Deathmatch and Game Design

Posted by death on July 12, 2015, 5:42 p.m.

So online multiplayer is the big thing going on with games now. Every game needs a multiplayer mode, usually of the competitive variety. That being said, I have been thinking about how to implement the classic Deathmatch into my multiple-year spanning FPS game. I don't want to do something generic and typical but I also don't want to get too experimental and end up with an experience that fails due to oversights in design caused by trying to cram in gimmicks and cool mechanics without much thought in how they effect traditional game designs. Like, you know, most indie games do.

I have a number of ideas and thoughts about Deathmatch and competitive game modes for a shooter. The way I see it, there are 2 (vastly generalized) types of Deathmatch mode in shooters:

1. Old school Doom/Quake like, where players are spawned into an arena, run and gun their way to victory, picking up guns, ammo and armor as they go. Dominating players will often stock up on the powerful weapons and armor and rule the map until completion.

2. Modern Counter-strike or Team Fortress like, you have a load out, you don't tend to pick up shiny weapons and armor during the match, often team oriented with or without objectives, this seems to be slightly more balanced giving each newly spawned player a better chance.

I like the charm of the old school style but it obviously has some flaws. I experienced them in a game like Quake-live where being new to a map was a huge disadvantage as experienced players knew where the best weapons and items spawned and made sure to routinely suck them up as they respawned to prevent others from getting to them. These players dominated the maps and had massive kills compared to everyone else. It can be fun sure but it can also be frustrating as hell as you have to fight against a 200 hp 200 ap Quad-damage bastard blasting you with rockets every time you spawn before you can even get a grip on whats going on. On the other side though, sometimes a newer player gets a lucky shot and the kingpin dies and loses all their stuff, turning the tide briefly and the noob will feel like they did something worthwhile during the match.

Meanwhile, the modern design attempts to correct those issues by removing all the pickups and allowing players some freedom of choice in choosing loadouts, an item and weapon set chosen before the match, or after death. This seems promising, no longer will you spawn into a map with enemies that have vastly superior weapons and armor, everyone is on a somewhat even playing field and the deciding factor is not memorization (at least not as much) but skill. However, this style seems to get a bit… boring at times and because it lacks some of that random loot/pickups from the old school design, there isn't much chance of a noob getting a kill or two on a pro. Just from the first few minutes of a match, a player can get a feel for where they stand in the hierarchy of skill from the rest of the players in the match and they simply have to accept their place as they won't stand much chance against those that are superior in skill no matter how hard they try.

So to compare the two more closely, we have one design with a huge gap for random factors in the match, players stumbling across items that recently spawned and getting an upper hand briefly and feeling the rush of using a big f*cking gun against their enemies. And the other design removes all the messiness and goes for a straight forward, balanced match where all players have no advantages or disadvantages over each other (aside from balanced stat and weapon differences). To me these seem like two extremes so why not come up with some sort of middle ground, a hybrid of the two.

How can one create a design that is both fun and exciting with the unknown waiting around every corner while also maintaining a sense of fairness and balance in the match? A difficult question to answer but I have a few ideas I have been thinking about…

1. A timer / counter that when activated gives all players the same new [random] weapon/item, allowing players to switch to this weapon at any time through out the rest of the match. For example, assume all players spawn with a shotgun and after 1 minute has passed, the Machine Gun gets unlocked and all players can choose between the shotgun and machine gun at any time, and every set interval of time a new weapon or item gets unlocked. This keeps things exciting and fresh every match but also maintains fairness with every player getting access to the same stuff, no chance of hoarding or camping item spawners in this design. However there might be some cons to this idea, such as most players always using the same weapon at the same time, resulting in a less diverse match.

2. Item spawners that spawn completely random weapons and items. This breaks any chance of experienced players memorizing the locations of the good stuff they want/need. It also keeps things interesting with players stumbling across interesting gear and almost forcing them to experiment with the random stuff that they pick up. Of course, this still would cause balance issues as some players will pick up stronger stuff that will give them an upper hand against everyone else but it would be less common and not something that can be easily reproduced by experienced players. It would come in short bursts and everyone has an equal chance of coming across a BFG or super armor.

3. Mayhem. Just complete craziness, give everyone everything and watch all hell break lose. It's fair at least, everyone has everything so only skill and strategic choices will win and it'll certainly be quite interesting, exciting and diverse in how people play. The only downside is that it may be a bit overwhelming to newer players. Might also get a little stale after a while as each match has the same set of rules and options that never vary because there is no randomness.

Well those are just some of my ideas, I want to chose one design and implement that for my Deathmatch mode. Seeing as this mode is just an extra feature and not the main core of the game, I am not consider adding in more than 1 design for Deathmatch mode even though that would be the best option, giving players the choice of which rule set to play with. So any thoughts? Criticisms? Ideas of your own? Good or bad experiences with other Deathmatch games?


