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MultiVersus Developers Are Using Community Feedback To Make The Game They Want

We sat down with the creative director for Warner Bros.' new fighter to talk roster, netcode, and more.

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Warner Bros.'s new platform fighter MultiVersus begins its closed alpha today, letting players throw down with Batman, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, and more while giving developer Player First Games the feedback they need to keep making the game players want.

The closed alpha test runs from May 19-27, featuring 15 characters, seven stages, and a look at the game's progression systems and rollback netcode. To learn more, we sat down with Tony Huynh, creative director and co-founder of Player First Games, about the team's approach to bringing all of these famous characters into one game.

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Now Playing: MultiVersus Preview ... More Than Just A Smash Bros. Clone

We discussed the MultiVersus roster and the team's approach to building it, rollback netcode and the challenge of implementing it, and the free-to-play model and why it's so important to the game. We also touched on some potential hints hidden throughout the alpha test and what they could mean for the future of the game.

This interview was conducted via video conferencing and edited for readability and clarity.

GameSpot: You have a lot of different properties at your disposal in creating a roster for a game like this. What goes into the selection process? Obviously, there are some obvious choices like Batman, Superman, etc., but eventually you're going to start coming into more obscure decisions--Iron Giant could be considered one of those. How does that process work?

Tony Huynh: We call ourselves Player First Games, and that wasn't a mistake. We're holding ourselves to a really high standard. I want to talk to the community, interact with them, and see what they want. That said, I think that there's a lot of different factors in the decision process. On the development side, we look at each character and say, "Can we bring this character to life? Can we make this character play the way that you think that the character should play?"

Every slot on the roster is very valuable, because of the development resources that are going to be required. We have to be very deliberate about who we're picking. But the other piece of the decision making process is making sure the character is bringing something new to the table. Is it pushing the game in some way? Is it solving some problem that we're having in gameplay? Can this character help address these things?

For instance, Velma is not the first character you think about in a fighting game. But internally, when we're looking at that character, we had the inspiration of "what if we could make a character with no physical attacks whatsoever?" She can use words of encouragement, sass, science, ideas, collecting evidence, and trying to solve the mystery in order to be a part of the crew. That's just not something that I think would be foremost on players, but we thought that we could make something that would surprise and delight players, and that's why we opted to make Velma as part of the cast.

On top of that, WB has been an amazing partner. We basically just bring them ideas, and so far they've been like, "Okay, that's great!" We also work with IP-holders of the specific properties and make sure we are representing the characters correctly. That starts with me; when I go into a character, I watch basically everything. There's a ton of history in these characters, and we want to make sure that we are developing the character in a way that is true to the actual character itself. That comes through even the way that they play and the ways we're trying to meet player expectations of these characters. If you play a certain character, do they operate in the right ways? Do we have the elements of the character right? Are we being true and authentic to the character? It starts with gameplay and the way the character looks, and then with voice acting we make sure that they're fully realized as a character and that they deserve to be part of the roster.

On voice acting, I would say it's not just how they sound, it's also in how they interact with one another. I remember in one match Jake and Superman were matched together, and as the countdown started Jake yelled, "I can't believe I got matched up with Superman!" I assume that situation-specific lines are all around the game, is that right?

They are. And that's a big part of it, making sure the characters are part of the world, interacting and responding to things that are happening as well as who they're with. Each character has hundreds of lines--you can hear them by clicking on each character multiple times at the character select screen--but we also represent them through the announcer voice pack unlockables. I like Batman because I love Kevin Conroy, and him doing announcements for me is a very nice treat.

I think that everything we're trying to do, we're putting a lot of love into it. We want to make sure we're doing the things that players really want. Maybe they don't even know they want this, but we should pursue it anyway. It's a massive investment for us, but it's very clear what we're trying to do: make a really authentic version of these characters in every way. I can't tell you how many times we'd scrap things because we couldn't pull it off. We want to make sure that we deliver things to players that meet or exceed their expectations. We're trying to maximize value for the player, and some things we could put into the game won't do that, they could actually detract from that value, so we have to be really careful about what we're trying to put into the game.

You mention maximizing player value, is that part of why you went the free-to-play method? Fighting games usually use the season pass method: one cost to buy the game, one cost to get this expansion or this season pass of characters, over and over again. You're trying the F2P model on a fighting game, which is not a genre that normally delves in this. What about that model makes the most sense for what you're trying to do with MultiVersus?

