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Uncharted 3's multiplayer: Does the audience have too much say?

Feature; May. 13, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Subtypes: Opinion
Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta is coming soon. Will player feedback hurt or help the game?

About midway through the campaign of the 2009 game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (UC2), the player is tasked with traversing an enemy-filled moving train as it passes through the forests of Nepal into the mountains of Tibet. If you play it, there will be moments where you’ll have to decide between shooting your attackers, diving to hang off the side of the train car you're on to avoid overpassing signs, or doing a combination of both at the same time. Soon after the beginning of the train sequence, you’ll have to make that decision under missile fire from an attacking helicopter as it indiscriminately blows the train apart. 

Uncharted 3

The people at Naughty Dog (ND), developer of the Uncharted series, have voiced their desire [video] to carry over such cinematic set-pieces to the multiplayer portions its games in the Uncharted series (which is just set for UC2 for the time being; Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [UC3] is due out in November). With the reveal of UC3’s multiplayer and its upcoming beta, it seems the company has followed through (i.e., the airstrip level in UC3’s multiplayer where players fight atop moving trucks behind an airplane, all hurtling down a runway). It’s all about how the parts add up to create an experience.

Uncharted 3 Airship Jump

Some of the new features to Uncharted that UC3 is introducing include customizable weapons, a sprint function, and “medal kickbacks,” in which the player can use medals he or she has earned (from getting streaks of particular types of kills) for special abilities or weapons on the spot. 

Soon after these changes were announced, ND’s official forums were filled with excited fans. As elated the fan-base was overall, part of it was equally angry. There were criticisms of the sprinting function (before multiplayer was made playable to anyone) and complaints that new features were going to make it more like the Call of Duty (CoD) series. Some users were saying they would swear off the series, or at least, the multiplayer components. Others began asking that ND remove or change the sprinting.

This type of situation isn’t new. With the advent of the Internet, the average person is given a platform to speak his or her mind, in any way he or she sees fit. In the world of video games, this means companies and developers can hear from the people buying their games and learn what they like/dislike. This is different from the testing that goes on before a game is finished in which hired testers or people from within the development team play the game in order to tweak it.

Once the game is in stores, the developers can see what the average gamer wants. From there, the gamemakers can patch or update, changing the game accordingly.

However, is this for the best? Game developers put in months, even years, of work into their games. They can’t spot every glitch or notice every bug on their own, yet ultimately, the product they end up with will be their vision. If their agenda is to make a certain type of game (or multiplayer mode) and then make changes to it according to outside suggestions/demands, is it still the game (or mode) they wanted to make? Are those foreign desires congruent with the original vision?

Let us turn back the clock a bit: For the weekend of Dec. 4 to Dec. 7, 2009, ND changed the amount of health players had in the multiplayer modes of UC2 (ND’s first foray into online multiplayer gaming), about two months after the release of the game. 

ND had received feedback from some of its fans that health was too high, supposedly causing players to become “bullet-sponges” who were too difficult to kill. To see whether the adjustment of the health would be best, ND conducted the weekend experiment, followed by a players’ survey on NaughtyDog.com. Two months later, in Feb. 2010, ND decided to make the health change permanent. 

Update 1.05 for UC2’s multiplayer brought with it fundamental change. The health was lowered to 65 percent, the amount of health players had for the cooperative modes’ “Crushing” difficulty (very hard). There were a few other tweaks, but overall, that was the one people remember. 

The thing to keep in mind about Uncharted’s game play (particularly that of UC2 and its sequel, UC3) is that when trucks explode or buildings collapse, such occurrences aren’t always relegated to cut-scenes. The player is, more or less, in control as these events take place. Not only must players leap to and from those exploding trucks, or out of those collapsing buildings, they have to climb up/hang off of them while in the middle of a gun battle. Individual notches in structures could be grabbed onto with one hand and fired from with the other. This blending of environment traversal with combat (something started in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [UC1] and polished in UC2) gives Uncharted its own identity.

Uncharted 3 Runway

This game play was translated to multiplayer and stayed relatively true to the single-player counterparts, early on. If a player was attacked, even if taken completely by surprise, through the use of climbing, taking cover or good aim, he or she could come out the victor. Granted, this created a somewhat high learning curve and would prove difficult for newcomers. Even still, the metagame allowed for all types of play (power-weapons would kill considerably faster than any other weapon yet had scarce ammo; snipers could survive a close-range attack, yet anything short of a headshot from them would take two hits).  

When the health was lowered, climbing to get behind an enemy or as a means of escape became less viable. It took 35 percent less damage/time to kill and be killed. The differences between weapon types became less defined. After the 1.05 update, it would take no more than five bullets from the weakest weapon to kill. Thirty-five percent may seem a small difference, yet it was fundamental enough to affect every part of UC2’s multiplayer.

