The hunt for a good multiplayer PC game

Hi again, and sorry for such a big gap in my blog. Been busy with a few things and when I do get time, blogging comes around 11th on the list of things I want to do :)

Anyways, so my friends and I do some gaming almost every weekend night. Just the 4 (sometimes 5) of us spending some guy time playing multiplayer PC games over LAN. For the last couple of weeks, my friends & I were trying to figure out what game to play next.

We had initially started off with NFS-Most Wanted. We all played the single-player missions on our own free time, and we played lots of multiplayer races together. We created our own tournaments with different stages, lots of tracks etc, keeping track of our points in excel (I know!). It was fun while it lasted (over 5 months), but we badly needed a new game.

So it was Age of Empires II – Age of Kings next. There was a learning curve (still going on) for a couple of us, but soon we were playing custom scenarios, defend the wonder, deathmatches etc. Since all of those take a lot of time (we once had a scenario – 4 of us vs 2/3 hard computers stretching out over 6 hours leading to a sweetest victory!) , we could only play a game or 2 each session. So we started mixing in a bit of racing each session to keep things fresh. AoE lasted us some 3 months.

Our search for a new fun multiplayer game got us Flatout 2 next. It was surprisingly real good! Fast cars, good graphics, variety of realistic behaving tracks, collisions encouraged – what more does one need, right? But we were so wrong! We hardly played the races at all. The ‘Stunts’ in the game got so addictive, we played those as tournaments every weekend. Towards the end of 6 months, we were so good at those, the differences in our scores used to be in decimals. We knew it was time to switch.

Other than these 3 games which we played a lot, there were phases of 2-3 weeks where we tried some other games without too much success. Midtown Madness 2 was a lot of fun, but lack of decent graphics & customization didn’t appeal to one of us (he knows who he is :D). I loved Gunz Online, but having played a lot of that earlier, I was too good at it compared to the others; and it put them off :( Quake Live was too fast a game for most of us, and Worms : Armageddon was too silly (pity).

For the last couple of sessions, we have been playing Drift City, a game which feels like a NFS-MW clone. We loved the initial multiplayer missions in it, and we were hoping there were many more of those in the game. Not sure how long will the craze for this game last, but I am already hunting for our next game. Which brings me to the actual topic.

What is it that makes these multiplayer games fun? What elements do we (sub)consciously take into consideration while weighing a game?

The thing about multiplayer games is that there are a lot of elements which we look at just like in a single player game; but there are a whole lot of elements which differ from a single player game too.

1. Good multiplayer gameplay : This would be the #1 thing I look at before deciding if I want to play it. There are loads of games which are just great in single player modes, but would suck at multiplayer gaming . And there are games which are just the opposite too.

Good multiplayer games should give you that rush when you play them. You wouldn’t want to be playing a game with friends where you wait in ambush, spend a few minutes doing nothing but waiting for others to walk in a trap, and then cheer when that person is dead. You would rather wait around a corner and riddle the other team with bullets while tossing smoke grenades all around.

That is why racing games with collisions encouraged, damage off (Flatout, NFS) are more fun than serious racing, follow-the-racing-line-to-win (F1, Nascar) type of games. Same with shoot-what-you-see, lots of ammo games (Quake, Gunz) as opposed to stealth ones, you-have-3-bullets-use-them-wisely games (Splinter Cell).

2. Lot of re-playability : If gameplay gets me playing a game, re-playability is what keeps me playing it.

Most good multiplayer games can be replayed tens (if not hundreds) of times before things get boring. How many times can you play a shooting game where the enemy always pops out of the same place? How many times can you race around a street where the huge dumpster truck always is at the same intersection?

Games which have an open-ended play tend to be the ones you can replay the most. Think of AoE:AoK. Why is it still such a popular game 10 years after its release? Because there are so many different ways you can play this game – 18 unique civilizations to choose from, 5 different game modes, 23 different maps. And if you are still not satisfied, you can edit/create new maps, create scenarios etc.

