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The Abandoning of Campaign-centric Design

January 20, 2014

abandonment.issuesWith the eventual success of Titanfall, will we see more games with single-player campaigns omitted in favor of just multiplayer components? Valve/Turtle Rock were very successful in the omission of a true campaign in their Left4Dead franchise. For many that played the two games, players were left to fill in the gaps with their own interpretation of what was happening in what TRS described as “films” which were essentially loosely tied scenarios such as escaping from/onto: a hospital, cargo plane, armored personnel carrier, and a boat. Valve has ventured down this path several times with their mods of Half-Life 2 with Counter Strike and Team Fortress. Overkill Studios has used that same kind of formula in their Pay Day series. For the time being, Turtle Rock Studios’ upcoming game, Evolve, seems to be following in the footsteps of their L4D games. This seems to be the trend for smaller studios because they lack the manpower to tackle everything. Why do two things sub-par when you can do one thing well? Respawn currently has a 64-person studio which isn’t large by any means. Although Titanfall has been in development for three years, this game seems to heading down the right track. However, is this the right way to go, and what does this mean for the industry?

Respawn has admitted that it has been difficult to market their game without the traditional single-player content. We can see that their trailers are heavily edited video captures of actual multiplayer skirmishes, in order to illustrate what the game will be about. Since Respawn is essentially made up of the original Infinity Ward crew that brought us games such as Call of Duty 2, Modern Warfare 1 & 2, they have had some decent stories to tell in their games with the exception of MW 2 (that story was atrocious imo). Zampella and crew are now embarking onto untested waters.

I remember when Cliffy B and Rod Fergusson expressed how significant it was that players never bothered to finish the campaigns of the Gears of War franchise. During their time at Epic Games, they struggled to entice players to finish campaigns by tying multiplayer unlocks for completion of the story. There are many designers that simply want their story told and experienced, and I don’t fault them for that at all. Since data from many games indicate that there is only a small percentage of players that actually finish campaigns, will Respawn’s perceived success spur other developers to follow suit in foregoing traditional single-player campaigns, in favor of the more cost-effective multiplayer components? The reason I use the term ‘cost-effective’ is that it is definitely cheaper to develop a multiplayer-focused game than incorporating the costly single-player component. There’s a tremendous use of resources such as story writing, scripts, voice & motion capture actors, artists, quality assurance testers, etc. With just a multiplayer focused game, the use of those resources are significantly reduced which essentially costs less to produce.

As Suns mentioned during this weekend’s XBL chat session, the focus on Respawn, as in regards to Titanfall’s retail game offering, should include no less than twelve maps because the existence of a campaign is a moot point. Anything less in map offerings will not be taken well by both game reviewers and the players alike. The cost of designing maps and testing them are far less taxing than developing a single-player campaign. We can pretty much agree that there will be a season pass for TF. Maps are what will keep the game fresh because after all, there’s only multiplayer available. So I ask you, will more studios start ditching single-player campaigns for more profit from less work?

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17 Comments
  1. January 20, 2014 3:36 pm

    That is an interesting question. I know that any team I was leading would be ditching the campaign. As you mention, the resources required in time, money, and personnel for the development of a decent campaign are staggering. Focusing on MP only, especially when you have a hook like “make your own Zombie movie at The Carnival”, is too pragmatic/smart for me not to go that route.

    As a gamer who very seldom bothers with the single-player content, dumping its development is a no-brainer for me. There are epic moments in campaigns well done, but seldom do they rival the water-cooler stories we make when playing with friends, or even just with randoms against other humans. This is best illustrated in the difference between my personal responses to Bioshock and Left4Dead. With the exception of awe in seeing Big Daddies and little Sisters walking about in their environment oblivious to my presence in transparent tunnels across the deep, I experienced almost no emotion while playing that game. I found the “moral” choices in Bioshock to be contrived, silly exercises whose outcomes were predictable and uninteresting. In Left4Dead, on the other hand, I experienced real fear, anger including irritation at teammates, angst, sadness, disappointment, and great mirth. Every time a teammate was incapped, it was a huge dilemma. Do I stay to save and perhaps be in turned saved by the extra help, or do I save my own skin and run for the safe house?

    Many gamers love gaming alone, and walking the path that a developer has created for them. I do not, so if indeed, more resources are going to be put into developing smarter, deeper MP experiences, I am all for it.

    I will concede this however, it would give the gamers a deeper connection to the world if there was some form of narrative told either via a game campaign or accompanying novels/comics. Pursuing the latter is something that Respawn should definitely consider.

    Finally, as regards Titanfall, yes, EA/Respawn really needs to include a minimum of 12 – 15 maps, or there will (should) be considerable backlash and hits to their review scores. If they were to provide 20 maps, reviewers would take the opposite tune and lavish them with praise. Not gonna happen, but it should.

