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Making asynchronous gameplay work for more than two players

Words With Friends showcased the power of asynchronous multiplayer, but how do you bring more players into the mix? Conclave, a new RPG, attempts it, and developer Derek Bruneau explains the challenges.
Inspired to create an asynchronous multiplayer RPG called Conclave, indie developer Derek Bruneau needed to find a way to bring more than two players into the game to make it a truly satisfying multiplayer experience, yet still allow players to play when they had the free time. "Initially the game assigned a turn order to players," writes Bruneau. This, however, didn't work out. "While turn order is a tradition in tabletop RPGs... it quickly became apparent that it could lead to frustration" as players had to wait for multiple people to finish their turns before getting their next one -- imagine waiting for a Words With Friends turn times three. "To address this issue we simply removed the concept of turn order from the game. Players can still take only one turn per round, but they can take them in whichever order they prefer," Bruneau writes, in his extensive new feature on the decisions his team made about the feature. This has the benefit of reduced wait times for players, but also further streamlines play by allowing "a player that acts last in one round has the option to immediately take the first action in the next round," writes Bruneau. "In a tight spot, players can act in whichever order gives them the greatest tactical benefit," he also writes. "With no turn order, you can ask your ally to use the ability and then follow up with your (now more effective) attack." This has a nasty flipside, though: "two players might submit their turns at nearly the same time, rendering the later player's action suboptimal or invalid." Even with the potential for problems like this, and the additional work they require to be resolved, "the benefits of streamlined play and additional tactical options are worth it," Bruneau writes. This all comes part of a larger feature article on the process of developing Conclave's asynchronous multiplayer, which is live now on Gamasutra.

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