Bigger isn't always better: why we're so hung up on Titanfall's player count

Titanfall Screenshot - 1148717

The internet controversy du jour appears to be centered around the recent announcement that upcoming next-gen mega-shooter Titanfall will limit its multiplayer match-ups to 12 players. People are crying foul, rattling metaphorical chains as they scream about player counts and the wasted potential of next-generation hardware. If Battlefield 4 has 64-player matches, why doesn’t Titanfall?

Maybe it’s because the developers over at Respawn Entertainment know what they’re doing.

These are the guys who brought us Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. They know a thing or two about crafting epic multiplayer moments, and if anyone could find a way to increase player count and still make a meaningful experience, it’s them.

Most of the people screaming loudly on the internet over this “controversy” likely haven’t had a chance to play it. I was fortunate enough to attend PAX Prime a few months ago, and after waiting in line for over an hour, I was able to actually get my mitts on an Xbox One controller and find out what the hype was all about — or if it was even worth all the hype.

It totally is.

Right from the word “Go,” Titanfall’s mantra is making you feel like an unstoppable badass. There are AI-controlled bots that run around any given online match that are basically there to provide players with experience points, similar to how “creeps” function in Dota 2. They likely won’t kill you as long as you pay attention, and less skilled players can mop up these easy kills and help contribute to their team, rather than end up slaughtered every five seconds.

Titanfall

During my match, I died maybe five or six times. The rest of the time I was zipping around the map, taking out bots, summoning my Titan, and wreaking general havoc. Constant feedback flooded my screen — points rained down like candy as I defeated my foes, video messages from my commanding officers displayed on my HUD, relaying information about how my team was doing, and mechs kept dropping from the sky. There was never a dull moment during that match — and having a massive player count would have completely killed everything.

A 64-player environment would go counter to everything Titanfall is trying to accomplish. Battlefield 4 is specifically designed to take advantage of large, open maps, and filling them with a wide variety of planes, cars, and boats to traverse them. Yet, there are moments in the Battlefield series where their much-lauded player count is zero fun to slog through. Anyone who’s played a match in Operation Metro with a full roster knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Even the player count of Call of Duty doesn’t take into account the addition of AI combatants and giant mechs rumbling through these war-torn maps. 12 players seems like a perfect amount for Titanfall’s brand of multiplayer mayhem.

And yet, people are whining.

It’s the result of the psychological mindset these companies have built up over an entire generation. Every game has to bigger, badder, bolder than everything that came before it — never mind any negative impact that would have on the gameplay. If game one had 20 guns, game two has to have 50. If game one took place in a 20-square-mile zone, game two has to take place in one at least twice that size.

Titanfall

It’s why everyone got so upset when most of the launch games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were running at 720p. After spending nearly a year being told that the next generation was going to be leaps and bounds better than the consoles that came before, we all felt a little deflated that everything was still running at the same resolution that we’d been living with for the past nine years, despite the dramatic increase in graphical fidelity or complete lack of screen tearing.

We need to stop thinking in pure numbers, and instead focus on the experience these developers are trying to create for us. We have to stop worrying about whether developers can just give us “more;” we need to look at what developers are going to do to give us “better.”

Don’t worry, everyone. Titanfall’s going to be fine.

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David Roberts
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Games: Titanfall

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