There's different advantages to both models, right? I'm not saying one is better than the other. But I will say that I have worked on both models, and I have a very deep understanding of them. For us, a huge part of it is accessibility. I've been playing fighting games for 20 years at least, probably more. It's a reason why I'm a combat designer. They've been super important to me, very instrumental in all of my decision making, and have provided me with a career. I want more players to actually be able to experience what I experienced, growing up playing these games. A big part of that is removing as many barriers to playing the game as possible and introducing this genre to as many players as possible. If you don't have to pay for the game, you can just try it out and then you're introduced to the game, right? We removed a barrier immediately. A lot of players can try the game that way. It's also on us to make sure that players are enjoying the experience, and I think there's an expectation around free-to-play games where there's constant updates and community interaction. With that said, we're trying to make the best service game we can, with the goal being to make the best live-service game ever. It's a lofty goal, but we're going to try. You have to set lofty goals, right? We're making sure we're communicating with the community and that the community is being heard. We're listening to them, and together we can make a better game out of it.

A blueprint of this idea happened recently: When we first announced Steven Universe, the character model just wasn't up to par with what players and fans were expecting. We actually went back to the drawing board, and the community actually gave us a bunch of feedback. After another pass we went back to the community, and they said we were going in the right direction, until finally we came out with the revised model of the character. We addressed it, and I think now it's a very positive addition. The model is significantly better than before, it's undeniable, and because of that interaction the game is better overall.

In reference to combat design, the main mode that stands out to me is the team-based 2v2 mode. You have put so much emphasis on team-based battling, with attacks that will hit opponents, but also buff your teammate at the same time. Other platform fighters have team modes, but this is a very unique take on something that has been around for a long time. When planning the game out, when did the team see that 2v2 was a major opportunity?

I wouldn't say it was an "opportunity" or anything like that. I've played a lot of platform fighters, and I realized the reason why I wasn't playing them as much recently was because I would really want to play with my friends. I'd play shooters and MOBAs and stuff like that with them, but eventually I thought, "Why am I not playing fighting games right now?" Because of that, we want to make something that focuses on playing with friends, having a shared objective, and interacting with them. All of my friendships involve playing games in some way, it's important to my social life, and we wanted to bring that experience to the fighting game and platform fighter genre. One of our pillars is being social and cooperative, and it impacts everything that we're trying to do from the ground up: every decision, every mechanic, how combat works, how characters work, etc. All of these are things you have to consider when you make a decision like we did with 2v2.

In that vein, if we're talking about playing with friends, we have to talk about netcode. Rollback netcode has been a huge topic in video games recently, both for games that implement it and games that don't and pay for it later. What has been the biggest obstacle in getting the netcode into a place where it's functioning the way it is? I can't imagine it's easy to put something like that in here, especially when there's four players in 2v2 or free-for-all as opposed to just two players. What kind of challenges were you finding in rollback netcode, and how did you figure it out?

Chris White, our CTO, drove that initiative, and it does impact everything. I've had to learn a lot in this process; scripting for online play is very different than single-player play. From the ground up we've had to relearn a lot of different things, including how we actually develop the game with the netcode. Another thing was finding a partner that would allow us to do this, WB has been amazing in that regard.

It does require a lot of resources, like you were saying, because we're actually server-based rollback netcode, which is very unpopular from a business sense because it is incredibly expensive. We looked at what the absolute best experience would be, and then having a partner that trusts us in delivering it, that was hugely important in making that investment. The netcode is where we're pouring a lot of our resources, to make sure that it is the best it can be from every angle. It'll continue to get better, we will continuously improve it over time. While it's a massive effort for us, it's also a massive importance. It comes back to removing barriers, with this netcode you should be able to play anytime, anywhere, and it should feel great. It comes back to the social aspect as well: you should be able to link with new people from across the country if you want, right? The more players you have, the better that experience becomes. Part of the reason why we're free-to-play is because there will be more players in matchmaking thanks to latency-based matchmaking, which we actually do take advantage of. The more players you have, the better experience you have.

We want to make it as seamless as possible, while making sure we're delivering a great experience across the board. Everybody can enjoy the game, no matter where they are or what platform they are with cross-platform play. It hasn't been easy. It's been a massive investment. I can't even express how hard it's been, but we'll continue to invest and continue to push in this way and make sure that, you know, it's a continuously improving experience. Like I said, I want us to be the best online live-service game. That's the goal. I don't think we're there yet, but we are going to get there.

Last question: I am noticing a couple of possible hints or teases within this closed alpha. For example, in the tutorial, there is a very interesting target that is not associated with anyone on the current roster. Also, when Wonder Woman uses her lasso to pull an opponent to her, she uses a certain three-word phrase which has connotations elsewhere in the video game industry. Are you subtly teasing things that are coming to the game, or should I stop looking into things so much?

I'm not going to stop you from looking into things, but I probably can't talk about it right now.

Jason Fanelli on Google+

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