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Forum » SpaceEngine » Gameplay Discussions » The Myth of Multiplayer (Why do you want multiplayer anyway?)
The Myth of Multiplayer
MaffinDate: Saturday, 25.08.2012, 16:33 | Message # 1
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INTRO

As a newcomer, it's probably not worth saying what an incredible piece of work SE is. You know that right? But so many people have been waiting for this type of game, to see it actually realised so beautifully is fantastically impressive. The question is about the future and what direction it should take. Given the quality of imagination and programming already demonstrated, they probably don't need any ideas from anyone in truth. They should just keep going with what feels right, but after too many years in the industry, I thought I'd share a few thoughts, not that anyone needs to pay any attention dry

SPIRITUAL SUCCESSOR

David Braben told me, and others, that GTA (especially San Andreas and IV) are the real spiritual successors to Elite. No space game comes close in terms of the original idea, which was simply to build a fully working sandbox (Dan Houser prefers 'Open World' for GTA), where you have total freedom inside a genuinely continuous model. Once this universe is built, players are free to make up their own stories, just like playing 'tag' in the playground at school, and not have those stories compromised by bumping up against the limits of the model. It's why Lego is the best toy, because it can be *any* toy, and perhaps why MineCraft has had such an impact.

However, because executives and less imaginative players demand progression, familiarity and narrative (and with investors now insisting on paid for 'add on packs' and 'in-game currency') developers agree to augment this open world with some structure, some mini-episodes or missions, gently laid on top of the model, which ideally can be ignored by the more creative players, so everyone is kept happy.

People know this, and many games claim to offer 'total freedom' to the player. 'Choose how you want to play...' is often the tag line, but of course that's just marketing. In reality there was a real fight during the development of GTA III and Dan has done many interviews where he cites bitter arguments about why he wanted to let players drive down the freeway 'for hours if they like without a break' and totally ignore any narrative or story and just be left alone to play with the model world Rockstar has created.

Luckily for SE, it does not seem to have these bean-counters breathing down the necks of the developers, and perhaps we should think carefully about compromising this wonderful work without good reason. I don't want to throw the baby out with the suds, and there are many fantastic games like Assassin's Creed which are at the top end of executive and financial collaboration, but if you have the luxury of independent development, then you have the freedom to create not just new games, but new *genres* of game.

Life does not always have a 'goal' and you have to ask if you really improve a game like this by adding artificial ones.

WHAT DOES MULTIPLAYER ADD?

Not much, if you're talking about Final Fantasy or the Sims. Both these great franchises fail miserably once you let other people in. GTA IV again offers a hybrid, and WOW and EVE speak for themselves, but these are ultimately combat games, and although co-op modes can be fun in MineCraft, it feels like combat is always round the corner. Is this a trope you want to introduce?

I think the city model in GTA IV is *so* good, it makes a fun backdrop for a game of tag. It can be exciting too to know that those other people are real people, but even in Liberty City, the shops are closed, the streets deserted and that beautiful world is in limbo while you run around the airport trying to kill other players who are much better shots than you when you select 'multiplayer.'

Add to this the complexity of server farms, payment systems and managing the online space and you have to think hard about whether the gains merit the costs.

DO YOU REALLY NEED A STORY?

Do you need to feel a sense of progression in a game? Do you really want to 'level up'? Do you really need to 'make money' to 'upgrade your ship'? Don't you have enough of that stuff in the real world? Shouldn't games be an escape from that kind of grind? Why do you want to be sent on 'missions'? Do you really need something to 'do' or you'll get bored?

It seems to me as though NOCTIS is the real precedent here, and not Elite. There are any number of great space games where you can build up empires. It might seem fun to land on a planet and set up a colony, so leaving the ship you get into a kind of first-person mode and walk around. We all want that from SE, sure, to play at being explorer. Seeing things no one else has seen. But once you get into empires, races, alliances and Federations, aren't you limiting the model to those narratives, graphics and tone? Wouldn't it overlay an entire aesthetic on the superstructure of the game, and although we love Tropico 4, and the Anno series of setting up trade routes and watching our citizens grow, is that the soul of Space Engine?

NOCTIS would be ruined by attaching laser cannons to the ship surely? Isn't it exactly the feeling of loneliness and wonder that makes it so unique? Do you really want your games to be like other games?

