Medal of Honor Pacific Assault Designer Diary #4

Senior producer Matt Powers explains the vision behind the multiplayer gameplay in Medal of Honor Pacific Assault.

In Medal of Honor Pacific Assault, EA's World War II-era series heads to the warm waters--and the heated battles--of the Pacific theater. During the single-player game, you'll play as a US marine caught in some of the most important battles of the campaign. Thanks to a new graphic engine, the action will feel more lifelike than ever as you pick up a rifle and engage in intense firefights against realistic Japanese opponents. But when you're wrapped up with the single-player game, you'll probably look forward to the game's multiplayer mode, which will pit you against real human opponents. EA has invested quite a bit of time and thought in the multiplayer, but we'll let senior producer Matt Powers explain some of the new features in this installment of our designer diaries.

MoH Bettah Multiplayah

By Matt Powers,
Senior Producer, EA LA

So...bottom line: We're all gamers at EA LA. We all want to make a great game. With that in mind, we decided that by focusing on a few key areas, we could create an awesome multiplayer experience worthy of the Medal of Honor name.

Cohesion is an important factor in game design. Creating a cohesive game with both single-player and multiplayer components is a challenge. It's like making two games at once! Each component is equally difficult, yet they require different efforts. They can feel disconnected, and many times the quality of either the single-player or the multiplayer outshines the other component, making the overall game seem unmatched and segmented. Frequently, this can be blamed on a short development cycle--a team has been focused largely on developing a single-player game and at the end of the development cycle they port some maps for use in multiplayer and throw in some basic game modes. It's obviously not ideal, but sometimes that's the only option.

Luckily, we had enough foresight to avoid that situation with Medal of Honor Pacific Assault. To ensure that multiplayer was just as well tended as single-player, we decided to contract [Medal of Honor Allied Assault Breakthrough developer] TKO Software. We wanted them to build something that was true to the Medal of Honor franchise yet was fresh and new, and an awesome multiplayer experience to boot! EA would manage the game design with TKO owning execution. Thankfully TKO was up for the challenge!

The relationship has been very fruitful. Our best innovation has been the game design of Invader, the cornerstone of our multiplayer game. I won't go into the details of Invader here--there is plenty of information about it online--but I did want to discuss some of the less obvious design choices with Invader and how they fit into our vision for the multiplayer portion of the game.

Gamers love to run and gun. So, it goes without saying that this experience should be fun and rewarding. Invader will allow people to enjoy themselves and be successful without forcing them to learn any of the other details of the mode. Of course, the more you play, the more you learn, and the better you play. The game has legs--there are lots of strategies and rewards we will use to keep people coming back for more.

Expect plenty of face-to-face encounters during multiplay.

Gamers love cooperative play. Playing a game is one thing, playing competitively is another. Playing as a team whose success depends on the actions of each member is another thing altogether; it adds a whole new dimension to the game. We developed the multiplayer maps with teams in mind. You won't have to play as a team to have fun, but you may be more successful. There are places in each map that will test team play in the extreme and players will find this very rewarding.

Gamers love things that are fresh and new. That's why we designed Invader to be expandable. What you see will be just the beginning!

Search for an Interface

The other factor to keep in mind is accessibility. Accessibility must be a critical factor in every design decision. We want people to be able to "pick up and play." Players should be able to manipulate the game in an intuitive manner and immerse themselves as quickly as possible. It's important that the fun is immediate and that everybody gets a taste of early success. The possibility of achieving goals and acquiring skills motivates players to move through the game.

These Americans pose nicely for a machine-gunning.

For this reason, we considered the interface design crucial to the accessibility of the game. The shell of the game is the first experience gamers will have with the game and it's important that they find it easy to use. In rethinking the standard interface for Medal of Honor Pacific Assault's multiplayer component, we did a fair amount of research. We spent a lot of time comparing the interfaces available in other games, identifying what worked and what didn't. Then we looked at our players' needs: What were they trying to do? What information did they need access to? We created mock-ups and walk-throughs. Then we discussed our ideas with the experts from the Human Interface Design Department at Indiana University. Ultimately, we were pleased with the results: the key information a player wants is up front and easy to access. The initial exposure is not intimidating for new gamers, yet hardcore game fans who like to make their own tweaks to the gameplay can find more detailed and advanced information within the system.

