Creating A Compelling Story Line in Multiplayer Heavy Games

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.

Under the Microscope: Metroid Prime > Part One

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Today is the start of something special!… Or at least I hope it is. :0 I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a few months and finally decided to put rubber to the road! Welcome to Under the Microscope with your esteemed host, Doctor Bambi! What lies in wait for you is adventure and things! My vision for this is pretty simple. I want to walk through great games and dissect elements of the game design, just to see what I can find, and share them with you! ^__^ As an aspiring game designer I thought this would be a good way to learn from the best and also contribute to the community. Hopefully we’ll all learn awesome things and discover some core principles that make a great game great! I’m sure there are points I’ll misstate or perhaps you have more you’d like to add, so feel free to speak up if you feel so inclined. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride!

To start off, I’d like to make you aware of some names and give you a better feel for the people who made this game in particular possible. To start we probably all know this game was published by Nintendo. It was collaboratively developed by Retro Studios in Austin Texas and Nintendo Co. in Kyoto Japan. The names I’m about to get to can be found on this URL: http://www.giantbomb.com/metroid-prime/3030-15473/credits/ I wish I could talk about every individual, but these were the key people who had the final say on what made it into the game.

Lead Designer: Mark Pacini

Mark is currently a game director at Armature Studio

Lead Artist: Todd Keller

Most recently, Todd has worked on Batman: Arkham Origins- Black Gate

Lead Programmers: Jack Mathews, Andy O’Neil

Jack is the co-founder of Armature Studio, also worked on Black Gate

Andy is now the president of Bluepoint Games

Lead Audio: Clark Wen

He is now working at Neversoft as their audio director

Alright, so to start this series off, lets take a look at the start menu. So the first thing that’ll probably jump out at you is the atmospheric music. The music in this game is absolutely incredible and the main menu sets an intense tone. Every time I boot up this game, I feel that deep immerse gravitas wash over me. I’m playing a Metroid game. The next thing that’ll probably grab your attention is the setting of this menu. Swathy fluids and and little bits and strange growths. Like looking at the internal workings of a living cell… under a microscope. ;D The imagery will create a subconscious note in your mind about elements that will unfold within the story. What are the space pirates doing? Growing metroids again and also genetically modifying various other space life. Dang pirates. When pressing the start button, you’ll notice the music picks up. The tempo increases and the overall tone of the song is more intense. Getting you fired up to jump in the game. After selecting your file, it’s off to the races. Metroid races that is. Oooo maybe that’d make a good spin off. Metroid Racing. Okay, forget I said that. Also the panning around the various objects in the background helps give each individual menu a sense of place in the overall hierarchy of the menu system. I don’t think there’s too much more to comment on that. Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll be actually starting the game! *audience gasp* Thanks for reading, glen mates!

Creating a Much More Imersive Gameplay Experience

I was playing Dishonored not too long ago, and I found something really interesting.  One of the many reasons this game is one of my favorites, is the deep customization of your HUD.  I wanted to do a little experiment.  I went through and turned off all items on my HUD.  What resulted was quite shocking to me.  The game felt more fluid and real.  Now instead of a graphic popping up telling me what to do, I just… did.  The game forced me to internalize the controls, which granted, can be kind of scary and frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it (in about 15 minutes or so) you’ll find a much deeper and personal experience.  Now the developers aren’t spoon feeding you.  A sword is on the table?  I better pick that up.  As opposed to, *get close to table* *see pickup prompt* oh, I better hit “x” here.  There’s someone on the other side of this door?  I better peek through the lock to see if I can get past him.  As opposed to, *approach door* *two prompts appear* *”x” to enter, “hold x” to peek* I better hold x and see if a bad guy is in this room.  Just look at the difference of these two scenes and decide for yourself which one you think feels more natural:

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But what does this mean for game design?

Well, you have to realize how long games have been set up this way.  In fact, I bet a lot of hardcore gamers would have a hard time adjusting to the idea that you can’t see how much ammo is left in your clip.  The opposite side of the fence argues this: imagine your experience if you weren’t burdened with checking your clip status every 10 seconds?  Certainly, you do need time to figure out the controls, quite a bit of time in fact.  I performed this test after having played many many hours with Dishonored.  I know the controls like the back of my hand; this could lead to some biased results.  So, I plan to do a test with Bioshock Infinite, a game that I’ll have no experience playing.  By timing myself and seeing how long it takes me to learn the controls of a triple A title, we’ll see how plausible it is to take away a gamers HUD.

But how would you work around no HUD in your implementation of feedback?
The best and most realistic way to give a player feedback, is to have natural stimuli impact the character in such a way that grabs the gamer’s attention.  Instead of flashing a message on screen that you’re burning from a fire, just have an animation of the character model that implies, “hey, you are on fire, you might want to figure out a way to put that out before you burn to death.”

My Suggestion
I believe that there is a very simple answer to all of this:  start the player off with full HUD and tutorials and the like.  Then, as they progress through the game, slowly, one by one, remove each piece of data until there is nothing left between the person and the world they are exploring.  It’s great that Dishonored lets you adjust these settings, but many people hate digging through menus and tweaking the controls.  Let’s not destroy their chance at a deeper experience just because of that.