AUGMENTING THE SINGLE PLAYER

So, what's the answer? When it comes to 'missions', then if your procedural engine can make landscapes it can also create missions. The problem that Braben found was that human beings have a fantastic ability to spot patterns, and programming a 'take box A to planet B' template soon gets old and dull. Scripting stories by hand can be an expensive and finite operation too in the other direction, so Frontier balanced the mechanism by keeping the ship's characteristics to a minimum. You get a ship that can go anywhere (you can even skim the stars for more fuel), a laser and a cargo hold. That's about it. This attempted to preserve the freedom, but give you a tiny bit of RPG so you can take things from one place to another, without saying too much about what those things were. But as soon as you give people a cargo hold, they will want a larger one. That means they might need to *buy* a larger one. That means you need 'credits'. It's a slippery slope.

IS 'OPEN WORLD' BEST SERVED BY TOOLS RATHER THAN NARRATIVE?

Perhaps a sustainable model for SE is to provide tools rather than in-game narrative. If there are editors built in which are easy use with intuitive interfaces which let players create planets and ships and cities and perhaps missions, then the strain of development rests with users rather than in-house programmers. It also makes them entirely optional. In a single player environment, we would need to download these as 'map updates', which might offer a few challenges (if I rename a planet which you have in your model, and you have renamed it something else, what name does it have? Do we create a Galactic Central Register?) but editors like this might give a sense of progression without disturbing the universe and making too many collective alterations, which again, could be an unwelcome slide towards an MMO.

The cartography within NOCTIS was a great idea when addressing this, namely that we have built a universe, most of which no one has ever seen. The developers are in effect sending players out to report back interesting things, that no graphic artists has made. There are very few games where the audience can see something that the designers did not know about. I think this is why people find fractal programs so fascinating - someone has written the program for you but a few clicks of the mouse and you're looking at an image that not only the author has not seen, but no other human being. For real. Within SE this builds well on the thrill from the Frontier / Elite days of 'System Unexplored - Enter At Your Own Risk', which is a great pull for players. This simple model potentially offers more than just taking photographs or updating the online Guide to the Galaxy as a field researcher without a load of expensive server-side architecture.

FINALLY...

Spore was a terrible disaster, and I felt really sorry for Will Wright after all that work - I don't think he ever recovered - but it shows what happens when execs insist on 'accessibility' and 'structure'. One thing to take away from it though was that trees, plants and animals can be created procedurally too, from a large but fixed set of alterable parameters (leaf colour, number of arms etc.). Using a 'starseed' system, meaning you tie these attribute variables to the location co-ordinates of your planet, you can make animated living things without a *huge* amount of work. The starseed method (halfway between random and preset) means the same creatures would always be on the same planet for all users, but that the actual design of them would be unpredictable. Life would indeed be rare in the SE universe, but if our 'life scanner' was only fairly short range, we could have a lot of fun finding specimens to bring to a central zoo. Again, using the fractal analogy, they would all be creatures and plants literally no one had seen. They could even be genetically interbred. Just a thought...but probably enough of a narrative to keep you playing for years?

SE is wonderful, but so is NOCTIS, and I just wondered if others feel nervous about story, missions and multiplayer?

I'm sure people will want to join the Reptilian Alliance of Gandoria, charge up the ion cannons and shoot down my arguments after reading this - but I hope you get my drift smile



 
horatiobDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 11:57 | Message # 2
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I do feel nervous about that too. This project has the potential to be innovative in every single way. Story, missions and multiplayer feels like a step back here. I'd prefer the radical approach: Forget about every space sim that exists. Do something complety different. One should even forget about the terms "game" or "sim". Call it experiment. wink
 
AerospacefagDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 15:58 | Message # 3
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There's a game called "Journey" for PS3, it has a different version of multiplayer concept. You can, somehow, encounter other players during game session, but you can't know their names or the time when they join you. Only thing you can see is that they are traveling with you, they are coming out of nowhere and to somewhere, and finally, at the end of the game you can see names of all people you have encountered.



Aside from that, I recommend to just find and watch this game walkthrough, it's very beautiful.


