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Voltron! The Multiplayer Game... how would it work?

Briefly discussing topics about how to properly mix good game play and team work for 5 players without each player feeling as though they are not participating enough.

James Gonzalez, Blogger

August 26, 2009

8 Min Read

Paul Dostal posted a curious topic on the Inside EA Linked In group forum. He posted 

How would you design a game to handle a combining robot, in the style of the combining robots from Transformers, Power Rangers, etc.?

I'm curious about how this issue could be handled, seeing as I've always been a fan of robots and co-op games since I was a child. I always loved watching as the Constructicons would combine to form Devestator or the Dinozords would combine to form the Megazord or even better, the Mighty Orbots combining into Mighty Orbot, but this brings up an interesting dilemma in game design: Who the heck gets to control the robot?!


For those who've never watched Transformers, Power Rangers, Mighty Orbots or other similar shows, I'll give you a brief rundown of what happens. Enemy Robot/Monster/Asteroid appears in town, and the heroes each have or are a robot of some sort that can combine into a single powerful robot that has far superior power and usually defeats the enemy in a single attack, (totally disappointing the kids who were hoping for an epic battle, but lets not bring up too many sad memories) and then they separate and go home. Of course, in some cases, the battles do last a while and can sometimes be pretty exciting. I


'm looking for designing for the latter, where the players get some satisfaction of defeating the enemy. Let's assume that this is an online/lan game so each player has his/her own view of the game. So, you've got the task of taking a 5-part robot, and splitting the gameplay elements between each player who controls each part. I've chosen a 5-part robot because that is the most common combining style I'm aware of, but I've seen some shows with 10 or more parts. 4 of the robots transform into a limb, while the fifth into a head and torso. Now, you combine into your giant robot and are about to battle the enemy monster, so who gets to drive? There are a couple of ways I see to take care of this, each with drawbacks and advantages.


1) One person takes full control of the robot: The main advantage to this is that there's no splitting of gameplay between players, so the person controlling the robot gets the satisfaction of beating the badguy while the others watch. The disadvantage is that only one person actually plays this part of the game while the others watch. Sure they can comment, or give suggestions, but who wants to watch someone win the game you're playing without some real help from you. You can always rotate pilots though if you wanted, perhaps having 2 combining modes, 1 where you are a limb, the other where you are a torso. I'm not sure I'd enjoy this too much.


2) 1 person controls the walking, 1 person controls the fists, 1 person controls the weapons, remaining 2 keep the power up. This gives everyone a task to do, and an interesting approach to teamwork. 1 person controls the legs, so he/she controls if the robot moves anywhere, and if it jumps or flies around. The next person controls the fists, so if the enemy is nearby, they get to do any punching or swordplay that happens to occur. Another person controls the ranged weapons of the robot, so if the robot has a gun or laser cannons in his chest or some other form of ranged weapon, he'd be in charge of that. Finally the remaining 2 might have a puzzle pirates type role where they have to play mini-games to keep the robot powered or armed. They would all need voice-chat I'd imagine, and someone would have to be in charge of what actions to take. The main advantage I see to this approach is the emphasis on teamwork and communications to maximize the potential of the robots powers. The disadvantage I see is if someone on the team doesn't co-operate then chances are that the team will lose the game. I think any combining robot games would have to emphasize teamwork and communication skills over solitary ones. Any thoughts?

This is what i had to say:

On #1 - If one person were to command the robot, it would be a total bummer on the rest of the team since they do not get to participate in the action. On #2 - This is more complicated and needs to be balanced well. For a five part unit I was thinking.


Pilot: One guy is the robots movement from a 3rd person perspective over the shoulder style, this includes legs and arm motion and jumping and boosters and all things motion. If this was like a fighting robot game then he would execute the combat moves and combos or what not. Left


Shoulder Turret: One guy is in a turret first person view that is sort of like a ball socket and can rotate 180-270 degrees to from the front to back defending the robot from rear attacks and frontal attacks; perhaps an army of tiny infantry or tanks harass the player while they fight the BIG main guy. The drawback is that he can only defend part of the front, part of the left and part of the back.


Right Shoulder Turret: Same as the left shoulder turret but on the right. These two are the main defenders for the robot.


Intel / Commander / Tactician: This guy basically has a view of the battlefield and can have pivotal 3rd person view of the robot. His task is to delegate targets of interest or importance since the main guy cannot view behind him and the two shoulder mounts are frantically defending in all directions. This way there is a person who isn't going nuts fighting and can calmly direct the flow of the battle field. He can set targets for individual parts such as left arm on the tank turret and pilot to the main base and the other players would see on their screen where they should shoot (in case of indirect fire and firing while moving) kind of like in Tribes 2 when they had the laser pointer or in Freelancer moving target reticule. 


Engineer: Someone needs to keep track of the health and status of all the gadgets the robot has. This guy basically has an overview of all the tech in robot and how they are keeping up. He has a main "ENERGY" bar he can distribute throughout the robot, and depending on what needs to be done he can pump it full of energy to make a bonus damage with high critical hit chance, or redirect everything to shields while they make a retreat to safer ground. He also has a side task for repairing the robot so he sends out little flying droids to pick up scraps that will be used to repair the robot. The commander player would also help point out large stock piles of scraps so to direct the droids.


Overall i think this could work out well. But definitely needs constant communication with all members. Perhaps if not all 5 members are available, the AI could take over or a player would take on more than one role. More balancing would be required for different number of team members. But I do enjoy where you went with this and It could possibly make for a great team vs team experience. I can picture two massive robots fighting in a DOTA-esque environment where tons of enemies are thrown at you and you must take out the other players robot, or base , or whatever. This could even work for a space robot game or spaceship game. Very interesting idea! probably should start sketching concepts and gameplay mechanics. haha!

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