April 24, 2014

Multiplayer is Dead - Until it Isn't

Over the weekend we asked a question on our Twitter and Facebook fans about the future of Star Command:

What would you rather see?

Deep multiplayer with cooperative ship vs ship battles and player controlled races that would be different?


Deep single player with lots of races, research, and campaigns like civilization?

The response was quick and extremely one sided. At our last count the vote was 185 - 6 in favor of single player, and since the total comment count has passed 500 - with a similar trend.

So what does that mean?

One of the big reasons that we were exploring the idea of multiplayer was inspired by a quote from the FTL creators in a story that ran on Joystiq. You can see the story here but the short of it is was Matthew Davis talking about future clones of FTL exclaiming, "... it has to have multiplayer!"

This quote got us talking. We have discussed multiplayer plenty over the last three years creating Star Command but this was far more focused and action orientated - what would it look like, how would it play, how quickly could it be implemented, etc.

The two platforms, desktop and mobile, would have different executions for multiplayer as they have have different strength and weaknesses.

For the desktop we were looking at a player vs. player system growing into a much more robust experience on the campaign map. The initial launch would have been a simple ship vs. ship with one player controlling a Star Command vessel. Players could invade the enemy ship with their crew, take out their subsystems and go toe to toe with either their own ship with their own crew or a point pool where each player would build the best ship they could with a cap on points spent.

From there we would evolve into adding things like cooperative crews, with multiple players controlling crew members on one ship. The goal here would be expanding other races - now players could control the Antorians who would be very distinct from the Star Command ships in both form and function. Crews would go against other crews and work with other ships to expand the campaign map and establish bases on planets.

Finally this would have expanded into an ongoing universe where players earn unique equipment and grow their ship to fight other ships on individual servers.

With this system we basically remove research, mission cards and some of the dynamic galaxy elements and focus more on the players ship and combat.

As a self-critique we like both versions and each have their advantages and disadvantages. With multiplayer we like the glory and challenge element - we can never code an intelligence nearly as capable as human players. To that extent the glory of defeating an opponent in combat is really unrivaled. You are literally beating your very own "Kahn" - surviving on your strategy and ruining someone else's day, which is always satisfying.

On the other hand, single player allows us to blow out the universe, keep in numerous species and elements like space stations and research that become bogged down in multiplayer.

Some will say "Why not work on both?" and our answer would be - we will in some way. Multiplayer will always be in the back of our head but to really to make a good product we have to focus on one or the other. Our design doc was originally drafted as a deep single-player experience and we will continue to double down on that. Our mod support, storybuilder and content creation are much clearer now and the game will be that much better for it.

Multiplayer may be much more of an option for mobile - but for now our focus is on freeroam, the new ship combat system and crew kits.