Edited by Aerospacefag - Friday, 31.08.2012, 15:59
 
TalismanDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 17:31 | Message # 4
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I believe Space Engineer has mentioned that multiplayer will first be quite simple, where you can just search around in Planetarium mode and go anywhere with others online. That alone would be so amazing and would provide endless fun, exploring different systems with a group of friends. "Hey dude come over here look at this crater!" *Teleport to Talisman* "OH DUDE THATS AWESOME LETS GO TO THIS GALAXY NOW" etc. cool

Although I really hope that stays a mode in the long run, Imagine once the game is finished, there are hundreds of thousands of people playing all on one server (Of course not rendered at once but they would "join" your game when you get within a certain range) so you can explore the universe and maybe run into people as you're scanning around the milky-way randomly.





 
DoctorOfSpaceDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 17:45 | Message # 5
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I'm not a big multiplayer person in games anymore so when/if SE gets MP the only way I'd use it was if there were a way to host a local server for just friends.

What I really hope Space Engineer adds eventually is some roaming AI, even if its just the random rare passing ship or an AI ship scanning a planet/star/moon/asteroid.





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SalvoDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 19:34 | Message # 6
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I think Multiplayer will make Space Engine something amazing, because, you know, you can travel, in planets, and, for example, if one day they will make the buildings and some other things into the planets, that would be very funny, I know that is not a game made for Multiplayer, is not a competivity game or an adventure game, but is something different, @Aerospacefag, i like that you compare SE to Journey, is a bit different but the emotion of exploring is the same...




The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.

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(still don't know why everyone is doing this...)
 
HarbingerDawnDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 19:38 | Message # 7
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Quote (DoctorOfSpace)
I'm not a big multiplayer person in games anymore so when/if SE gets MP the only way I'd use it was if there were a way to host a local server for just friends.

I think the universe is big enough for you to avoid running into anyone tongue





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DoctorOfSpaceDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 19:47 | Message # 8
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I think the universe is big enough for you to avoid running into anyone tongue


I was thinking about that but as I said in another thread. Many systems will be player central, Sol/Alpha Centauri/Proxima Cent./Sirius/Kepler systems. There are more systems I could list but I think the system with the most people will be Sol and if there is a set of spawn positions then you can bet those will be PvP central unless there is some form of anti PVP.

Its less about the universe being massive and more about understanding the predictability of humans and how we tend to stick with familiarity and those systems would be what people relate to familiar in space.

wacko





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HarbingerDawnDate: Friday, 31.08.2012, 21:25 | Message # 9
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Quote (DoctorOfSpace)
I was thinking about that but as I said in another thread.

Like I said in that same thread (I think) It wouldn't bother me since I go to obscure places smile But I understand your concern.





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SpaceEngineerDate: Saturday, 01.09.2012, 00:57 | Message # 10
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Multiplayer will also allow to build a database of explored planets and serach a planet in it by certain parameters. And discoverer may give a name for a planet he found.




 
pebbleDate: Saturday, 01.09.2012, 05:28 | Message # 11
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Quote (Maffin)
Life does not always have a 'goal' and you have to ask if you really improve a game like this by adding artificial ones.


There are many types of multiplayer experience. Consider Minecraft, for example, or Gary's Mod, or Second Life. Not all involve conflict, plot, or goal, aside from that chosen by the players.

Personally I'm not sure Space Engine needs (or would benefit from, or can even really work with) a multiplayer component. I might enjoy showing novel sights to a friend, but that doesn't require an MMO if we can pass saved locations.

I expect it might get tried at some point, when and if Space Engineer feels it's appropriate to do so. But I'm not holding my breath.

And for the record I thought Noctis was incredibly quirky and cool. So is Demon Souls. The problem is that the known universe is so freaking vast that only those who want to meet up will do so. Though one could expect a small crowd of newcomers to float around Milky Way > Sol, just as people do around San Francisco in Flight Gear.


Edited by pebble - Saturday, 01.09.2012, 11:19
 
HarbingerDawnDate: Saturday, 01.09.2012, 08:25 | Message # 12
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Personally I'm not sure Space Engine needs (or would benefit from, or can even really work with) a multiplayer component. I might enjoy showing novel sights to a friend, but that doesn't require an MMO if we can pass saved locations.