    • Blankman permalink*
      January 20, 2014 4:18 pm

      Good stuff, Mike. You’ve always been into games for the social aspect of it more than the single-player experience. I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Time is at a premium due to everyone’s different schedules.

      It is wishful thinking if Titanfall launches with anywhere close to twenty maps. Respawn’s community manager, Abbie Heppe, refused to confirm how many maps would be available on the retail game when posed the question on Twitter. I suspect that it will be in the neighborhood of a dozen because EA/Respawn know that the real money lies in DLC when it comes to FPS games. TF could grow stale relatively quickly after the initial euphoria dissipates despite the grinding for unlocks and ranks if Respawn doesn’t offer maps and other content (i.e. Titan classes, pilot variations, weapons/equipment kits) on a regular basis. After all, there’s no single-player campaign that could otherwise, occupy the players’ time. Zampella has also gone on record that there will be no micro transactions or pre-order digital incentives associated with the game. That, imo, is a good thing. At least you can’t buy your way to domination or receive an unfair advantage over others because you don’t want to put the time in to earn it legitimately.

      Part of the reason why I think multiplayer-centric games such as Left4Dead and Pay Day were successful was because players could control the pace of their experience. With games such as Team Fortress, Counterstrike, the Halo series, and TitanFall; the pacing is relentless. It’s essentially a rinse and repeat formula. If more and more games start heading down this path, is this a good thing? Remember what happened to television when more and more networks were switching to reality TV programming? Yikes…

    • January 21, 2014 1:46 am

      Interesting point about the pacing, and for MP only games to succeed, they will have to address that issue.

      Ken Levine refused to add an MP component to Bioshock because he said he didn’t know how he could make it interesting. I respect that and think it applies conversely for those who don’t know how to make a good SP/Co-op campaign.

      Don’t get me wrong. I am not hoping that developers abandon the making of campaigns, but I think that they should be freer to make just one or the other (and as an MP gamer, I will be patronizing the MP games).

      Though the market and marketing practices make it very difficult to stick to just one or the other, it should be the rare game that comes with both. It is entirely possible that if DICE had put all their resources into MP, it would have launched solid and ready for DLC. With the number, size, and beauty of the maps and the scale of warfare their games allow, very few people would have complained, certainly far less than are complaining now because they released the code half-baked.

      Reality TV. ::shudder:: I have avoided that like the plague. I have watched only one “reality” show and that is Strip Search from Penny Arcade.

      Getting back to Titanfall specifically, I think the IP is a gold mine, but as you say, Respawn is going to have to be creative and pro-active in keeping it fresh. I would love to see some non CoD-traditional gametypes. I think that an adapted DICE’s RUSH mode could actually much more enjoyable than their Domination. Having one team actually have to push their way forward through a long map one stage at a time could be very entertaining, and would also focus the battle as it does in BF games.

      I look forward to seeing how the mech classes affect gameplay, and seeing how they might build on that.

    • Blankman permalink*
      January 21, 2014 4:39 pm

      A Rush-type mode would definitely work with Titanfall, although I have to reiterate again that I enjoyed the game mode ‘Attrition’ (TDM) more than I did ‘Hardpoint’ (Domination). If they implemented a similar mode like BF’s Rush, it would fit into their universe because the M-COR (mercenaries/resistance) are trying to steal fuel reserves from the IMC (corporation). Since TF is devoid of any single-player, this game mode would fit perfectly with MP “story-telling.”

      Zampella frowned upon suggestions for Titan customization, as in terms of cosmetic customization. We don’t need hot pink mechs dropping from the skies and running across the battlefields. So that kills that avenue for DLC. I actually applaud him for his decision on that. It looks like solid map design and interesting game modes have to be the keys to keeping the title fresh and maintaining enthusiasm. Expect a revolt if Respawn offers up some of the modes that Epic had for Gears: Judgment. Yikes, they’re grabbing torches and pitchforks! Ha!

    • January 21, 2014 6:13 pm

      Didn’t know about the fuel reserves. Cool!

      Hey, there is much that they don’t want to copy about GoW:J, including an 8 map pack launch! If they pack the game with anything less than 12 maps I sincerely hope the torches and pitchforks come out.

      Respawn is in the enviable position of putting out their first game in the IP. There are no expectations. Sequels can be brutal because some people want fresh/new/different, and some people just want more polish and more content.

      Now, I gotta get reading more on the Titanfall universe!

  2. Blankman permalink*
    January 21, 2014 8:50 pm

    OT: Heads up! For those of you that live in the U.S. that hate GameStop (who doesn’t, right?), the Microsoft Store is offering a $10 digital Xbox Gift Card if you pre-order & purchase your copy of Titanfall thru them. In a way, you’re getting $10 off of your purchase because you can redeem the digital gift card code on anything in their on-line store (not their brick & mortar stores), or directly apply it to your XBL account balance for purchases on your console until 6/30/2014. The digital gift card code will be sent to your email ten days after your purchase ships.