If an aspect of a given game is initially weird or different, the player will get used to it with enough time. Whether the player will end up liking said aspect soon enough to want to keep playing is another question. The people who don’t like that aspect of the game (and by extension, the game itself) will (theoretically) move to another game that's more their liking.

When someone plays a game, it will feel 100 percent natural or comfortable to that person on rare occasions. Depending on what other games they play, they may be more used to certain camera sensitivities, inverted or normal axes, or entirely different control schemes for different genres of game. 

Naughty Dog’s forum, forums and sites, and places outside the Internet are filled with people who feel entitled to having their immediate, individual needs (or wants) met. Those people aren’t willing to play the game ND set out to craft. They aren’t willing to learn the different weights of the weapons in Killzone 2 (later changed in Killzone 3). They don’t want to deal with the micromanagement of customizing their character in Mass Effect (later changed in Mass Effect 2) or Dragon Age (later changed in Dragon Age 2).  

None of the sequels to those games were bad, and whether they were better than their prequels is up to opinion. However, something was lost during those transitions. Was it truly something bad? The possibility exists that part of what made those original games special lay in those so-called problems. 

Uncharted 3 Shootout

This age of gaming allows for the consumers to have a voice. Not only does technology allow for developers to repair bugs and refine game play, but it allows the gamers a say in what they want changed. Unfortunately, it has caused some gamers (who tend to be most vocal) to expect their demands to be met. Even more unfortunate is that the developers are, to a degree, at the mercy of their customers (including the self-entitled group). Since modification of a game post-release is now the norm, developers are expected to address what their fans want.

And it risks spoiling of games as much as it shows promise that it may benefit them.

If slow aim should always be sped up and kills always simple to perform, then what does that say about the purpose of games themselves? That number of kills is always the most important factor? If that’s the case, then shouldn’t Amnesia: The Dark Descent give you a shotgun? (Granted, that's a horror game, and no one is saying that should happen. Being weak and helpless contributes to the player’s sense of fear.)

Yet if a developer wants to make an action game in which weapons are inaccurate and the controls loose in order to make the action more intense, that particular group of "dissenters," who aren’t worried about the game itself, would rally to have accuracy increased and controls tightened, rather than learn to fire in bursts or compensate for the aiming. 

A segment of Uncharted 2 involves controlling a character who has been shot just before a train crash. The character stumbles through the snow, limping while holding his bloodied side. It’s a scene that contrasts with the one before it, in which the player is leaping from train car to train car, dodging explosions. The change of pace keeps the overall narrative exciting. It would be a shame to miss out on moments (or entire games) that stray from the accepted norm because of a few people creating a petition to have health lowered so it’s easier to get kills.

There’s a point where catering to the audience becomes pandering to the audience. If every aspect of a multiplayer game is tweaked to be more what the mainstream crowd wants (a quite vocal group), then all games, no matter how different from other multiplayer offerings, will feel like CoD-meets-X, rather than its own thing. 

Another thing these theoretical (yet certainly existent) "dissenters" don’t appreciate: the work the game companies put into the games they create. By all means, people should be kept accountable for what they do, no matter what that may be. Criticism is important for the betterment of any craft. That criticism, however, is only helpful if it’s for the sake of that craft, not just personal preference. Here's hoping that the people of Naughty Dog are able to find that balance between what their fans want and what they know they need.

Comments

JonSt - May. 14, 2011 at 12:18:15am

I know ND pointed to that data graph as proof that the changes were "hotly demanded", but who honestly makes HUGE SERVER WIDE changes based on 2 days of experimental gameplay? lol. I'll tell you who. A company that's already made up its mind about making those changes and simply looking for any shred of "evidence" to justify those changes.

A hilarious point of the graph is that 56% of that graph either "didn't like the damage change" or "wanted it on a seperate playlist". So technically, a majority didn't even favor permanently changing the damage models.

Although I gotta give credit to Arne for being a sly dog about it. He used big words like "sampling error" and "margin of error" to pump some authenticity into his findings. Only problem is that his sample size wasn't random so those terms are meaningless. Pretty sure a poll where you can vote multiple times, and at your leisure (without any proof that you actually played during the experimental week) for 30 days AFTER the experiment is nowhere near random.

JonSt - May. 13, 2011 at 11:51:28pm

How ironic. The writer complains about ND "listening to its fans too much" and then demands ND to listen to him about not listening to its fans, lol But I jest.

Anyway, the 1.05 changes weren't caused by a huge uproar from the ND fanbase - if only (I was a forum goer at the time and very few people made topics complaining about the health) ND made the changes primarily based on gameplay data from that weekend experiment. Sure, ND "claimed" that there was a clamor for the change, but whenever someone asked them for proof, they would change the subject or be extremely vague. Eventually, it became indelibly clear that it was a move that ND primarily made themselves (perhaps because they felt their single player damage model was truer to their vision of multiplayer all along). In that aspect, they actually took the advice of your article quite well - they stuck to their vision, complaints be damned - and there were thousands of complaints!

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