Creating A Compelling Story Lines in Multiplayer Heavy Games

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Hmm…. think, think… How do we tell a compelling story in our multiplayer only game?

     Hey there travelers! Doctor Bambi here, back with another nugget of info to get those nerd juices flowing. With the new generation of consoles settling into their rightful place upon our tv stands, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on two of the biggest titles to hit next gen platforms and one common complaint shared between them both. The titles are Titanfall and Destiny. The complaint? Story line.

     First thing I’d like to say is that if you haven’t played either of these games, go do it. They are awesome and totally worth your time. BUT, if you were to go parooz the internetz for the reviewz, you’d find most people complaining about the shoehorned or impersonal story. So, how do you tell a compelling story in a game designed specifically for multiplayer?

     Titanfall tried to answer this question by creating the multiplayer mode Campaign. You’d get a short cut scene before each match began and then during the match, the characters would chime in with dialogue attempting to make you care about the moment to moment events. Of course it didn’t work… at all. When I’m wallrunning hundreds of feet in the air about to rodeo a titan and headshot that sniper off the roof, my last concern is the gabber that’s coming in over my radio. It’s like going to a movie and someone pulling out their phone and start gossiping about last night’s pottery class. It’s just super annoying. The dialogue should reflect the situation. Call of Duty has done this well for quite some time. Tell me pertinent information, like when there’s a sniper nearby or if a titan is about to crush my body like a rollie pollie. By forcing that story content into the heated gameplay, you make it near impossible for me to pay attention and I stop caring.

     Destiny does the same thing too. It tries to give you crucial information to the plot when you’re mowing down waves of enemies. This is not the time nor place. Plot moments that are epic in scale need a place for the player to really sit down and take in that moment.

     If you think back to half-life, when there was something of great importance that pushed the plot along, the game would essentially confine you to a small space where there was no threat of attack. This gave you the freedom to pay attention to the story unfolding before you.

     But of course these are multiplayer games, and when you’re with your friends, you’re less likely to be paying attention to the story anyway. Perhaps a truly multiplayer game like titanfall doesn’t need a campaign in the standard sense of the word. You have a gathering of real people, nothing will ever be more compelling than other humans. Give them the ability to make the story their own. Perhaps when you enter campaign mode, you are paired with a collection of people. There’s an area where you can all talk and get to know one another, make it personal, give this sense of being part of a team about to embark on something incredibly dangerous. Then have a branching path depending on whether you loose or win certain matches. Let the environment give a basic framework of the story, but let the system and the players discover their own unique moment to moment story along the way.

     More and more we are seeing the power balance between player and developer level out. In this new space where computing power holds few limits on our imaginations, game design cannot be constrained by factors taken for granted just a few years ago. With more time, developers will start to take better advantage of our connected world and build compelling content around that space. When we do get it right, it’s going to be awesome.

     Here’s to the future and what we make of it. Stay save travelers.

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