Lessons from Deathmatch
If the members of the Cadenza team were to go back in time and put a finger on their first serious PC multiplayer experience, it’s likely that we’d find one thing in common: deathmatch. Deathmatch is instant gratification–get in and kill the enemy. It’s the perfect mode for kicking off a LAN party, or wasting ten minutes on your favorite dedicated server. It is also a great proving ground for a shooter still being designed.
Classic late-90s deathmatch modes all had a few things in common: low “time to engagement”, maps that encouraged players to keep moving, and rapid, mobile engagements. As students of this particular brand of multiplayer shooter, we at Cadenza were excited to put these three strands of shooter genetics into Retrovirus.
Time to engagement is the measure of time it takes a player to go from spawn to battle after a death. Multiplayer pacing centers so much on this. The goal with classic shooters, and thus Retrovirus, is to provide the player enough of a breather in between lives that they can briefly consider their death and possibly check their stats before their next spawn. That breather extends beyond the spawn timer! A three second spawn timer means nothing if the player has to spend twenty seconds seeking an enemy. We adjust for time to engagement first by adjusting the spawn timer, and then by suggesting players play on levels that fit well with their number of enemies.
Assuming players are playing on an appropriately scaled level, the next order of business is to keep players moving. Camping is a legitimate tactic, but to generate interest, players have to move! We accomplish this by cutting down on the number of cubby holes that players can store themselves in, and also by giving a second angle of approach in and out of dead end areas. This forces camping players to stay mindful of their second approach, and to be ready to run at any time. Additionally, incentivizing certain danger points on the map can get players out into the open. A well-placed pickup can incite players to make risky moves, which can yield big returns.
So, you’ve got players spawning into quick combat, and players are moving about the level. Now, it’s all about the fight. How many shots does it take from each weapon to get a kill? How hard is it to land those shots? How much damage can a player mitigate through effective movement and combat trickery?
I’ve found somewhat of a “tennis” mentality with Retrovirus’ combat system. In tennis, most “points,” or plays that happen from a single serve of the ball, are short; let’s say two or three strokes of the ball per player. The highlight reel points, though, are long “rallies,” with each player getting ten or more touches, with one or two of those coming as spectacular shots. For Retrovirus, we’re looking to create some of both.
Most fights should last between four and eight seconds, with fire exchanged as players weave in and out of cover. Great fights stand out at twenty or more seconds, and frequently involve another enemy, simultaneously or sequentially. The goal is to have enough fights in Retrovirus’ deathmatch turn into long, skillful combat while still allowing for times where players simply get caught with their pants down.
The culmination of this deathmatch lesson can be seen in Retrovirus’ alpha level “Exhaust”. In Exhaust, players experience a rapid time to engagement, a level that encourages active hunting, and frantic engagements.