Hell Is Other People
This week, Ryan Smith weighed in on Evolve, the new multiplayer game that has a team of four players hunting down a lone but powerful monster player. He thought it was a gutsy and winning formula—but only when you’re playing as the monster, or if you’ve managed to get a group of communicative and cooperative players together. That latter issue has been plaguing online multiplayer games for years, and there’s no real solution in sight, a reality ItsTheShadsy lamented in the comments:
So many multiplayer games seem to be designed in an idealized vacuum, in the sense that they work extremely well when everyone plays in the style (and in the numbers) that the developers are anticipating. For Evolve, there’s an assumption that players will communicate and work together. That doesn’t happen in practice a majority of the time when playing games online, so like Ryan suggested, it falls apart.
The question I’ve been struggling with is: Is that a fault of the game itself or the community that plays it? I hate to rag on a game for ambitious design, but it’s also becoming clear that games built around matchmade multiplayer have to lower their expectations about player involvement. In an ideal situation with experienced, communicative players—maybe at a LAN party or tournament—Evolve might work really well. But that will never ever be the reality for almost everyone who plays this game. That should be anticipated at this point. Plenty of games are now building in features that work around these handicaps, like the auto-spotting in recent Battlefield games and the vocal chatter in the Halo 5 beta that calls out enemy positions, strategies, and so forth. Maybe it’s a little disheartening to ask for features that make up for player malaise, but that’s the state of multiplayer-focused games right now.
Carlton Hungus pointed to a recent game that possibly went too far trying to avoid bad matchmaking:
It’s similar to the problem with Destiny’s raids. They don’t have matchmaking, and you can only go with people you know. (Although plenty of third-party websites allow you to group up.) Bungie says this is a strategic decision, that they designed the raids to require cooperation, and they’d be unbeatable if everyone just went in lone-wolf/not communicating.
I’d rather see games try and fail, such as here, than either wall it off like Destiny, or worse, dumb it down too much. There’s such beauty and fantastic play when a team does work together, I think it outweighs the lows that come with the possibility of poor teammates. Plus there’s never going to be a way to get rid of trolls entirely, but as more and more co-op games are released, societal norms will eventually develop on being a good teammate.
Venerable Monk ran down what it might take to get randomly matched sessions working better:
My first thought would be to find some way to track levels of skill and cooperation. Assign everyone an invisible rating in such categories, and group folks with similar attributes in the same matchmaking rooms. This would be complicated by the fact that each team member has a distinct role, so the skill measurements would have to be tailored to the class you’re playing. Then, you apply the same logic to the creature player, with some fancy formula for figuring out how to equate a specific beast skill level to an aggregate level for the hunter team. It’s much more complicated than comparing kill-to-death ratios in a typical shooter.
Still, this would only get you a bit closer to something that resembles balance. There’s really no accounting for the inevitable quitters and “lone wolf” types. It sounds like the developers are content to let the creature players regulate such anti-collective behavior themselves. If the creature is always strong enough to kill a single hunter, then you’d think that repeated instant deaths would quickly teach such “rugged individualists” to stick with the group.
Based on an impression from pre-release public tests offered by publisher 2K Games, StagefrightBaby thought there was a bigger problem with Evolve’s structure:
I really liked the idea of the game and wanted it to work, but I think the mark of a good multiplayer game is whether or not it’s fun even when you lose. A one-on-one fighter (Street Fighter, Tekken) is fun win or lose because you can always be happy about getting a few good hits in and feel like you’re getting marginally better. Co-op shooters (Left 4 Dead, Borderlands) require disciplined teamwork to really get by, but there’s lots of little successes along the way. It’s still satisfying to wipe out a zombie horde even if a Tank crushes you immediately afterward. Evolve looks to combine those two types of games, but it replaces any sense of learning with randomly assigned, likely terrible teammates and removes all the incremental fun of other co-op shooters by having the game be 80 percent running around hoping to bump into the monster. When most of the game is just build up to the encounter and the encounter is typically very unbalanced, the game just plain isn’t fun.
It’s All Greek To Them, And That’s The Problem
This is going to be harsh, but bear with me: Screw Greek myth, or more specifically, screw people using Greek myth in contemporary writing/games/art/etc. There are tons of mythologies out there, many of which are largely untapped. But no, it’s Sparta this and Zeus that and piles of togas. Always.
Leto was more upset about the perpetual warping of specific details:
My only issue with Greek myth in pop culture is how watered down or simplified certain stories and characters become. Poseidon was both the god of land and sea, with dominion over horses and earthquakes, but he’s always water god, water god, water god. Hades was not a cackling villain eyeing the throne. And then there’s anachronistic association of “Hercules” with Greeks.
Elsewhere, looking for some different corners of Greek myth to mine, Kolya asked for a game based on the story of Orpheus. Girard suggested the browser game Don’t Look Back, by Terry Cavanagh. Needlehacksaw recommended game that took even more liberties with that myth:
Boy, do I have a game for you! In Battle Of Olympus for the NES, you play Orpheus on his quest to rescue Eurydice. Unfortunately, there’s not much singing or not looking back. (Terry Cavanagh’s game is, as girard rightfully pointed out, the game to go if that’s what you’re looking for.)
It’s more like a proto-God Of War by way of Zelda II, in that you’re adventuring and clubbing and swording your way through the assembled bestiary of Greek mythology. The gods are rather helpful in this one if you kneel before them—nice touch for an NES game—except for Hades, who is a jerk. It’s much closer to Apotheon, what with both of them following the Zelda/Metroid structure in a 2D environment, and also because it was actually good and it stings a bit to see that it seems to be utterly forgotten. After all, it basically shaped my image of Greece, to the point that I might be a tad disappointed the next time I get there and find that the Peleponnes is not actually lush forests as far as one can see.
And that does it for this week, folks. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!