Crossplayer Is the Future

N. Evan Van Zelfden | 7 Sep 2010 12:04
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"I'd love to be able to take credit for having done something really, really significant - but the truth is, that as a multiplayer developer, it's a hell of a lot easier for us to add AI to our style of gaming then it is for a single player developer to bring humans into theirs," says Wedgwood. "I think that we have a bit of an unfair advantage."


An advantage, maybe, but the path to truly seamless fusion of single player and multiplayer gaming was forged from the opposite direction, by infusing multiplayer elements into a single player game. The first to try it were the developers at Arkane Studios, who first coined the term "crossplayer." Raphael Colantonio, founder of the development house, recalls it being a crazy, unfeasible, and initially confusing idea: "There must be a way to benefit from the unpredictability of people that you find in multiplayer, with the RPG/immersion that you find in single-player games."

It started as more an idea than something practical, which, little by little, came to fruition. "First, I had to convince the team it was good idea," remembers Colantonio. Arkane made a succession of prototypes of a game called The Crossing, chipping away at the challenge of creating crossplay until they had a format that was "really, really fun." At the same time, other developers started working with similar premises, with Valve's Left 4 Dead being the earliest success.

The Crossing has a linear and deep story campaign. Players have the choice to play through solo or in co-op. The AI enemies they encounter could be replaced by skirmish players who were having a more typical Counter-Strike experience, making things harder for the story players. With asymmetrical balancing, both sides would be completely satisfied with a game completely optimized for each player's style, skill, and difficulty. Colantonio says that it's hard to talk about the game, because it must be experienced to fully appreciate it. "The demo was incredibly fun, and still is."

Ultimately, the right publisher was never found for the game. Colantonio puts it into context by saying it seemed like a crazy idea two years ago. Back in 2008, the economy was in turmoil, and publishers were struggling. Left 4 Dead wasn't yet released, Brink was barely a twinkle in someone's eye, and the marketing departments at publishers had no idea how to sell The Crossing. "They didn't know if it should be sold as a single-player game or a multiplayer game, and were worried it wouldn't sell to either of them."

Is that still the case today? "Not at all," replies Colantonio, who thinks a door has been opened. "L4D proves the concept, although it's different than what The Crossing was."

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