A milestone was reached this weekend.
With a small group of 20 players, we tested the first playable version of Liftoff multiplayer in one of our development builds. You might wonder: first playable build? What about the multiplayer screenshot we saw a couple of months ago?
Creating a working multiplayer is the first step, making it a playable experience from start to finish is the big work. Multiplayer has been in the works since February this year and in April we had the very first multiplayer gameplay test at the studio. So why has it taken so long to get it to a playable state? Sending and receiving flight data to multiple players across the web is only a small part of the large amount of work it takes to get a multiplayer feature in the game. You might compare it to IKEA designers who work hard on getting a new piece of furniture in the store. After a couple of months of hard work they have a nice piece of furniture done. It’s beautiful, useful and looks like a finished product, ready to get it in the store, right? Unfortunately not, this is when the real work starts: figuring out how people can piece everything together, creating a instructions manual, creating a production line, figuring out the distribution,… Same thing applies to creating something like multiplayer. How do people connect? How do we provide a smooth experience? What happens when someone leaves the game during a race? What happens if someone crashes their drone? How do we show the scoreboard? How do we prevent cheating? Can players chat? Hundreds of these questions have to be asked and responded to with actual development results.
What’s the current state and what can we expect?
We have focused on the race mode: getting players together to race each other. There is extensive focus on multiplayer rooms. You’ll be able to create and join rooms, filter for environments you like or create a private session for you and your friends. Don’t want to dig through a bunch of options? Just join a random room. In the first release users will be limited to the original Liftoff races. In a future update we’ll provide support for user created races. Races will be similar to single player races, so anyone who has some experience there will feel right at home. The main difference is that the timer will start as soon as the liftoff sign is given, as opposed to when the first gate is passed. So don’t be surprised if your times feel a bit off. 🙂
Why no free flight yet?
Race mode and free flight each have a different set of challenges. Initially our goal was to get free flight multiplayer out first, but initial tests showed that this didn’t give the exciting multiplayer experience we had hoped to provide in a first release. Furthermore getting our race mode to work in multiplayer forced us to tackle more challenges and as a result our multiplayer work is more advanced now than we originally aimed for. In race mode we need to focus on getting timing differences to a minimum. A race should start at the exact same moment for each player, finish times should be registered correctly and there should be as little visual delay between you and your opponents as possible. In free flight we will focus more on the players themselves. In a recent update it became possible to walk around in single player free flight. We want to keep this behaviour in multiplayer. This means we need a representation of both the player and the drone. We also want players to be able to drop in and out of a free flight session at any time.The differences between these modes are significant enough that we are focusing on them one at a time.
Likely the most asked question the last couple of months was “when do you plan to release multiplayer”. The most honest and correct answer is “we planned it a month ago”. With that answer you know exactly why we never give release dates for upcoming features: game development hardly ever goes as planned.
That said, we understand we can’t talk about multiplayer at this point without giving you an estimate. So for the very first time we are willing to tell you our release plan: based on the current test results and our to-do list, we are aiming to release the multiplayer feature next week. This won’t be as an automatic release, but as a new experimental release branch that you’ll have to activate. This experimental version of the game will be completely optional and will be merged with our main version of the game once we’re sure its completely stable.
Waiting in the room lobby for other players, Betelgeuze is the host of the room and can start the game at any time.