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  • Controlling Pacing Of Core Gameplay Mechanics in Multiplayer Games

    - Filip Coulianos
  •  A big part of being a level designer is working with pacing. It is one of the things they should be good at, to know about and to be accustomed with. However, in practice, the level design is completely dependent on core gameplay mechanics. This article has more of a reasoning character and will discuss how the core gameplay mechanics may affect the pacing curve in action multiplayer games and what influence the level designer has on the experience.

    The approach I am taking in this article is to draw a basic pacing curve for a game in Deathmatch, Counter-Strike and Left 4 Dead. I will look at how the core gameplay mechanics controls the pacing curve. I will also measure the games in what I call, in a lack of better words, "level of narrative". A game with weak narrative would be a game where the exciting things occur in a seemingly random pace. A game with strong narrative has peaks and shallows of excitement cleverly designed and measured to keep the players on the edge and stimulated throughout the game session.

    I strongly advise that you play the aforementioned games to make it easier to follow the discussion in this article.

    Case Study: Deathmatch (weak narrative)

    A shot from Quake 3, one of the most prominent games with Deathmatch mode of all time.

    Deathmatch is perhaps the oldest game mode ever in the history of multiplayer in the modern action genre introduced with Doom 1. The game mode Deathmatch isn't really game-specific as there are many games have more or less successfully shipped with it. There are no clear winning conditions for Deathmatch, instead all players single goal is to kill as many opponents they can for either a limited period of time, or until someone is first to reach a specific score. The levels generally have weapons and power-ups of different flavors present to control the flow and player movement in the level.

    In Deathmatch, player kills a few times, and then she dies, gets the powerful rocket launcher, kills a few more players and so on. As the players spawn randomly and the rules of the game don't change, the pacing curve can be perceived as random:

    A simplified hypothetical chart displaying a Deathmatch pacing curve. Y-axis shows excitement and the X-axis time in seconds.

    Although the level designer has some control over pacing by adjusting map size and placement of weapons and power-ups, the pacing curve will still be perceived as random and will by default lack any narrative elements. Interestingly enough there are levels designed to contain some narrative elements to make the pacing curve more interesting. One of the most classic elements is perhaps that the level has a secure room with a red button inside. Pushing it will call a nuke, gas, flood or similar, that within 30 seconds kills everybody except for the players who are inside the bunkers. Although these "hacks" to the original gameplay appears to be very much appreciated by some of the Deathmatch players, it seems like the majority of Deathmatch players still prefer a more flat pacing curve and less narrative.


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