The most obvious improvements we made were to the server list. The standard multiplayer interface is largely built around the server list. This server list screen/interface has been around for a long time (remember QSpy?) and has become the standard de facto multiplayer interface. But just because we've all grown accustomed to it, does that mean it's the best approach? Probably not. To be honest, it is a pain. The list is always changing, always updating, and there is a ton of information. And, once you do understand the process, it's still frustrating. Every time you go to the server list you do the same thing--refresh, sort by ping, look for the lowest ping server with a decent amount of people in it, and try to join the game. Sometimes, you can't even join and the process starts all over. It's an incredibly frustrating experience.

Work as a team if you wish to succeed.

To offset this we created instant play and custom play (no fear, we still have the server list as well). While the multiplayer menu system is more complex in terms of the number of screens, ultimately, it is easier for users to find what they need and to access the features they want.

Finally, community is the third factor to keep in mind when designing multiplayer games. Medal of Honor has a dedicated community of fans who are active in creating clans, developing fan sites, and posting to forums. The community has a lot of great ideas and is a huge resource for our development team.

The Medal of Honor Army

People probably assume that a company as large as Electronic Arts does not care what the little guys think, but getting feedback directly from the fans is a huge priority for us. In fact, many of the suggestions we received from fans will actually influence the final game. In an effort to establish a line of direct communication with our community we created the MoHArmy and the MoHTeam. Through the MoHArmy and the MoHTeam we have developed a personal relationship with the gamers who play our games.

It's no The Bridge on the River Kwai, but you'll still have to fight for it.

The MoHArmy is a North American-based group of Medal of Honor fans who we communicate with regularly through the MoHArmy newsletter. Through the newsletter, we provide access to information that the media doesn't necessarily receive, as well as extra perks. Want to know what they are? Guess you'll have to enlist!

The MoHTeam is a global group of the most active members within the Medal of Honor community. This group is predominately made up of modders and fan site owners. Membership in the MoHTeam is by invitation only. Only the most active members of the Medal of Honor community are invited to join. Members of the MoHTeam have direct access to the development team. We keep them in the loop about development and solicit their feedback for crucial decisions.

In August, EA LA invited 12 members of the Medal of Honor community from as far away as the UK to visit the studio, see the game in progress, and meet with the team. At the end of their two-day visit, our guests took a survey and provided us with feedback on everything they saw.

By the time a game ships, the development team has been working for more than a year on the game. There is a temptation to send it off to retailers and be done with it, focusing our attention immediately on the next game assigned. But, in the case of multiplayer games, the job is not over when the game ships. In fact, the ship date is almost just another milestone. A good multiplayer game should be built with expansion in mind and there should be a plan for building it out postlaunch. In the instance of Medal of Honor Pacific Assault, we have created opportunities for expansion both in the game design and through our community involvement. In addition to supplying additional maps, we have designed the game so that we can add features after launch. There are a number of ideas we are currently exploring and we'll fill you in as they become available.

The Japanese occupy the high ground against advancing Americans.

The initiative we are most excited about involves our community. As you read this, we are in the process of creating a mod developers kit, which we plan to further build on after the game ships. Working with our community, we plan to create documentation and tutorials that will teach gamers how to create their own content for Medal of Honor Pacific Assault. Our community is really committed to the franchise and they have a lot of great new ideas. We can't wait to see what they create when we give them the tools they need!

As we track toward our November launch date, we spend most of our time these days tuning and balancing the game. In our never-ending quest to get more feedback from the people who actually play our games, a lot of our time is spent conducting and responding to focus group tests. The results are auspicious and seem to reaffirm our decision to extend the development cycle to allow time to build new features. The game is going to be great. You'll see what I mean come November!

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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jakeboudville
jakeboudville

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