Yesterday I wrote about world building tool so this article comes close to what I’m doing at the moment.

Here’s some parts I found quite interesting:

What are the main points of a multiplayer game that eats up bandwidth? First there is character movement and animations. In most multiplayer FPS games, character animation is very limited. What characters do most often is run, jump or crouch. But in games such as the multiplayer version of Splinter Cell, the wealth of animations is at the heart of the game.

I’m quite surprised to hear that animations would consume that much bandwidth generally speaking. I’m sure this could be the case with Splinter Cell, but I doubt that animations itself consume bandwidth: couldn’t you simply use couple of bytes to tell which animation is wanted and what frame has occured. Movement/actions in FPS game are definitely top bandwidth eaters. Anyway, let’s proceed.

In a single player game, the player goes through a level with a single objective in mind, finishes it and passes to the next. He only spends little time in each level. But in multiplayer games, the players will spend hundreds of hours on each map. All map weaknesses will then be found.

Thus, design errors or bugs that allow cheating are revealed and exchanged among players. A second consequence of this hyper-use of the maps is the risk of player boredom if the map is not tactically rich enough. Multiplayer maps must support thousands of hours of play without letting the player feel bored. One year after the marketing of Splinter Cell – Pandora Tomorrow, thousands of multiplayer sessions were still being played every day, this is the same for other tactically rich maps such as some Halo 2 maps.

I think this is very true: in multiplayer games each map will be played over and over. There must be enough tactically rich elements.

typical constraint of the multiplayer level design is the consequence of the highly competitive game style that is specific to this type of game (except for cooperative modes). Since the essence of the multiplayer game is to crush the opponents, the players search for the most efficient tactics, whereas in a single player game, the players tend to play at their own pace and explore all the possibilities provided by the game.

What are the consequences? First, players completely ignore many game features (weapons, animations, specific map functions etc.), even if they show a real potential. They will only use the most efficient features.

There were some good tips:

  • Players will only use the most efficient features.
  • Players completely ignore many game features. (I think this is very important to remember: some of the map features might never be used at all!)

I still think this is bit exaggerated statement: “typical constraint of the multiplayer level design is the consequence of the highly competitive game style”. I’m different. Even when I’ve played against my friends to challenge and win, I’ve sometimes chose “style over efficiency” – this means that I like to send Mordor orcs even when they might be poor. Sometimes I simply won’t be using the most efficient troops just because there are units that are cooler (even when these cooler units lack power). I’ve heard other players having more challenge by using poorer troops to beat opponent. That increases challenge.

The fourth constraint is the difficulty in getting average or casual gamers to engage in multiplayer games. The reason for this is simple: nobody likes being humiliated by losing repeatedly to gamers that give you no chance. Playing against a human opponent generates a lot of tension and makes the game more exciting, but also increases the stress level of an inexperienced gamer.

Luckily there are very intelligent self-adjusting players. It is quite familiar to see hosted games using names: “Only N00bS” or “All welcome” or “2 Pro versus 2 Pro”. Ranks and this type of adjustments help beginners to get in the game, but also help more experienced players to get enough challenge.

At the moment, multiplayer games are reserved for the hardcore gamers.

I disagree.

There are plenty of casual multiplayer games out there. There are some portals that are filled with extremely casual multiplayer games. Even makers of World of Warcraft said that one reason for WoW’s success was the design for both casual and hardcore players.

Bottom line: It’s nice to see more articles regarding multiplayer games and even though I disagree with some parts I think Luban’s article is worth checking and recommend reading it if you are into multiplayer level design.

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