It's Crazy Enough that it Just Might Work...
When I first heard about doing the Multiplayer for the new Ghostbusters game, I was excited but very cautious as well. Movie licensed games are not something that Threewave, being a group of mostly hardcore shooter fans, usually get excited about. We were proven wrong.
If you don’t know, Threewave Software has made great shooter content for a long time. Threewave developed the original Threewave Capture the Flag (“CTF”) mod for Quake, and followed it up with work on top brands as Quake III, Doom 3, Jedi Academy, Soldier of Fortune, Turok, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Army of Two.
When we were about the Ghostbusters franchise, our ears perked up. Ghostbusters certainly wasn’t our typical first-or-third person shooter fare; we were up for a change after finishing up a particularly difficult project.
We went to Dallas to check out Terminal Reality’s demo of Ghostbusters and were amazed; the physics system, ghost AI and proton stream tech totally captured the feeling of the movies. But how on earth would we make it work in Multiplayer where technical limitations (on number of physics objects, enemies and bandwidth restrictions) can be very strict? TRI had very simple Multiplayer technology at the time with a competitive “Ghosts vs. Ghostbusters” design that had problems. The timeframe in which to finish the project was very short as well. It was a long flight back to Vancouver.
Over the next month or so, however, we got more and more excited about the possibilities. Co-op gameplay was first and foremost in our minds; everyone wanted to play as the “actual” Ghostbusters team. We came up with a co-op design that maximized teamwork while allowing players to also compete among themselves, framed against the theme of “a day in the life of the Ghostbusters Team.” Players would travel around the City, doing Ghostbusting jobs to make the most cash. “Job Types” (modes) such as Containment and Survival were designed to appeal to all sorts of gamers, not just hardcore shooter fans. And of course the game needed to be replay-able; no game would play exactly the same way twice.
With a solid design, and a lot of hoping on the technical side (!), we started in earnest on maps and gameplay prototyping.
Serving All Your Supernatural Elimination Needs
For Ghostbusters Multiplayer we wanted to include featured locations from the Single Player game, but adapt them for Multiplayer use. All of the maps are designed to suit a majority of job types; it was critical that we allowed enough space for more enemies, more players, and more action! Threewave has some of the best level designers in the business and their expertise was critical in this regard.
Refining the different Job types took a long time. We had a good idea of how we wanted each to play but since we had no real network code for several months, our prototypes changed a lot over time. Once we were able to test the different Jobs, we quickly iterated on the rules and came to some solid decisions on what we felt was the most fun.
We also soon discovered we needed a few extra things to keep players challenged in Co-op Multiplayer as compared to the single player game. Four “live” Ghostbusters ended up completely destroying the AI ghosts! Teamwork was something we needed to focus on; in the Single Player game the other Ghostbusters help you, we wanted to make sure players did better by working together in Multiplayer.
Over the course of prototyping and development we decided to introduce limited ammunition and powerups; this choice really allowed us to reward teamwork and create some unique Multiplayer “Ghostbusters” technology items, such as the Proton Accelerator and the Ghost Shrinker.
We also added some unique Multiplayer AI “aggro” behaviours to challenge players even more. Some of these include ghosts that go berserk or even split in two when angered.
Persistent online ranking, automatic difficulty scaling and Most Wanted Ghosts to find and catch were added to keep players coming back to play again and again.
In Ghostbusters, ghost wrangling and trapping is one of the key elements players do over and over. The first time we tried Multiplayer wrangling, we knew we were on to something fun. In the Single Player game, if there are more AI players holding a ghost, the less the ghost struggles. We emphasized and added to this feature for Multiplayer Ghost Wrangling. If players work together, ghosts go down faster, and everyone gets a better score.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Code!
As our gameplay became more focused and successful, our tech team overcame what had earlier seemed technically impossible.
We developed interaction rules to limit (and hide!) the number of active physics objects to maintain network traffic and performance without sacrificing gameplay. An AI spawning and Job type system was developed to reduce the amount of hand scripting we needed to do while complying with Multiplayer requirements. Our programmers worked hard with our internal QA team to really make the Multiplayer game shine.
Call the Professionals
We knew about the pending merger; we never thought that Ghostbusters was in real danger of being dropped. We had completed some great focus tests and were well on our way to finishing up our portion of the game when we got the news that the game was actively being pitched to a new publisher. As an independent developer, the next few months were very challenging. We knew the title would be picked up eventually, but not knowing 100% when was not a good place to be in.
When Atari was confirmed to be the new publisher and the news surfaced that the release date was to be pushed out, we were very relieved. Not only would Threewave and TRI have more time to polish the game, but the game would have extensive marketing support to coincide with the Blu-Ray release of the Ghostbusters movie.
I’m proud of the team here at Threewave; we’re excited to be a part of the Ghostbusters game and look forward to playing online this summer!!
The launch will also leverage the presence of Ghostbusters: The Video Game around the globe as Sony marks the film’s upcoming 25th anniversary.
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