Some games try (read ‘force’) to make you replay them by making you ‘level up’ to gain access to a different arena/track/scenario. Sure, those games you would want to play till you get the ultimate level. But a couple of things factor in :

(a) Is leveling up fun or just tedious doing the same thing over and over again?

If leveling up just means doing certain things (racing on the same tracks, completing the same missions etc) over and over again, it becomes a pain after some time and most players give up. I would too!

DriftCity is slowly becoming that. To get better cars, better power-ups, we need to level-up. But that means completing chase missions, deliveries etc over and over again. Don’t know how long that will keep up.

(b) What once you reach the highest level?

If the only thing I get is a badge (or appreciation) I am not going to touch that game again! But yeah, give me a whole new character (for RPG type games) or unlock a new city (for racing games) or some great weapon (shooting games) and I may play the whole game again.

3. Close finishes : This is one important (but neglected) factor in a fun multiplayer game.

Remember, not everyone in a group has the same skills for every game. So in spite of having a varied skill level, you don’t want one person to be way ahead of another. The losing person would lose interest in the game too soon if he thinks he is never going to make it. How do you make it fair for the better guy, yet give a small advantage to the other guy?

Well, some racing games give you a nitrous boost which takes your top speed to 150%-200% for a short period of time. But you don’t just get the ‘nitro’, you have to earn it. Earn it by colliding against other cars, damaging the environment, driving reckless (wrong lane, close swerves) etc. So it is pretty obvious the guy leading the race gets less nitro than one far behind managing to knock down almost everything he sees (every group has such a guy :D). So he can use his extra nitro boosts to try and catch up to the ones ahead.

Some shooting games have a ‘berserker’ (or similar) power-ups which you get when your health falls below a certain (5%-10%) level. The player gets a boost of strength, or his bullets do more damage, or he can move real fast (you get the idea) during the few seconds before he dies. This enables him to get some extra kills, get more points. Obviously, the more a player dies (aka the more he is n00b), the more he gets these ‘easy kills’.

Most multiplayer shooting games also give the player an ‘invincibility’ for a few seconds after he re-spawns (returns from the dead). Again, easy kills for the player who dies more often.

All these little things make sure the players end the race with a few seconds of difference or a different of 2-3 kills. Unless of course you have a real n00b in your team. Kick him out I say :)

4. Low system requirements (only PC games) : Not a very important factor in most cases, but definitely an issue for some!

Unless your group is people who are big-time gamers (or real rich kids), chances are that only a 2-year old game will run smoothly on your machine. Even if a single person in your group has a machines with a low end graphics card, your gaming sessions are limited to games which are no longer on the shelves :)

Not a bad thing in my case, as that turns out to be much cheaper ;) But yes, there is no way we can experience Left4Dead or NFS Shift or C&C:Red Alert 3. Well, in a few years, sure thing :)

So taking all this into consideration, let’s see what my ideal multiplayer game would be :

1. A fast-paced game with a lot of action, making enough adrenaline flowing in my system to give me cramps when I stop playing.
2. A game with plenty of arenas/tracks/scenarios/cars/characters/missions so I even forget what each one was.
3. A game where each of us are constantly rubbing shoulders throughout and complete the game with near photo-finishes.
4. A game with great graphics and which we all can play on a good resolution without it looking like a PowerPoint slide presentation.

Anybody reading this? EA? Blizzard? Ubisoft? Activision? Somebody?

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About Filya

'As you can see, we've had our eye on you for some time now, Mr. Jokhi. It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life, you're Firoz Jokhi, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a Social Security number, you pay your taxes, and... you help your wife carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias Filya, and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.' - The Matrix

Posted on December 17th, 2009, in Analysis, Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. well games is on of those things I never do…man time is so less….so so less…can’t we use the fourth dimension to keep extending the time and then jump back to the last point again…..

  2. I looked at this post and thought a)You all have way too much time. b)Cool.

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