I think that SpaceEngine would benefit from multiplayer (not so much in its current state, but in a future game). If you look at some of the old threads where SpaceEngineer has described elements of multiplayer in great detail, it looks tremendously exciting. It maintains the open and unbounded nature of the current program, with enough capability and believability to really engage you. And from what I remember there were never any strict goals laid out, only capabilities that the player could use to do anything they wanted. He was giving you the universe, a ship with which to explore it, and the ability to interact with other explorers in any number of ways.

I'm not sure how much his vision has changed, if at all, but those original ideas really filled me with warm fuzzy feelings, and I hope they come to fruition.

Quote (pebble)
I expect it might get tried at some point, when and if Space Engineer feels it's appropriate to do so. But I'm not holding my breath.

Unfortunately, this will almost certainly depend on resources. Developing a multiplayer game for thousands of people, hosting and maintaining servers, developing or commissioning in-game assets (music, models, animations, etc), is something that costs a fair bit of money. If that hurdle can be overcome, then there is no limit to what might be achieved in the future, including spectacular improvements to the engine and the solo planetarium program that currently exists.

SpaceEngineer has said that this planetarium software will always exist, and always be free. Any future development will never change that fact. A multiplayer game will be an additional option for those who might enjoy such things. If we all pitch in what we can when the time comes, then the sky's the limit with this program, and that has me giddy.





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pebbleDate: Saturday, 01.09.2012, 11:40 | Message # 13
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Quote (HarbingerDawn)
If you look at some of the old threads where SpaceEngineer has described elements of multiplayer in great detail, it looks tremendously exciting. It maintains the open and unbounded nature of the current program, with enough capability and believability to really engage you.


Ah, fair enough. I agree.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to multiplayer. If Space Engineer has a vision for its implementation I'm all for it! Because everything he's done so far has been stellar (pun intended).

I imagine there are some challenges involved in making it work if you want the game to be 'realistic'. Speed of light communication/sensors, the vastness of space necessitating time acceleration, keeping the players in sync.

I expect that's why no one's yet succeeded in making a multiplayer Elite/Frontier/First Encounters, that I'm aware of. I've seen a number of promising attempts stall at the transition from "amazing graphics demonstrator" to "fun, playable game", Infinity: The Quest for Earth being one such example.

But it's not impossible. It can be done if you are willing to posit some relaxations in reality. Consider Eve Online, though it's a different sort of game.


Edited by pebble - Saturday, 01.09.2012, 11:54
 
pebbleDate: Saturday, 01.09.2012, 11:52 | Message # 14
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Quote (SpaceEngineer)
Multiplayer will also allow to build a database of explored planets and serach a planet in it by certain parameters. And discoverer may give a name for a planet he found.


Ooh, that sounds fun, and rather like Noctis!

But of course your Time To C*ck will be effectively zero with such a feature. (laughs)
 
werdnaforeverDate: Monday, 03.09.2012, 06:51 | Message # 15
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What about updates to the engine? Things will never be perfect. Consider how everything changes when revisions are made to the way planets are generated. Places in SE are fun to come back to, but they don't translate into newer versions. Ask this: will a point ever be reached where the way the universe is procedurally created is beyond the need for revision?

This fragility of SpaceEngine's universe is what makes me weary of long, involved stories or complex single and multiplayer gameplay. Gameplay shouldn't require a progression- you should be able to start a fresh copy of SE and go crazy colonizing and building as if you've done so for a million hours already.

Multiplayer, if implemented, would best be done on a small scale (in terms of the number of players). Rather than a huge, massive group of people, things should be done the old fashioned way, with version-specific servers for tens of people. Too many players may be a bad thing, considering the sheer scale of the universe. How much could you spread things out? The last thing SE needs is to be as big and bloated as an MMORPG.

Multiplayer should probably be a simple extension of singleplayer. You could import bases you've created into the server, and because such bases would be created with building blocks which are assets of the game, they could easily be represented with a small amount of data. Then, structures others import could be generated just like normal as you come across them.

As traditional as it sounds, you could even have a built-in chat room. Consider; the reason we would want multiplayer in a game like this would simply be to explore with others in a sandbox, and to share creations.

As long as singleplayer mode isn't made into something unnecessarily complex, multiplayer (as I describe it, IMHO) should work fine.
 
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