Making Co-op Work in an Open World

After graduating with a B.A. in Fine Arts from Purdue University in 2001, Scott spent 6 months creating a portfolio that got him hired as a Cutscene Artist at Volition. Scott shipped ‘Red Faction 2’ in 2002 and then decided a move within Volition was what he wanted. In 2003, Scott moved into a new position on a new project, an Animator on ‘The Punisher’. After shipping ‘The Punisher’ in early 2005, Scott needed a new position as well as a new project, again. This brings us to the present day, where Scott is a Lead Designer on Saints Row 2.

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Early on in the Saints Row 2 project we made a big list of all the things we wanted to do; everything we believed would be important to shaping the game. This was back in 2006, so we needed to be able to predict what would be important two to three years ahead.

Around that time – when the original Saints Row came out – Crackdown was released. It was really the start of modern co-op games, quickly followed by Gears of War.

It became obvious that co-op was becoming a very important feature. Xbox Live and PSN now allow you to very easily hook up with another player.

We knew that this was something that could really blow Saints Row ahead of other open world games. We decided to just do something that hadn’t been done before – allowing players to work together. We wanted to make that game that would play differently in co-op but maintaining all of the same elements that you have in single player.

Crackdown was a lot of fun but it was very limited in what they allowed you to do. Both players were in each other’s world but there was nothing you could do together. We wanted activities and missions and diversions that both players could play together, wherein they would work together.

Challenges of Co-op

But making the decision to put a lot of effort into co-op, and implementing are two different things. We threw some high level programmers at the project and they got started building the core tech. At the same time we had to figure out how the design was going to work. We had to ask ourselves, ‘what does co-op really mean?’

Is it about having just another person in your world? Is it changing how the game plays, how the AI works and how cars work? It really led to us looking at the fundamentals.

It was extremely difficult because co-op  changes the game at every level. You’ve got two different players. When they move apart they’ve got to have people around them. Each of those players has to keep the world filled with cars and people. The AI needs to know about both sets.

It took a long, long time to get co-op into a working state. In addition to the sheer technical issues, there are obvious design issues. When an AI sees two targets, which one is he going to decide to shoot at?

We also had to increase the number of AI in order to effectively balance both the single player and co-op so that there would be similar difficulty levels across both. You’ve got to scale it to some degree in order to make sure that it’s similarly difficult on both levels.

We had to script new methods for each player to complete activities and missions in co-op and make that a different experience.

Customization

It was a learning experience for Volition. But once we got to actually play the game, when everything was implemented, it was pretty awesome. It was a huge blast to play and we didn’t really realize in all the time we’d been working on it just how much fun it was to play with another person and to play all the additional things we had done to try and make sure that co-op was a unique experience.

When players get into the game they’re going to very quickly realize that Saints Row is not really like any other open world game. It’s very fast paced, high combat, lots of action, with a darker story line.

We think players are going to enjoy the single-p-layer experience, but they are going to get something extra and unique about playing in co-op.

We want players to be really happy and really excited all the time; they’re constantly doing things that are interesting and keeping them active

Something else important to us was character customization  and, I believe this becomes especially important when you are playing in co-op or multiplayer, because you’re involving other people and their in-game personalities.

We just tried to cram in everything that fans had asked for, like being able to choose between a male and a female, choosing how you walk, the combat style you use, what type of voice you speak with, adding taunts and the compliments. All this really helps you to create your own character. You’re not someone we’re telling you to be.  It really adds up to very unique experiences based on whatever that player wants to be.


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