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Wardell fires back

April 21st, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Brad Wardell, the big brain behind Galactic Civilizations II (one of the best strategy games of a young 2006) thinks I am wrong. Or at least focused on the wrong things. And not just me.

In my recent Round Table post on gaming friendships, I noted that GC2’s lack of multiplayer handicapped it when compared to other strategy games available to us. I wrote how good MP experiences encourage me to look for this feature in the games I play. Wardell replies:

I think if we sat down and did an inventory of strategy games that have come out in the past 5 years that the multiplayer fanbase has gotten served quite well. By contrast, people like me who want to sit down and play against computer players have gotten, in my opinion, the shaft.

This is an intriguing interpretation of how gaming has developed. Have single player gamers gotten the shaft?

If you look around at gaming coverage, the 800 pound gorilla of World of Warcraft can make it appear that everyone is playing multiplayer games all the time. I know that my multiplayer gaming has increased a thousandfold in the last year or so.

But multiplayer is still very much an afterthought in strategy game design. Real time strategy game developers seem to spend more time on crafting lame single player campaigns instead of doing proper faction balancing – something that can only become really apparent after hours of multiplayer experience.

Computer wargames are almost exclusively single player oriented – it often takes some kind of masochist to want to play the larger SSG games by email. Even a game that seems ready made for MP action like Second Manassas has no way to lose to a friend.

None of the Paradox games have really worked all that well in multiplayer – especially the no-brainer Diplomacy – sometimes because of the huge time commitment involved, but as often because of poor networking.

Civ IV has a great multiplayer interface and loads of options, but the Pit Boss wasn’t made available until fairly recently – about six months after release. No doubt what their priorities are.

Wardell admits that the next GalCiv will likely have multiplayer, and I am very much looking forward to Society, Stardock’s upcoming MMRTS. So even he realizes that MP has become very important to people like me.

But it’s not like I deducted points from GC2 because of the lack of multiplayer; I didn’t. My review was almost entirely enthusiastic, with my biggest complaints reserved for documentation. I still play most of my games alone, after all. As my gaming relationship post noted, I prefer to play with friends and friends are not always available. Single player is all of our first entrees into a new game.

But the multiplayer experience is becoming more and more important to me. And games that provide it will probably have a longer life on my computer.

By the way, I still highly recommend Galactic Civilizations II.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Anonymous

    Hi Troy. Great blog. BTW, I hope I didn’t imply that either you or Bruce deducted points due to multiplayer.

    I think some reviewers did. But it’s hard to quibble about a 4.5/5 (or in Bruce’s case a 90) review.

    If I were the one reviewing GalCiv II, I’d be slamming its tech tree, sloppy economics (fixed in 1.1 but that’s irrelevant), and lack of interactive tutorials/more tooltips and that kind of thing.

    In other words, even I as the designer, would find ways to take points off without even getting to multiplayer.

    Where I have tended to object are the reviews that blatantly take points off for not having multiplayer even as the same reviewers give Oblivion a pass (even though it’s a role playing game).

    I think the reason Oblivion is so good is largely because the game was designed around the player being the hero.

    Similarly, in GalCiv, the game was designed around a single player being the contstant area of focus.

    Civ IV has a lot more of its UI designed for multiplayer than I think you give it credit. It’s very streamlined. The number of flavor-adding dialogs that pop up at you are kept to a minimum (there’s no building a palace feature for instance which was part of the Civ series from Civ 1).

    I think with games like Space Empires V, Sword of the Stars and others, games which multiplayer was a major part of design will help make sure strategists have lots of options this year who want to play multiplayer.


  • Troy Goodfellow

    There is certainly no shortage of MP options, of course. I was only outlining that it was mistaken to suggest that this was done at the expense of a good single player experience.

    I can sort of understand why some people would deduct points for GC2 not being MP – the game is enjoyable in SP, but the AI opponents make many grievous errors (like unescorted transports).

    BTW, I like your blog too.

  • Anonymous

    If I may chime in a week late, I’d like to point out that one of the things I see as exacerbating this perceived lack is that GalCiv II is, in its fundamental design, a multiplayer game. That is, it’s designed in such a way that you can play any of the races, and the AIs are set up to play as fairly as possible — the game provides an even playing field upon which different, balanced contenders can compete for victory.

    I think that’s part of the reason people are disappointed, and also why the Oblivion analogy isn’t quite apt — Oblivion, design-wise, is a strictly single player game; GalCiv, design-wise, is a multiplayer game (with only AI opponents available).

    That being said, I don’t miss “real” multiplayer at all in GalCiv, and kudos to Brad for ceding that ground to Space Empires V and Sword of the Stars. Some epic turn-based games of galactic conquest are better played in marathon stints, instead of dragged out over years via PBEM!

    – Jason Lutes

  • Troy Goodfellow


    Great point about the GC2 game design. Balancing sides and making sure that the AI plays fair with everyone really is a major part of good MP design, and GC2 has all of that.