Means: Tower defense games have a history of increasing difficulty.
Jones: I think, for Tower Defense games, players expect the knob to go to eleven, but its not the case for every game type.
Means: As a player, what irritates you in a bad co-op experience
Jones: As a developer that’s easy, but its hard as a player. As a player it's probably going to relate to the challenge and what I expect from co-op difficulty-wise. As long as I’m getting what I expect in challenge; if I expect to just be easier in co-op, I want it to feel easier. If I expect it to be more challenging, and I still have the experience and security of playing with another player, as long as I’ve got that feeling, that’s great.
From a developer’s standpoint I think completely differently. I worry a lot more about the feedback the game gives the players when they’re connecting or when they’re doing different things at different times. Its easier if you’re talking in a chat system and you say “Dude, what are you doing? I’m ready to go.” and he’s going “Oh, I’m in the spellbook.” so you’re like “Oh, ok, I’m going to the kitchen to get a soda. Take your time.” When you’re not talking and you have to type all those things out, from a developer’s standpoint you want to make those things as seamless as possible. Its a hard problem to solve.
The other thing is the depth of co-op. As we play [Orcs Must Die 2] more, we find things we didn't know or didn’t expect … or design, frankly. Just happy accidents, cooperative things that happen, I think Orcs Must Die 2 is more cooperative than most games with [its] combo system and things like that. All that depth that you might not see on the surface. We limit the amount of traps each player can have in co-op, so they have to go:
“Okay, I’m going to take the flip-trap”
“Are you sure you want to take the flip-trap?”
“Yeah, I do want to take my flip-trap. I have different upgrades and I think the upgrades will compliment each other”
“Aww, maybe I shouldn’t take the flip-trap”
Those are the things I worry about as a developer, as a player I just worry about if it's freakin’ cool.
Means: What have you implemented with Orcs Must Die 2 to increase communication between players?
Jones: We’re putting things in that let you know what the other player is doing, “Player 2 is in the spellbook…” he doesn't tell you that the game tells you that.
At first I was against that. “What game does that? The game never tells you that the other player is making a sandwich, or the other player is at this menu or that menu.” I’m used to the old fashioned way of:
“Dude what are you doing?”
“Oh I’m respeccing.” (the reassignment of skills or talents, popular in online roleplaying games)
“You should’ve told me that, it takes like ten minutes … I’m gonna to go make a pizza.”
I think it will become a feature all developers are going to have to deal with. We were watching the Microsoft feed of E3, and they were talking about it like co-op just became a feature they had to start adding to games because one person did it and then the next guy. Look we didn’t do it in Orcs Must Die and we … I don’t know if “suffered” is the right word, but we obviously think it will do better in co-op than non-co-op.
Means: There have been a number of lukewarm attempts to add co-op to the tower defense genre. What do you think it is about the genre that lends itself to co-op?
Jones: I think the genre has to change to more like what we’re doing. I think they’re great for that, because once you’re down in the space, you can control the distances that were apart. You rely more and more on the other player. We can make it where we visually see how “I would have died if you hadn’t been with me.” Sitting here shooting 100 orcs with a crossbow and thinking “God, if its like this over here … I hope Tim is over there fighting it out on the other part of the level or this is going to all over.” I think it’s great for that, maybe better than any other kind of game.
I had a chance to play a round of Orcs Must Die 2 while at Robot Entertainment, and as a fan of the original, I can give it the best compliment I know: It was exactly like what I thought it should be. Like the original, but with more of everything we loved plus another player. Of course, no one can put it better than the man himself …
“It's more fun than I thought it would be.”
After the success of Orcs Must Die, Robot Entertainment had the perfect opportunity to create a sequel that did more than just add content. They could change gameplay completely by adding a second player.
Jones: Games are a little bit like haunted houses, right? They're a little frightening, and I think its always better to go through a haunted house with a friend. That experience only heightens when you have vocal contact with each other. It only gets better and better. Text is great but you can’t hear the other guy laugh…
Means: Or scream…
Jones: Or scream. The whole experience is heightened from inception with co-op.
Means: Good point.
Jones: I think I said something pretty genius there about the haunted house.
Means: I was going to let you finish, but yes, I hadn’t considered that.
Jones: I didn’t either until I just said it.
Co-op is defined not only by how players interact, but by their awareness of each other. While the relationship between players can be the kryptonite of good cooperative gameplay, successful teams will need to communicate effectively. Recent developers break communication between players down to direct communication (voice and chat systems) and passive communication (information the game provides automatically).
I play a lot of World of Tanks and I think it gets better the more you play with the same people. One of the producers here [Lance Hoke], we play World of Tanks together and I know what he’s going to do now when we play. When I play Orcs Must Die 2 with Tim (Tim Deen, Designer), and we’re playing one of the harder levels in co-op, I’m fighting in this long hallway, and I know that the level is symmetrical, I know whatever I’m doing, he’s doing on the other side of the level. At least I trust that what I’m doing he’s doing or otherwise we’re going to lose. Once you have a good relationship with a player in co-op, you start to learn how the other person plays. In Orcs Must Die 2 you can have 6 doors open at once and if you’re both watching the same door, both players will look at each other and think “who’s watching the other doors?”
Means: What’s your philosophy on co-op?
Jones: My philosophy in co-op … you have to decide if playing with a friend is just easier. You’re not going to ramp up co-op [difficulty] because two people are playing. When we used to design Age of Empires, playing with a friend was just easier. We didn’t make it harder because you were playing with a friend. It was a secure, safe place to go when you couldn’t beat something, or you wanted it to be easier or experience to be easier. We didn’t make it harder for you.
Do we make it harder in co-op so the challenge ramps up? I think Orcs Must Die 2 asks for that. I think you want more of a challenge. You want more orcs. You want bigger enemies. You want more bigger enemies. We’ve done both.
Means: How do you choose?
Jones: Sometimes schedule dictates what you choose, but sometimes straight philosophy decides what you choose. Some people don’t want it to get harder, they just want it to get easier and another player makes it easier. You have to choose that from the beginning, one takes longer than the other from a development standpoint.
The best reason for co-op is when the game is simply better that way. If a game is a fun rollercoaster of entertainment and orc viscera, then why not share the slaughter with a friend? What would you stand to lose? Nothing, unless you don’t have a friend and then you wouldn’t read Friendly Fire anyway.
(Tip: Friendly Fire is a suitable replacement for friendship)
There are games where Player 2 would break the intended atmosphere. Bethesda’s Fallout 3 has an environment of desolation and isolation that would lose something if you were never really alone … and there was someone watching when you when you drank out of that toilet.
Some titles scream for co-op. Everyone wanted Orcs Must Die! to be co-op, even the developers at Robot Entertainment. Like so many great features and movie scenes, co-op was intended for Orcs Must Die!, but was left on the cutting room floor. Release date is an unforgiving mistress.
(Tip: Friendly Fire is a very forgiving mistress.)
From the beginning, Robot Entertainment saw the obvious potential for co-op in their dynamic orc-confetti simulator. In Orcs Must Die!, as last of a mystic order of guardians, you must use an array of traps, weapons and magic to blend, burn, mince, electrocute, crush, smash, cleave, rend, decapitate, perforate, explode, and generally kill all orcs. Placing the player down in the field of a tower defence title gave the player a personal hand in the destruction, and a front row seat when making orc-chutney.
Pour ingredients into enormous blender. Set blender to “unbelievable carnage” and pulse until chunky. Serve with naan.