Multiplayer balancing

Ask a Developer!

Ed Drake from Pensacola, Florida asks:

Why are the boost powerups in Hydro Thunder different in multiplayer than they are in single player?  What made you decide to go with the handicap silver powerups?

The "loser helper" powerup system in HTH's multiplayer mode was something that we added later in development, after months of playing online with each other and the team at Microsoft.

Originally the powerups were identical in SP and MP races.  Not surprisingly, the best players (cough *RALF* cough) consistently won most of the multiplayer matches, while noobs and, shall we say, the more joystick-challenged players, almost never climbed up out of the bottom half of the pack.

You might say, well that's how it goes.  Skillz winz.  

The problem we noticed was that the less skilled players quickly grew frustrated with their inability to compete and dropped out.  Again, not entirely surprising.  The surprising thing was that it was actually less fun for the best players as well -- there's no sense of challenge when you're 10 seconds ahead of everyone else and you know you can just cruise to an easy victory.

To maintain a rich online experience, you need as many people playing as possible.  If players -- especially new players -- are too easily frustrated, they just say screw this and drop out, which reduces the number of players and the number of available online games.

Originally we were skeptical when our producer at MS proposed the loser-helper boost system.  We feared it would take all the challenge out of the game, and frustrate skilled players.  Once we implemented and tuned it a little, however, we realized the opposite was true.  Giving players at the back of the pack more boost kept the races close and exciting.  Even if you're really good, you have to watch your back all the way to the finish line.  

There's still plenty of strategy and skill; you have to drive well, but you also have to carefully manage your boost for that final sprint to the finish line.  When you play online, you'll notice that the best players still win almost all the time, but they don't win by 10 seconds or 5 seconds, they win by half a second, or sometimes less.  And the new players feel like they at least have a chance at the top three.

I think the decision to include the loser helper boost system has worked out well.  There are lots of multiplayer games on XBLA, but good luck finding anybody to play with in most of them.  Hydro Thunder Hurricane has been out for 3 months, and you can still regularly find online games to join.

Loser helper FTW!