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Dispelling the notion of tacked-on multiplayer

Game designMultiplayer

The current generation of consoles have introduced many features which we gamers now take for granted – HD graphics and achievements immediately spring to mind – but by far the feature that has shaped the course and direction of the video games industry more than any other is the introduction of out-of-the-box online play. Previously regarded as a bastion of those with high end PCs and a working knowledge of network protocols, the advent of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, as well as the spread of broadband infrastructure, has lead to more than ever venturing online than ever before, vanquishing all in their path, from Bangkok to Berlin.

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With this change in focus comes the notion of “tacked on multiplayer”: a traditionally single player experience being complimented by a non-canon or superfluous multiplayer experience, very much to the detriment of the product as a whole. Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer announcement was met with vitriolic commentary, and there were audible sighs of relief around the world at the announcement that Bioshock Infinite’s multiplayer component was being left on the cutting room floor, showing the clear disdain that some hold against this notion. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

“Left me eating humble pie”Case in point: the Assassin’s Creed series. When the announcement was made that Brotherhood, the continuation of the story of Ezio Auditore, would also come bundled with an online mode, reactions ranged from skepticism to outrage. It was labelled by many as a dilution of the experience, and one that would take away from the quality of the story. At the time, I was one of the many adding my weight behind that notion, reasoning that a multiplayer addition would take time away from the development of the core elements that made the first entries in the series so enjoyable. When Brotherhood arrived, I tried out the multiplayer, if only to satisfy my curiosity and prove myself correct. It left me eating humble pie, as the tense, tactical versus matches proved to be one of the highlights of the series to date, and has continued to grow and become more polished and enhanced in each successive release. More importantly, it hasn’t compromised the integrity of the single player experience, and can safely be ignored by those who choose to do so.

Those that espouse the belief that the addition of multiplayer will lead to the downfall of the series commonly site a redistribution of development resources as a justifiable concern; the sacrifice of hundreds of man-hours on a “ticking the boxes” exercise to satisfy the tropes of what comprises a AAA game in today’s ever changing landscape. Such a time consuming and effort expending process has to effect the quality of the work, no? Considering that the development of any additional content is generally handled by a secondary studio or team, and the meticulous budgeting and planning that goes into game development, it’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that adequate resources and funding have been allocated to all components.

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What is almost always lost in the debate too is that this phenomenon is generally confined to well established franchises. Many revel in the worlds and characters that have been crafted, yet are quick to dismiss the notion of multiplayer straight off the bat, without having seen so much as a single pixel of detail. These studios spend years bringing fantastical worlds full of wonder to life, but seemingly they can’t be trusted to put that same level of care and attention to detail into every piece of their creation, only those that fit the accepted idea of what the game should consist of. In truth, no developer would intentionally set out to make a woeful game, and most, if not all, take great pride in their work, and the hours of enjoyment derived from it, no matter the form it takes.

“Many arguably improved”Indeed, there have been many titles arguably improved by the addition of multiplayer, having formerly been, and continuing to be, a sanctuary for those seeking conventional storytelling. Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series haven’t been harmed by the addition of deathmatch. Mass Effect 3′s horde modes have also seen continued support in the form of DLC and new missions, and have brought many a former detractor hours of pleasure.

Conversely, the list of games ruined by having an online option can be pinned somewhere between slim and none; Both Dead Space 2 and Bioshock 2 are still viewed by many as being solid, entertaining entries in their respective franchises, despite containing what some opined as underwhelming online offerings, and although the multiplayer was criticized by the lead designer of the game himself, Spec Ops: The Line was lauded by many as a thoughtful and tactful take on the violence of war and a critique of the shooter genre itself.

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Both Tomb Raider and God of War: Ascension release in the next few weeks, the latest in a long line of games to add online modes into their series’ repertoire. Instead of believing developers have personally attacked you by adding an online offering for those that enjoy the competitive side of gaming culture, we must approach such titles with an open mind, and trust that the studios desire to make a fun and compelling product. Let’s allow ourselves to be pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of additional enjoyable, and entirely optional, content that could be a perfect companion piece to the main course.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2013. Get in touch on Twitter @michael_ormonde.

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