Ferret 8 years, 11 months ago

Interesting blog. I don't think I can think of any games with loadouts that aren't team death match, or at least any popular ones. I assumes that is because loadouts are best for balancing two teams. That said, I don't like loadouts for death match (specifically not team death match, I'm assuming you aren't talking about TDM).

Here are important things about DM:

-The longer you live the harder it should be, aka no wiping jelly off the screen to regen health.

-There needs to be a reason for players to keep moving.

-Risk and Reward baby

So I don't think the old quake weapon spawning should be completely discounted, I do disagree with hiding the best weapon is bad though. Best or better weapons should be in vulnerable places that make people walk out into the open. I think it's important to make weapon spawns obvious for new players, such as color coding spawners so that they are easy to remember. There is a certain thrill to learning a level I think, you don't want to lose too much of that. I really really dislike health regen in multiplayer games, it just encourages people to sit still instead of hunt for health. However you don't necessarily need health spawns to encourage running around if you have weapons, just an example. Problem with quake set up is there isn't much risk for living longer, could be the health pickups or there isn't some other objective/mechanic to rubberband them.

About your ideas:

1. Ehhhhh, weapons should be diverse, right? Well that means that weapons should have disadvantages and advantages, right? Well I don't like the idea of restricting player's creativity and then slowly being able to chose the right weapon at the right time. Idk, I don't think it adds much while taking away so much that the map used to provide. It's kind of like weapons race right? Everyone spawns with the same weapon, but with each kill they get a new gun, now they have to play it differently. Only difference is in weapons race they have to use a worse gun, this idea could allow certain people to have their comfort gun unlocked before others.

2. Ehhhh, it could work if there is an overall mechanic that requires players to move around, otherwise this makes all spawners equally important. There is no reason to explore the map because the two spawners a players bounces between gives all the weapon diversity they will need, heck maybe these two spawners are easiest to defend.

3. I like this, but probably only if all weapons are balanced, which is pretty difficult. Hopefully there is enough reason to move around though, because now the map doesn't provide much. Maybe there is ammo around? Maybe that really good gun (thus unbalanced guns) is only good enough to kill one guy? Dang that would make living longer risking, people coming back to life with a strong weapon and I already used all my best ammo. That sounds pretty sweet now.

It's going to be tough to find a good balance I think, idk.

Also, I'm not an authority on DM, all opinion. I just really like DM.

Alert Games 8 years, 11 months ago

I'm telling you, AGAPI (codename) is going to be a hit. Just give me a little more time to start the groundwork for the DLL

death 8 years, 11 months ago

@Ferret: I like your 3 important tips, I would agree with those and your explaination on what works about the quake style deathmatch helps me understand those early developers approach better. Like old shooters, the games were designed to encourage exploration and it would seem this also effected how they designed deathmatch. Though i am curious as to how important an element like that is for a deathmatch experience.

Personally i like my 2nd idea the most so far, however you bring up good points. So to counter the problem of players defending spawners, how about every 10 seconds 1 random spawner will spawn 1 random weapon\item. With this design, players wont know which spawner the next item will spaw at, keeping them on the look out for items and moving between them frequently. The low time interval increases the chance of any player gettin an item or two. Ammo for bigger guns would be relatively low and unlikely to be spawned so getting that advantage is only temporary. The only issue here is the case of a player gettin a bad match where they hardly ever get a useful item. Also this design would require very careful planning into the map design and placement of spawners.

I could try to mix traditional quake design with this idea and create spawners that spawn a semi-random weapon/item based on its location. For instance, vulnerable spawners have a slower spawn time and higher chance of spawning beefy stuff but not always the same weapon so not completely predictable. Likewise for more hidden spawners spawning weaker stuff more frequently.

This is gonna take a lot of playtesting -_-

Astryl 8 years, 11 months ago

Your second idea sounds like it could spice things up a bit. As a frequent DM player, I tend to get into a "route" and stick to it. Health Boosts->Armor->Favorite Weapon->Super Weapon->Repeat.

Another idea that follows a similar route might be to have random "spawn drops". At intervals, randomly select a handful of spawn locations out of the total locations in a level, and drop random items at those points.

The traditional DM method isn't all bad though. Yes, it does give experienced players a massive edge in terms of movement and knowledge, but that never stopped me in Quake or UT. If anything, it gives players an incentive to learn the map and its lines well.

This is gonna take a lot of playtesting -_-
Sign me up :P

Castypher 8 years, 11 months ago

1. No. It's fun to unlock weapons by accomplishments, not by some arbitrary match timer. It's not remotely fun to have the same weapons as everyone else, unlocked at the same time. It's fun to have a playstyle associated with a weapon that's "yours," and it's fun to adapt to different playstyles depending on the match. But this idea runs the risk of serious monotony.

