Blog of Scott Brodie

2.13.2009

Project Horseshoe 2008 Report: Multiplayer Game Atoms

I had the pleasure of being invited to Project Horseshoe this year, and I'm finally able to share what the other designers and I worked on over this amazing weekend in Texas. My workgroup's report is now up on the Horseshoe website, and it deals with making game grammar work with Multiplayer game scenarios.

Link: http://www.projecthorseshoe.com/ph08/ph08r5.htm

I think there is some great stuff in there thanks to the brilliant people I was paired up with, and I'm definitely curious to hear any thoughts you might have on our findings. The other workgroups also did some great work, so I would suggest you check them all out here.

2.02.2009

Social Design Principles of Aegis Wing

Raph Koster posted an article recently outlining a number of tactics designers can use to improve the social aspects of their games and virtual worlds. This sent me off on a path thinking about the social design of Aegis Wing, and which of these tactics we unconsciously employed to create the (IMO) pretty successful social experience that occurs during 4-player co-op multiplayer.

When we set out to design Aegis Wing, there was a very clear vision that everyone on the team quickly rallied behind -- we wanted to find a game that would connect people in a positive way, taking advantage of the unique strengths of Xbox LIVE. I think to start, having a clear vision of the aesthetic experience we wanted the player to have helped us identify the set of tactics we were going to employ. From Raph's list, I see a few that we identified right a way as core to our social model:

Mechanics where users do things to each other or with each other. Obviously, the attach system in Aegis Wing was always at the core of the design. Asking the player to make a physical connection with the other player, as well as asking them to sacrifice mobility for added firing power adds a very compelling system of trust to explore with other players. These bonds that players make in game were popular, and my only regret is that we didn't exploit this further with a more robust set of rules for connection.

Newbie helper, greeter, and mentoring programs. Despite Aegis Wing's hardcore shooter exterior, the game is actually well balanced to support groups of players with differing skill levels. For example, I've heard stories of young children attaching to their parent's ships, allowing Dad to drive while little Johnny cleared the way by turreting. I also found it fascinating to see many of the top leaderboard players offering to provide "escorts" through the insane mode for newbies. The collaborative nature of the game really encourages this behavior, and it is the primary reason I feel co-op is the way to go if you are looking to broaden the appeal of your title.

Player-voted awards for roleplaying, helpfulness, etc. I think our achievements were really well designed overall, and they incent players to test out the more team-oriented behaviors. I think having some way for players to display how helpful they are (maybe some sort of reputation statistic based upon how often they "drive" for other players?) would have punched this up a bit, but having these outside rewards helped build a community culture around cooperation.

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Most interesting to me is evaluating what tactics from the list we didn't use, and how we could have used them to improve upon the social experience further.

Design spaces intended for public and private events and Allow users to mark off spaces as theirs. The Xbox.com forums for Aegis Wing were surprisingly active, and what we found was that players were using it to compensate for the fact that the game itself did not have very good tools for just meeting up or scheduling group play sessions. I think providing players with easier messaging and scheduling tools, along with more robust lobbies may have made the Aegis Wing social experience stickier.

Quests to take you to vistas, quiet places, and badges for exploration and lay out traffic patterns with crossroads rather than one-way flow. Early on Matt Monson advocated for a more non-linear mission structure. The thought was it would increase replayability, and provide a more clear sense of space, as players would only be matched up with other players who were looking to complete the same mission. We had to remove this structure due to the amount of game levels our short schedule could support, but I think having a more open mission structure would have allowed for more crossroads to emerge that would have better encouraged this type of meta-social interaction.

Social minigames. I see a lot of ways this tactic could have made the lobby waits more bearable. Some sort of preparatory choice that could be decided upon while waiting for the next level to start would have made hanging out in the lobby more of a game activity versus a stop-gate before the "real" game actually began.

Permit not just group identity, but belonging to multiple groups. Another high level goal for Aegis Wing was to make the player feel like they were a part of their very own Voltron team. I do think this happens moment-to-moment, but the game does not provide any clear sense of group identity. I think something like a group leaderboard where teams could expose their combined scores would have been great fun, and would have encouraged replayability as well. We definitely missed the boat by not giving players a mechanism in the game that recognized group accomplishments specifically.

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I think article is a great read for any designer working on a multiplayer mode. I really enjoyed contemplating the value of this list -- from my experience using some or all of these tactics is vital if you want to create a social atmosphere around your game.