March 25th, 2009, 22:23 Posted By: wraggster
Even just on paper, the number for Insomniac Games' second Resistance title is impressive: 60 players in the competitive modes (which include straight deathmatch as well as more objective-based modes that divvy up all those players into squads) and 8 players in the cooperative one. While one would naturally assume that adding 20 more players to what was already an impressive feat in the original Resistance's 40 online players would just mean bigger maps, there were far bigger ramifications.
In a session titled "Pushing the Limits: The Technical, Design, and Social Ramifications from Increasing Player Counts in Online Multiplayer Games," Resistance 2 Cooperative Design Lead Jake Biegel and R2 Competitive Design Lead Mike Roloson detailed some of the issues they came across when upping the player counts to the largest seen in a console game thus far.
To facilitate including the three main components of R2's experience, the Campaign, Cooperative and Competitive Modes, the team was actually split into three separate, semi-autonomous units that were each building their own part of the game. Though they obviously shared resources, it wasn't until they came together in a move Biegel claims was "analogous to Voltron" that the game really became a whole; disparate units that combined to become greater than the sum of its parts.
The teams had almost no ties to each other's modes, and the difficulty, Biegel explains, was to continue to promote teamwork and sense of unity despite the sequestered bits of development happening simultaneously. As it turns out, these were themes that carried over into the game because, as Insomniac discovered in moving to a comparatively huge number of players in on a map, things graduated from simple game design issues to overall social dynamics.
Nowhere was this more apparent than when they first dropped 60 players into a map. Juggling these "mob dynamics" was especially difficult because nobody had really attempted a game of that magnitude before. It created what the team affectionately called "The Ball of Death" -- a huge lump of chaos that would move around a map and draw in other players into the conflict. The problem with this was that the chaos in the middle was largely impregnable; players would spawn, run to where the chaos was, and then get killed on the periphery.
This would eventually give rise to the game's objectives and, most importantly, the squad system that would not only split up the 60 players into groups, but assign them objectives and a rival squad to give the game a sense of rivalry and familiarity. After all, when there are 60 players running around, it's almost impossible to keep track of friends, much less that one person that keeps gunning you down throughout a match.
It was an example of the admittedly fascinating dynamics of social interaction. Mike Roloson equated it to a series of small gatherings. A six or so person dinner lets everyone stay cordial, encourages a central conversation, and lets some people dig a little deeper into topics as the flow dictates. When you double or even triple that, moving to around 15 people, then you start to see individual conversations and people starting to glom together into groups. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, as it's impossible to juggle four or five conversations at once with any real involvement, but it was nevertheless an issue when trying to pit people against each other. At 24+ players (or, as Roloson compared it, the "bar" setting), people begin to arrive in cliques and tend to stay in those, sometimes largely ignoring everyone else and staying within their bubble.
The trick, you see, is to have a central focal point (in the bar analogy, that could be a band or a sports even on TV) that bands everyone together and creates a channeled objective for the whole, while still allowing the freedom of having smaller groups. Thus, the squad system was created and forced rivalries were introduced -- apparently a source of internal contention. "The debate still rages," Roloson joked.
By breaking things up, the Ball of Death was mitigated to a degree and could even be manipulated as needed to create a sense that the matches had culminated into something bigger at the end. In truth, Insomniac actually designed their matches in both Competitive and Cooperative Modes to grow as they went on, keeping things isolated at first, and then layering in more squads until the matches reached a chaotic apex.
This worked no matter what the player count because of an innate ability by the dev team to scale the entirety of the experience. What begin as more compartmentalized map designs eventually gave way to shared maps that could then be divvied up into chunks for specific modes like Capture the Flag. In this way, the teams were able to share resources and hit their milestones, which Insomniac has oft prided itself on never missing.
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