2. Runs the risk of camping. Ferret already explained this pretty well. Also runs the risk of RNG problems. Games like this should be run by skill, not by luck.

3. Too generic. It puts everyone on a level playing field, which is good by itself, but there's no reason to give players that many weapons at once when they'll use maybe two or three. Players also have no reason to experiment because they'll most likely use whatever they're comfortable with. Ultimately, here there's no diversity. Part of the appeal of TF2 is that no class functions the same, and even two players of the same class might not function the same. Diversity makes things fun and interesting with each new match, and guess what? There's no RNG involved on a match level, because players already come equipped with their weapons.

You seem concerned about the prominence of player skill, which is kind of silly. But if you want really want to mitigate this, consider imposing bounties or debuffs the better a player does, so other players might have incentive to take out the kingpin early in order to ensure their own survival. However, you should be more concerned about the reverse: turtling, which negatively impacts the match for everyone by drawing out the timer in an incredibly boring standoff.

To offer a suggestion and elaborate on 2, some games do these sorts of events, and your success at an event might net you items or upgrades. To push the idea forward, your performance might affect the quality of the item you're given, so someone doesn't randomly wind up with a super weapon without doing anything. Also, some events could directly impact all players, forcing them to adjust quickly or die early. Something like bombing runs or air drops indicated to everyone a short time before the event even happens, so they can quickly get into position.


-Risk and Reward baby
Put this at the front of your thoughts when you're designing concepts like this. Risk and reward is probably one of the most reliable game design philosophies out there. Doubly so for skill-based multiplayer games.

death 8 years, 11 months ago

@Mega: Yeah that routine play is what i want to avoid. This is why i leaning toward some slight random variations. Also good suggestion, ties into my alternate secons idea.

@kilin: Interesting point of view but my experiences tell me otherwise with your opinion on #1, for example, all rocket launchers or all mines on Goldeneye was a blast to play. Of course you would only do a few matches of those so options are always the best way to go. Thats what i really loved about rare's shooters, they gave ridiculous options for customizing the matches.

My concern is mostly about avoiding systematic advantages that an experienced player might gain. Obviously a skilled player will always get more points but they shouldnt also gain some sort of advantage because of their knowledge and experience, the only advantage they should have is their skill. I want to think about balance but not as much as fun, id prefer a game to be fun over perfectly balanced. Im not creating the next big competitive multiplayer game on anything, just a fun additional mode to a mostly single player campaign.

Yaru 8 years, 10 months ago

How about using rubber banding like in a Mario Kart game, where item spawners give you question-marked boxes that pops out SOMETHING, and it's a more powerful weapon the more you're behind? If you get a powerful weapon early on, you might want to keep it and save it rather than using it too much (since if you get too far ahead you'll get just pistols and knives) and if a player is pwning too much, you'll get rocket launchers and stuff to catch up. (And by the way, a skilled player can STILL get ammo for super guns… by killing the noobs that get them from boxes and looting their corpses… it's just that going close to a noob with a flamethrower or whatever is still a really bad idea unless you're really skilled.)

Anyway, ideally this should result in a game where anyone can turn the tide and get back if they start lagging behind, or at least kill some tough guys and feel like they achieved something, but a vastly better player still wins in the end.

death 8 years, 10 months ago

@Yal: yeah I thought a lot about Nintendo's approach to multiplayer because it's the kind of multiplayer fun I want to produce in this game but I don't want to go as far as the mechanics of Mario Kart or Mario Party as I often find them to be a bit overboard. The idea of giving a slight boost to the chance of better drops for low skilled players is a good one but I don't want to give them massively overpowered drops either (bullet bill/lightning), I also don't want to punish skilled players with items that target them (spiny shell). So if I were to take the randomized approach, there may be some slight variation based on the player's current rank but I wouldn't skew it so much that the better players are severely punished and weak players are getting all the good stuff. Just a slight adjustment really.

I was recently thinking about how Spawn: In The Demon's Hand did their scoring system and I really like how it worked in that game so I might implement that. The system they used was that any player that defeats the 1st rank player gets 4 points, while killing all other players only yields 2 points. Killing a team mate was -1 points and suicide was -3 points. (if my memory is that accurate) What's great about this is that it encourages players to go after the top ranking player and score more points and it also causes the top player to have a lower potential gain from killing opponents. This made things really intense as players would often go neck to neck a little more often than with flat rates for points gains.

I could take that idea further and award points based on the difference of 2 players' ranks when one kills another. So in the example of the 8th ranked player defeating the 1st rank player, the 8th rank player gains 7 points from doing that but if the 1st rank player kills rank 8, they only get 1 point. Although this could probably run into issues of being a bit unfair when a player reaches the top and finds their gains to drop too much. Would have to balance how many additional points one could get for a single kill. Also ranks would have to allow for players of the same kill count to take the same rank number, otherwise the beginning of a match would be ridiculous.