    It sounds like a good deal to me since Amazon 86ed their video game credit incentives awhile ago. I took advantage of the savings by ordering it from MS. It’s free shipping & free returns. If there’s no MS Store in your state, they won’t charge tax either. Here’s the direct link to the Titanfall offer at the MS Store.

    • January 21, 2014 10:21 pm

      Hey, digital is the way to go for more reasons than this! Ask Grymm, Kenny, or 4GN in a party chat for details.

      Thanks for the heads-up, Kenny!

    • Blankman permalink*
      January 21, 2014 10:23 pm

      I know, but I still prefer hard copies of my games. Go figure.

  3. January 22, 2014 11:59 pm

    Cool to get a different perspective, and their concerns are interesting and make the anticipation even more intense.

    Start at 33:17.

  4. January 23, 2014 12:12 pm

    Speaking of campaigns… holy hobbit batman! Some of the best graphics I have seen. And LOTR!

    • January 23, 2014 10:51 pm

      Zos, it is beautiful and the gameplay looks incredible

      rant

      …but it shits all over Tolkien’s universe. I am not trying to be a purist here. Seriously, the good guy has wraith vision?!! WTF!?! The entire message of LoTRs: the only real message was that you can’t dabble with evil, it will overcome you. Don’t play with the ring. Don’t dabble in Evil or you will get turned. Far more than Lucas’ Episode IV-V world in which the Force was established have two sides, you can’t play with the dark side without it takin’ over your soul.

      Listen, people need to grab an effin’ imagination or GTFO. Is it that difficult to create your own universe? Grab any 5 year old off the street, ask them to help you if you can’t think an original thought. Not one penny for these guys from this guy.

      /rant

    • Blankman permalink*
      January 24, 2014 8:57 am

      First of all, slow your roll because we want you around for a long time, Suns. We don’t need you stroking out. The actual backstory of the protagonist is that he’s actually dead. He has been summoned back by the forces that be to assist in the fight against Sauron. He is a dead ranger from the north who was corrupted. He was brought back to right his wrongs. That is why he can tap into wraith abilities. I know that you couldn’t get that background from what was shown, but the game’s story has been featured in Game Informer several issues ago.

      Second of all, it’s a game. The story told in it isn’t meant to be canonical. The LoTR literature is timeless. No one, except for Christopher Tolkien (JRR’s grandson), has adapted any of it with the exception of The Silmarillion.

      Lastly, the LoTR license is extremely expensive. Every game that Warner Bros. have come out with hasn’t really been remotely successful. This game looks like it has possibilities of some success to recoup the cost of the license. WB Games are taking a known universe and expanding on it. You may argue that people should create their own universes and stop rehashing known ones. However, many “new” universes borrow heavily from established, successful ones. Take a look at Bungie’s upcoming game, Destiny, for example. Looks a lot like Star Wars doesn’t it? Also, how many times has Ridley Scott’s Alien universe been cloned? Yep, creating new universes is daunting.

      A lot of you guys know that I’m a huge LoTR fan. I don’t have a problem with this game because I can separate my love for the literature, films, and games apart. However, that’s how I choose to approach it. I’m not trying to discount your feelings about The Shadow of Mordor because you’re definitely entitled to what you feel, Mike. I’m just injecting my two cents into the discussion. Love ya & don’t forget to breathe. 🙂

    • January 24, 2014 10:50 am

      Kenny, great comment! Thank you. You said all the the right things (including solid info) in just the right way to diffuse my frustration. I still mourn the lack of creativity in the world, but I am now open to hearing more about this particular game. Cheers!

    • January 25, 2014 7:08 am

      Not sure why they didn’t just call it Assassin’s Creed: Middle Earth. And I’ll probably buy it.

  5. Blankman permalink*
    January 24, 2014 7:11 am

    Check out this very insightful interview with Respawn’s senior map designer, Mohammad Alavi, about how the studio may change how stories are told without a single-player campaign to speak of. Trust me, it’s a very good read.

  6. FrenkoFrenik permalink
    January 24, 2014 2:52 pm

    I like what GTA V did. Get the SP experience out on it’s own, and give it a few weeks before the madness of multiplayer ensues. I don’t think many games can stand on the weight of MP alone even if they end up being the most played aspect of it, case in point for me: Mass Effect 3, played the co-op to death even if it was limited. But it would have been souless and generic without having played the campaign, even if at some point i did spend a few weeks of just playing the mp without finishing the sp.

    Same would be Assasins Creed series, the mp is great after you consume the single player.

    now there are other games i feel the opposite. I never really played Battlefield 3 sp and have no intention to do so or Battlefield 4. Call of Duty is going the same route, just give me maps and more progressions in those mps instead and i will be happy.

    • Blankman permalink*
      January 24, 2014 2:56 pm

      BF3’s SP was sooo bad that I couldn’t bring myself to even get through half of it, and I love achievements. CoD was already dead to me a long time ago.

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