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Postmortem: Multitude's Fireteam
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Postmortem: Multitude's Fireteam

January 5, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Our goal with Fireteam was to create a complete online game experience. The Internet gives game designers the ability to take multiplayer gaming one step further by creating a community, something that wasn’t possible before online games came about. Multitude wanted to take the next step in gaming evolution by making the community a significant part of our product. In other games, such as Diablo or Quake, the players were creating communities themselves, mostly through their own web sites. Multitude, on the other hand, devoted significant development time to creating tools that would help the community. We spent as much time on Fireteam’s lobby and community web pages as on the game engine itself. Our goal was to create a game that would make people say, "Wow, this is what I’ve wanted from an Internet game."

Fireteam is an online-only gaming experience. The actual game play is a squad-based tactical combat. Players can communicate with other members of their team using Multitude’s voice technology. Each player controls one character in the battlefield. The game uses an isometric, three-quarter view 2D graphics engine. There are four different Fireteam scenarios, and each game session is ten minutes long. The scenarios are very sports-like in their design to help promote team play. Equally important to the Fireteam experience is the lobby, where players can view other players’ statistics, chat between games, and find squad mates and enemies for their games. The last component of Fireteam is the community web pages, which display players’ complete statistics and provide support for Fireteam Companies (which are similar to Quake Clans). On the community web pages, players can create companies, add/kick members, and access private Company bulletin boards.

Brief History

Fireteam evolved dramatically over its first year of development. Multitude was originally founded to create the "ultimate online game," which was to be a large persistent science fiction world. We knew that there would be some competition because Ultima Online had already been announced, although Origin hadn’t yet performed any alpha or beta testing. We spent months writing and planning for a massively multiplayer online game set in a futuristic world. The project was to have a server team of around 10 people and a game team approximately double that size. As we were designing around our original concept for the game, our desire to make a persistent-world game work as well as a single-player game presented us with many hard technical and design problems. On the good side, it was during this process that we finalized the design spec for our combat engine. The combat engine was inspired by X-Com: UFO Defense, emphasizing squad combat with features such as line-of-sight.

We soon realized that our new company’s financing was coming along very slowly and that we needed a much more easily attainable goal (due to lack of resources, both financial and human) that would still showcase the unique voice technology that we’d developed. We looked at the combat engine specification, our voice technology, and the Internet technology that we were designing and realized that we could make a great tactical team game. So at that point, we decided to abandon the large persistent world and make team play the essence of the game.

Fireteam was designed to emphasize community and teamwork

Designing a multiplayer game is very different from designing a single-player game. I’ve heard that in many games, the multiplayer component was added on only because marketing had requested the feature; this approach can make the multiplayer experience less than ideal. In a single-player game, the player is the hero and the focus of the game experience. The player should be able to win 100 percent of the time (with some effort). In a multiplayer game, a player should win 50 percent of his or her games against an equivalently skilled player. The thrill of a multiplayer game shouldn’t be in the winning, but more in the process and the actual competition. Team play gives players a deep gaming experience, even if they lose. Our efforts to create engaging multiplayer game play were made even more effective by our voice technology, which allowed players to hear the emotions of their fellow players.

Fireteam’s Components

Fireteam’s network architecture is client/server-based. We chose a client/server architecture because of the benefits that it offered us in the areas of performance (especially with the voice technology), cheat prevention, and centrally located statistics. The clients all run on Windows 95/98 and the servers run on Windows NT boxes, where we use Microsoft Chat services to do the intercommunication between our server processes. We also have a Microsoft web server running the community web pages, with a Microsoft SQL server maintaining the database. Our servers are at one location, our ISP Globalcenter, in Sunnyvale, California.

Fireteam uses the Elemedia SX2.0 Voice Codec to do its voice compression and decompression. Multitude’s proprietary software wraps around this voice codec and interfaces with the Windows sound system for both input and output. The game mixes multiple voices on the client side rather than the server side. Clients simply send voice packets to the server, the server then routes them on to the appropriate teammates. In the future, spectators or enemies will be able to listen in on the voice chatter. Our voice software handles both DirectSound and non-DirectSound drivers because some sound cards work with DirectSound in full duplex. Full duplex means recording from microphone and playing sound at the same time.

Who Worked on Fireteam

Ned Lerner and I started Multitude and began working on the original project in April 1996. The development team grew gradually over the course of the project. Jim Morris was brought on during the summer of 1996 to be the chief technical officer, and his first project was to develop the voice technology. Alan Murphy was brought on to provide art for the prototype and eventually was named art director. Conroy Lee, Harvey Smith, and Harry Schaffer were brought on in early 1997 to help take Fireteam from a prototype to the real game that we showed off at E3 1996. Bill Money, James Poelke, and David Reese came on in late 1997. The team has a very diverse group of products to its collective credit. Lerner and Morris were two of the first people to work on 3D in the game industry. Murphy’s art credits include Galaxian, Pac-Man, Defender, Taz, and X-Men. The others have worked on games such as System Shock, Terra Nova, Magic School Bus, Ultima VIII, and Front Page Sports: Baseball.

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