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Hotseat Multiplayer

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I just played the new Trackmania demo with some friends - specifically, the hotseat multiplayer mode. One of us builds a track, and then we take it in turns to try and race through - each one has to try and beat the current best time before that player''s total time runs out, and when they do it moves onto the next player. Try it, it''s a great dynamic. One thing I noticed was the mood as we played, particularly of the people who weren''t actually playing at the time. We''re fairly crazy people, so the tracks we were constructing tended to be very violent - the kind of thing where you''d drive up a slope three levels and then drop through the floor, spinning yourself into one of the support posts so that you''d bounce off onto the track again. Such manuvers were inevitably botched, so we all got a great deal of laughter out of watching someone overshoot and flip their car into a canyon or something. I wonder about this. When the other players don''t have to concentrate on what they''re doing, would multiplayer be more fun? The obvious disadvantage is that games are longer - and if the gameplay *isn''t* interesting to watch then it''s boring for the people who aren''t playing. Then again, it''s an effect I''ve seen before with other games. GLTron: 4-player splitscreen, with all four players sharing the keyboard. Tekken 3, with two people playing and a crowd of people gathering round. Even Abe''s Exoddus, a purely single-player game, though the bystanders there were more trying to help solve the puzzles than they were in a state of euphoria. What can we do to try and create that kind of euphoria with our own games? Richard "Superpig" Fine - saving pigs from untimely fates, and when he''s not doing that, runs The Binary Refinery.
Enginuity1 | Enginuity2 | Enginuity3 | Enginuity4 | Enginuity5 ry. .ibu cy. .y''ybu. .abu ry. dy. "sy. .ubu py. .ebu ry. py. .ibu gy." fy. .ibu ny. .ebu "Don''t document your code; code your documentation." -me
"I''m not a complete idiot; parts of me are missing." -}}i{{

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I find that "hotseat" play is very rewarding with any difficult game. I like to play GTA: Vice City with a few friends, and we all take turns driving a bike until we fall off, at which time we pass the controller to the next guy. It''s loads of fun, and non-players can watch, or can do other things, and so the game lasts for a very long time indeed.

One of my favorite aspects of Rainbow Six and its successors is the ability for the dead players to chat freely with one another. The congrees of corpses is as much fun as the game itself. We take bets on who will die next, laugh at those that do, and comment on tactics and play style. Campers are scolded and badasses are cheered. It''s a great time, even though the active players aren''t involved.

I think that allowing other players to serve as audience members from time to time is a fine idea, and I look forward to seeing others'' suggestions on how to do it.

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Of course, there are some games where hot-seating is completely unnecessary - adventure games like Monkey Island for instance, where anyone in the room can play regardless of who actually moves the mouse. At the opposite extreme are pure twitch-reflex games where, at best, a second person can assist by remembering level layout and tracking health and powerups to allow the primary player to focus on dogfighting. I can think of plenty of examples of this sort of "passive multiplayer" from my own experience of social gaming ("level or life" seems to be a fairly good rule for ad hoc hotseating on a single-player game - with common sense adjudication for loss of life just before end of level and the like)

For competitive multiplayer hotseating to work socially, in other words avoiding the "everyone else leave the room/do something else while I take my turn" you need: a)a game with full information (so no point trying to do it with a turn-based strategy game with fog of war) b)a game with a reasonably fast turn rate (if you have to wait an hour for each person''s turn then no matter how thrilling it is to watch, it''ll start to drag) and c)a game that''s at least moderately entertaining to watch - if you''re competing, you''re not going to be offering helpful advice, but you''re going to be very happy to jeer at mistakes. And, of course, if you''re being competitive, you want to avoid making it too much of an advantage to watch other people play - for a racing game, if there''s an easy, fast shortcut, then everyone who goes after the first person to use it is going to do much better than the people before him.

So the basic rules for social competitive multiplayer hotseating: make it fast-paced, skill-based rather than knowledge based, and keep any easy secrets fun rather than offering a decisive advantage.

For social co-operative hotseating, the basic rules are: have a game that''s broken up into short sections in a fairly obvious way, make progress generally less skill-based (you can have some places which require god-like skills, but if the entire game is a constant effort to narrowly avoid defeat for the best player present, it''s no fun for the others - particularly if there''s some sort of penalty for dying) and make the game relatively forgiving of mistakes (it''s no fun for everyone else when the host''s 5-year-old kid sister insists on having a go and accidentally throws the character down the pit of no return with hours since the last save point - and it''s not much fun when the host''s 5-year-old kid sister is constantly whining about never having a turn either...)

For small numbers of spectators, you can do a "backseat" multiplayer where the amount of detail the player has to cope with is large enough for a second pair of eyes (and memory) which isn''t having to focus on the immediate crisis to be useful - which can apply to just about any genre - though games within a genre may be more or less suited. For large numbers of "backseat" players to work, you need a more puzzle based game (Oddworld, Monkey Island, Sokoban) but a single "backseat" player can be useful just about anywhere (mapreading in GTA, keeping an eye on the radar in StarCraft, remembering the way through a level in DOOM, keeping an eye on the rest of the screen while you cover a window or doorway in America''s Army - I''ve actually done all these things as a backseater)

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