Considerations for multiplayer in Wolfire Receiver
October 6, 2015
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“Complete the mission, you’re the only one left!”
While Receiver‘s mechanics may preclude successful implementation of a multiplayer game-mode, it is nonetheless an interesting exercise to consider different aspects that could go into such a game type to keep things interesting and refreshing. Receiver has been discussed previously as an excellent weapons simulator, encapsulated in a narrative concerning cults and a clever reflection on the impact of media in everyday lives. The game’s core mechanic involves the reloading of pistols, which, compared to other first person shooters, must be executed with a sequence of carefully placed keystrokes. Receiver is a single-player title, but one must wonder how the dynamics would change if the game were a multiplayer; different modes could pit two to ten players against one another (either individually or as teams), as they strive to capture tapes ahead of everyone else, or else be focussed on eliminating other players (or killtrons). The weapon mechanics, physics and game design could lead to players adopting some interesting strategies, as there would not be regenerating health, mini-maps or even rounds left, encouraging players to plan each move carefully. Such a game would involve the need to develop a mastery of weapons reloading: although individual engagements will still depend on sure aim and firing the first shot, there are numerous factors that could make a multiplayer version of Receiver interesting. Players with a greater proficiency with their weapons will be at an advantage, being able to pick off distant opponents with a greater certainty, and increased familiarity with the maps will allow players to figure out where the best shots for ambushes are. If the one-hit-kill mechanic and permanent death mechanic is retained, players will also be forced to play tactically, making use of the maps as cover, and double-checking their corners to ensure that they do not fall victim to an ambush. To ensure a fair start, players would spawn with identical weapons and equipment in a match, with their weapons in the same initial state.
- This post is titled “Considerations for multiplayer in Wolfire Receiver”, but all of the screenshots come from the singleplayer (i.e. the game available on Steam). The discussion was born from conversation with a friend, who wondered whether or not Receiver‘s mechanics would be conducive towards a multiplayer experience where victory would be determined by a combination of skill, strategy and reflexes.
- If we follow through with this thought experiment, the answer appears to be “yes”: implementation would probably be the most difficult part, but the addition of other players would make for some interesting gameplay. This is the most tapes I’ve found in this unusual structure: I’ve seen screenshots where three tapes have spawned here before.
- The main limitation about multiplayer would be map generation, since players could potentially avoid one another by running in opposite directions, and that some sections do not easily allow for vertical travel. One fix for this will be to design new maps permitting vertical travel and opening up/closing off new areas based on the players’ positions relative to one another. Besides this and networking considerations, the other aspect will be the design of graphical assets for the players themselves.
- The complete lack of a HUD means that players would be completely dependent on audio cues, such as gunshots and footsteps, to determine where the other players are, adding yet another level of challenge to the game. One aspect that could prove difficult to control are macro input programs, such as G-Hotkey. Countering such programs would represent the greatest challenge in implementation, and using macros could detract from the experience.
- Having the killtrons in the environment would provide side objectives for the players and could yield some cooperation even amongst competing players. For instance, if the last remaining players in a game are eliminated by kill-trons, then the game might count that as a loss for both teams, so players would need to cooperate and shoot down the killtrons to avoid being penalised.
- One addition to Receiver that would act as incentive includes adding different, perhaps weapon-specific, attachments for each pistol. The Model 10 might gain a red dot sight for better aiming-down-sights performance at range, while the M1911 could be given an optional suppressor to better improve a player’s stealth. The G17, with its automatic fire and large magazine capacity, would gain hipfire accuracy with a laser sight. Speed loaders might also be available in certain gametypes to emphasise the tactical aspects.
- Since my last Receiver post back in June, I’ve accumulated an additional 14 hours over four months. The game’s randomised levels and items mean that every round is different, and sometimes, Receiver can be remarkably generous with resources: these rounds usually mean I find anywhere from six to nine tapes, although a single well-placed killtron would still kill me.
- The aforementioned elements are absent in Receiver because the game would otherwise be too easy: it takes a degree of skill to accurately target and hit specific components on the killtrons, and after 48 hours of gameplay, I’m able to disable the killtrons (both the hover-drones and turrets) with a single round. The turrets are somewhat tougher, as shots may sometimes only disable their motors, and depending on where I need to go next, a follow-up shot is necessary to take out the camera.
- The tension in Receiver increases as more tapes are collected, and the music intensifies. In some play-throughs I’ve seen, players begin panicking as they collect more tapes, fearing death. It is possible for one to empty out their entire magazine into a distant killtron, and consequently, my recommendation would be to fire carefully earlier on in the game, collecting and conserving ammunition to ensure that they have sufficient ammunition to survive. Here, I come close to my second victory of all time: I paused the game to sit down to dinner, and then resumed shortly after to complete this run.
- With two completions under my belt, I merely need to beat Receiver once with the G17 and I’ll have found all eleven tapes in one run with every gun. So ends this post: I’m aware that the Wolfire team is unlikely to build or release a multiplayer version of Receiver, but it has been an amusing exercise to see what features and challenges could arise from multiplayer. Up next will be a talk on Charlotte: though I’ve not mentioned watching it, I did follow it during the Summer 2015 season and found some elements worth discussing. This should be done before Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s first episode airs, and I aim to get this particular review out as soon as practical.
From an implementation perspective, this would require a server (implemented as a script in Unity), the means of connecting to said server and spawning the players. From there, state synchronisation and remote procedure calls would be needed, such that the locations of the players and their shots, and current map are sent to all players. Player positions and shots fired will need to be interpolated or predicted to account for network latency. With players being able to consistently see one another, they can then begin interacting in the game environment: the process for creating a multiplayer version of Receiver is considered to be moderately difficult to implement. The main challenge faced for multiplayer is the possibility that some players will use macro software (like G-Hotkey) to gain an advantage, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of any fixes (except maybe to listen for the speed of the inputs and reject them if the interval between each is too short). There are doubtlessly other difficulties that must be addressed, but a multiplayer game mode could prove to be quite entertaining, as it would add the dynamic of interacting with other players into a relatively challenging game. The end result would be a first person shooter that would play out in a very life-like fashion: players would need to develop a mastery for operating their pistols, exercise caution (and perhaps use bounding overwatch patterns to move from cover to cover) and communicate with one another (to provide cover for a teammate while reloading, for instance) in order to stand victorious. Only a handful of possibilities are discussed here, and while an implementation is very improbable, it is clear that a multiplayer component would add new dimensions to Receiver; the result would be a game mode that would demand a combination of skill, tactical thinking and reflexes far surpassing that of a typical multiplayer first person shooter.